Sustained Outrage

dupont.jpgAs officials at DuPont Co. were announcing plans last night for a “safety check” of their Belle, W.Va., chemical plant, they also were dealing with their 4th incident in just the last two days.

DuPont reported to Kanawha County emergency officials that they had a “small electrical fire on a pump tank” containing oleum, according to Metro 911 Director Carolyn Charnock. Oleum is sulfuric acid, the same chemical involved in one of three previous events reported at the Belle plant Friday and Saturday.

The fire was reported at 7:48 p.m., after DuPont had announced plans to shut down much of its manufacturing processes at Belle for a “safety check” because of the three previous incidents, which included a 1,900-pound leak of toxic and flammable methyl chloride that went undetected by plant officials for nearly a week.

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State Police settle with Roger Wolfe

State Police patchThe West Virginia State Police have agreed to pay Charleston attorney Roger A. Wolfe $200,001.01 to settle his lawsuit over an alleged beating that occurred in the South Charleston barracks while Wolfe was in custody.

Wolfe maintained that on June 17, 2007, following his DUI arrest, two troopers took him to a small room and beat him (with his hands cuffed behind his back) so badly that cranial fluid came out of his nose. While offering slightly differing accounts of how it happened, the troopers suggested that Wolfe became belligerent and lunged at Paul A. Green, who was forced to sweep Wolfe’s legs out from under him to prevent a head-butt.

wolfemugshot.jpgIn any event, Wolfe ended up requiring treatment at Thomas Memorial Hospital. Although he was treated and released that night (and arraigned and jailed; that’s his mugshot to the left), Wolfe later spent six days in the hospital.

The settlement covers all of the troopers that Wolfe said beat him and later covered it up (Green, Jason S. Crane, Kristy L. Layne and John K. Rapp Jr.). It also covers former superintendent D.L. Lemmon, three unnamed troopers and the agency itself. (Court documents indicate that Wolfe wanted to depose troopers L.W. Price, J.T. Portillo and D.O. Bennett, who were reportedly in the barracks at the time of the alleged beating.)

According to filings in the civil case, all seven of the troopers testified in front of a federal grand jury convened in June or July 2008 as part of a criminal inquiry into the alleged beating. The U.S. Attorney’s Office routinely refuses to confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury investigation, and to date, no criminal charges have been filed in the matter.

(Read previous posts related to Wolfe’s lawsuit here, here and here.)

You can read more about this in tomorrow’s Gazette.

Updated: Here is a link to the Gazette‘s story on the settlement.

What we’re reading — water, teens, teachers, smoke

 Welcome to our new Thursday feature, where we will share good reporting from elsewhere, either because it is particularly relevant to our readers, or just plain interesting. Here is a look at what we are reading this week:

  • Is a world water war inevitable?” asks  investigative reporter Andrew Schneider at Cold Truth. The answer appears to be yes. The U.S. military has recognized the 19365173.jpgpotential for decades.  Some West Virginians have been thinking about this issue, too. In 2004, Gov. Bob Wise signed the Water Resources Protection Act. In it, the public claimed the state’s water and required a survey of usage. The Legislature was moved to pass the law after lawmakers realized that distant states were more interested in West Virginia’s water than its coal, as Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin explains in this 2004 story. There’s tons of information about water use in West Virginia at this state Department of Environmental Protection site.
  • The $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money spent to help teenagers find jobs this summer was a whopping failure, reports the Associated Press. This and other updates on the stimulus are available from ProPublica. West Virginia, incidentally, is low on teens and children compared to other states. But the state’s percentage of idle teens ages 16 to 19 — those neither working nor going to school, not counting summer vacation — is higher than the national average. It was 10 percent in 2007, compared to 8 percent nationally, according to Kids Count West Virginia.
  • New York City schools actually send teachers to a form of detention, called the “rubber room,” where they clock in and get paid, but do nothing, the New Yorker reports. New York’s inability to get rid of truly incompetent teachers may interfere with the city collecting stimulus money offered to school systems that improve teacher accountability. West Virginia education officials comment on their efforts to qualify for this money in Gazette reporter Davin White’s recent story.
  • Of interest in West Virginia, with its high rate of heart disease, and especially in Kanawha County, where the local health board continues to be criticized for its anti-smoking ordinance, the Wall Street Journal reports on two studies that showed areas that banned smoking in restaurants saw heart attack rates drop quickly. We caught on to this story at the Pump Handle.

EPA drops ball on safety of shredded tires on playgrounds

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Earlier this year, a big Associated Press story told the nation that the U.S. EPA was studying the safety of those shredded tires used under playground equipment — and that EPA might reverse its position and not publicly back the practice. The AP story, published in June, sounded like EPA was doing the right thing:

The EPA is concluding a limited study of air and surface samples at four fake-surface fields and playgrounds that use recycled tires — the same material used under the Obama family’s new play set at the White House.

Although the EPA for years has endorsed recycled-rubber surfaces as a means of decreasing playground injuries, its own scientists now have pointed to research suggesting potential hazards from repeated exposure to bits of shredded tire that can contain carcinogens and other chemicals, according to internal EPA documents.

The scientists cited gaps in scientific evidence, despite other reviews showing little or no health concern, and urged their superiors to conduct a broad health study to inform parents on kids’ safety.

