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Justice takes questions in Wheeling

SPEAKING OUT — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice addresses supporters Thursday night at Wheeling Park’s White Palace. -- Staff photo

WHEELING — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tackled questions about the future of greyhound racing and the condition of local state highways during a stop in Wheeling Thursday night.

About 50 people attended a free dinner and town hall discussion with Justice at Wheeling Park’s White Palace. Former West Virginia University football coach Don Nehlen introduced Justice to the crowd.

One woman present said her family is in the greyhound racing business, and she tearfully expressed concerns that those opposed to the industry might try to “spread lies about her family’s business” and the industry during the upcoming legislative session. She asked Justice where he now stood on the issue.

Justice acknowledged there was more he wants to know about the industry before he takes another stand. In 2017, he vetoed legislation that would have defunded the state’s greyhound breeders fund, likely killing greyhound racing in the state.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has indicated the issue will return to the table when the legislature convenes for its regular session next month.

“I’ve already stepped in one time and saved the dogs,” he said. “It would have already been gone already if I didn’t step in and save the dogs. I did.”

He said when it comes to what lobbyists say about greyhounds, “I can see through the crap.”

“But if they come to me and convince me it is the very best thing for our state monetarily for the dogs to go — then the dogs got to go,” Justice said. “But on the other hand… I am the person who doesn’t want anything to go. I don’t.”

There are “people who absolutely enjoy the dogs and make a living off the dogs,” and they provide opportunities for the state, he said.

“I promise you I’ll do the right thing…” Justice said. “There’s just a lot to it I don’t know. You have to give me time.”

Wheeling businessman Chris Hamm reminded Justice that Main and Market streets in downtown Wheeling are state highways, and said they were a detriment to commerce. He asked how quickly they could be fixed.

“I truly believe the downtown condition of Wheeling is suffering because of the condition of the roads,” Justice said. “I see it. I don’t like it. And I do have a lot of influence.”

Justice described himself as “one the most impatient person you’ll ever want to meet,” and he wants the roads fixed now.

“Just sit back and watch what happens,” he said.

Linda Stiles of Wheeling asked what the progress was on extending Interstate 68 from Morgantown to meet with state Route 2 in Marshall County, and if this would ever become reality.

The answer lies in Washington and in Congress’ approval of a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure program, according to Justice.

Movement on the legislation, and much else, isn’t happening because of the current impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, he said. Justice indicated he wasn’t certain the funding would be approved before the next election.

He said he knows the need for the highway to be critical. He wants federal money to complete it, as well as the Corridor H and Coalfield Expressway projects in the state.

(King can be contacted at jking@theintelligencer.net)

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