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Governor Jim Justice visits Shepherdstown for town hall meeting

By Staff | Nov 1, 2019

Shepherdstown resident Karen Glennon, right, speaks with Governor Jim Justice during the town hall meeting at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Oct. 22. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Gearing up for the 2020 West Virginia gubernatorial election, Governor Jim Justice decided to visit Shepherdstown for a town hall meeting in the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Oct. 22.

After the 225 attendees finished eating their free dinners, Justice sat down on a stool on the platform at the front of the room, to discuss the success he has had in his first term and to answer questions.

“There may be somebody who loves West Virginia as much as me, but there’s nobody who loves it more,” Justice said, before talking about when he first came into office. “Our state was a mess — when they shoved that set of books at me, it was an eye-opening like I never expected. Our state was in a tough spot.

“Today, we’ve crawled out of a hole beyond all comprehension,” Justice said. “We’ve done stuff with the roads, we’ve done stuff with tourism, we’ve done stuff with the highways, we’ve done stuff with education, we’ve done stuff that will propel us in the right direction in every way.”

During the 45 minute-long question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Justice committed to funding the MARC train, “unless I’m stopped by something I don’t know.”

From left, Mary Ahlquist, of Hedgesville, Governor Jim Justice and Arlene Ruckle, of Hedgesville, pose for a picture together after the town hall meeting at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Oct. 22. Tabitha Johnston

“Someway, somehow, we’re going to have the MARC train,” Justice said, mentioning Jefferson County’s decision to not help the state fund the train. “We wanted the counties to participate in at least a small way . . . to be perfectly honest, Berkeley County decided to step up and do something, Jefferson didn’t. I am completely respectful of Jefferson County cause they may have issues that they’ve got to tend to.

“I feel that when you take the MARC train away, you are absolutely taking part of West Virginia’s opportunity away,” Justice said. “We’re going to do it through governor’s contingency or different areas of development, but we are not going to not do it.”

Justice announced that the next day, he would tell the Department of Economic Development and Department of Agriculture to research the growth of vineyards and tourism in Fairfax County, Va., so residents in the Eastern Panhandle can replicate the Virginia vineyards’ success. But for a number of community members who spoke up at the meeting, his announcement didn’t promise enough.

One person, in particular, told Justice she would love to grow a vineyard on her farm, but said she thought the existence of Rockwool’s plant in Jefferson County would compromise the quality of her vineyard production. Justice said he planned to host an air quality hearing on the matter, and would continue to look into the Rockwool plant, to make sure it was safe.

“Rockwool came to me as a company that’s doing green, good stuff. It came to me that way. You may know more than me, but I have to do what I can to bring more opportunities to us,” Justice said. “We will monitor [Rockwool] in every way. When you say 1,000 acre vineyards are not compatible with an industrial site, you’re absolutely right, but we have to do what is right. We have to have jobs. We have to take care of our health and of the environment, but we have to have jobs.”

Reverend Ujima Tyson, the women's ministry pastor at Eastern Regional Jail, reads a prayer at the beginning of the town hall meeting at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Oct. 22. Tabitha Johnston