Results from the agency’s limited study, which began last year, are expected within weeks.

But it turns out that’s not the real story, according to this report earlier in the week from the great investigative reporter Andrew Schneider and his Cold Truth Web site.  Citing documents obtained under the FOIA  by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Schneider explains:

Earlier this month, Eric Wachter, director of the EPA Office of the Executive Secretariat replied and conceded that “The Agency has not conducted research to evaluate children’s ‘health effects’ from tire crumb constituents.”

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One in 68

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That’s the number of adult West Virginians under correctional control: in prison, or in jail, or on parole or on probation.

The good news is that number is low, relatively speaking, compared to the national average, which is one in 31. It is also low compared to neighboring states: Kentucky (one in 35), Maryland (one in 27), Ohio (one in 25),  Pennsylvania (one in 28) and Virginia (one in 46).

But that’s still a lot, particularly when you consider that 25 years ago, the figure for West Virginia was only one in 226 adults. (Has crime really tripled over that period?)

All these figures come from a study by the Pew Center on the States that was published in March. I went back to look at this study after it was mentioned in the report submitted to Gov. Joe Manchin by the Governor’s Commission on Prison Overcrowding, and a few points bear repeating.

According to the Pew study, West Virginia spent $1

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Charleston City Council‘s 27 members (if you count Mayor Danny Jones) gather Monday, June 15, for their bimonthly meeting.

Lots of items on the agenda. One bill coming out of the Urban Renewal Committee would allow bed and breakfast establishments in single-family residential neighborhoods, like the Proposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Roadproposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Road (pictured). In fact, the bill was introduced specifically for this project, although it applies to all B&Bs in R-2 and R-4 districts.

Unfortunately (for the owners), Mark and Marta Snapp failed to obtain a conditional use permit they need from the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday, as I wrote about, so the bill is sort of moot for now. The Snapps vow to push on, however.

Just about all of the other business before council will be weighed earlier by members of the Finance Committee, and generally any debate takes place in Finance, not City Council. So you may want to show up for this 6:15 p.m. meeting.

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Charleston City Council meets Monday evening, June 1, to consider another two weeks’ worth of city business.

But for a better glimpse behind the scenes, come to the meeting of council’s Finance Committee immediately beforehand. Most of the items on the agenda for City Council are money-related, and will be taken up first by Finance. Typically, any debate on these issues will take place at the Finance meeting, not City Council.

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Keith Peoples update

Friday night at 10:45, Charleston mayoral assistant Rod Blackstone e-mailed me a statement on behalf of Mayor Danny Jones and Police Chief Brent Webster (pictured below). The statement came in response to the acquittal of Keith Peoples less than an hour before. Peoples is a Charleston police corporal who was accused of double dipping.

Since the e-mail came too late to make it into the article I wrote for Saturday’s paper (deadlines, Rod, deadlines!), I thought I’d post the statement here:

Danny Jones“The investigation into double-dipping by members of the Charleston Police Department began when the former Police Chief discovered that Officer James Nowling had been paid for the same hours on at least two payrolls, including the Charleston Police Department.  An investigation produced evidence that Officer Nowling had been paid by Charleston taxpayers for 1700 hours for which he was on the clock for at least one other employer — and at times two others — for the exact same hours.  He made allegations that such double-dipping was rampant in the Charleston Police Department.  So in November 2006, we asked the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney to investigate whether that was indeed the case or not.  As a result of that investigation, a jury found Mr. Nowling guilty, and three other officers pleaded guilty.

brentwebster.jpg“When Officer Keith Peoples was indicted by a grand jury last year, he was placed on paid administrative leave and has not lost a single day’s wages while this case progressed. We accept tonight’s verdict and note the brilliant legal representation provided by former Assistant United States Attorney Dwayne Tinsley for the defense.  We expect Officer Peoples to be back on the job at the earliest available opportunity.  We trust this puts an end to the investigation of double-dipping within the Charleston Police Department, and we are glad to put this matter behind us.”

I hope to have more to report on double dipping soon. But in the meantime, I just ran into Peoples and Dwane Tinsley on Virginia Street, on their way back from City Hall. Peoples, still smiling from Friday, was carrying his service belt and other professional effects in a cardboard box. He said he had been cleared by Webster to go back to work.

Your city government in action, pt. 10

The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, or CURA, will hold its monthly meeting Wednesday morning (May 20). As the agenda shows, the CURA board will receive an update on some of the renovations planned for Haddad Riverfront Park.

CURA has put up $500,000 to build a new entrance into the seating area from Kanawha Boulevard, and to do some streetscape-style improvements to the Boulevard and sidewalk in front of the park. The city, through a separate federal earmark, is building a canopy over the amphitheater and an overlook at the foot of Court Street.

Several neighborhood projects are also up for consideration:

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Charleston City Council meets Monday evening, as it does twice each month, rain or shine.

Mayor Danny Jones presides over these meetings, from the raised platform at the far end of the formal council chambers on the third floor of City Hall. Whether you like Danny or not, he rules the meetings with a certain style.

But council meetings can be a little dull, as most items on the agenda are voted upon with little or no discussion, let alone actual debate.

To see the wheels of city government really turn, plan to arrive an hour earlier, at 6 p.m., for the meeting of what my colleague Rusty Marks likes to call the powerful Finance Committee.

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