McMillion addresses inspector’s concerns at W.Va. Wildlife Center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The fate of the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County remains in limbo, but Division of Natural Resources Director Brett McMillion said dealing with issues raised by federal inspectors are more related to timing and bureaucracy than safety and compliance.

McMillion spoke publicly about the issue for the first time Saturday on West Virginia Outdoors on MetroNews. He reiterated the inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture’s APHIS agency notified them in recent weeks they would no longer recognize a longstanding variance granted to the facility in 2000 for the lack of a required secondary containment fence.

“They even stated quite specifically in the variance approval process it could be rescinded or reviewed, but we never received any correspondence or any comment to that nature. As a matter of fact the last inspection made absolutely no reference to it, so we were under the assumption the variance was still in place,” he explained.

Online news service West Virginia Watch reported Friday the Division of Natural Resources had been given ample notice of the issues and multiple scheduled inspections were cancelled. The story quoted USDA spokesman R. Andre Bell.

“Despite the Governor’s claims that APHIS made an abrupt decision, the center has had several months to come into compliance with Animal Welfare Act regulations intended to protect both animals and the public.” Bell wrote. “The center multiple times has been unresponsive or has canceled inspection appointments.”

McMillion was asked about the report.

“It’s my understanding we had two inspections scheduled and both were cancelled by the inspector,” he explained.

However, McMillion added after they learned the fence variance was going to be rejected, they knew the facility would fail any inspection. A failed inspection, according to McMillion, would trigger a set of even more difficult circumstances.

“It was imminent we would fail regardless. The inspector did explain if we failed the inspection, there were a couple of steps which would automatically go into place. A very short time frame for correction, about 60 days would go into place. If we failed the inspection and did not meet the time frame for inspection, it would be another six months before we could reapply,” he explained.

According to McMillion the issue wasn’t the construction of a second fence, the issue was getting it done in 60 days.

“We’re certainly not opposed to installing this fence, we can’t stress that enough. However, in state government given purchasing procedures, policies, etc. that unfortunately can’t happen overnight. That’s a six, eight, or ten month process for this thing to be complete, ” he added.

McMillion told the radio audience he hoped they would be able to meet with the APHIS inspection team and work out a timeline which would fit in with the state’s rigid purchasing requirements. He indicated getting an extension on the variance for another year to allow for time to build the secondary containment structure would be helpful.

“We’d like to somehow get some kind of exemption for this year. We will move forward with the fence, there’s no problem there, but it’s not something we can do in a short window,” he said.

It remained unclear to McMillion what had changed between their last inspection and the current review which caused the APHIS team to rejected their variance from 24 years ago. There were indications the federal agents were concerned additional animals had been added to the facility which already houses mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife which are considered potentially dangerous.

McMillion indicated the only changes at the facility since the last inspection was the addition of a quail exhibit, which posed no threat to anybody, and the replacement of two wolves in the display.

“I can’t say what happened internally with APHIS, but that’s a conversation we’d love to have. Give us an opportunity to do this project, we’re not saying we won’t, but let’s not just knee-jerk and close the entire facility on what I don’t want to call a ‘random whim’, but it felt that way,” he said.

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