- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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July 19

Charleston Daily Mail on a social media campaign by the state tourism office:

Two years ago, the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism promoted a new travel campaign: Real.

It’s a great campaign, still ongoing, and at the time the agency included a commendable effort to get West Virginia residents involved in promoting the state using social media.

This year, in conjunction with West Virginia Day on June 20, the state Division of Tourism, under Commissioner Chelsea Ruby, took its social media campaign to a whole new level.

“Last month, you pulled off one of the most successful social media campaigns by any state, ever,” Ruby wrote, addressing state social media users, in a column distributed to the state’s newspapers. “In a span of just two weeks you used #AlmostHeaven tens of thousands of times, and your posts reached more than 15 million people.”

Congratulations to all the West Virginia residents and visitors who took part. And congratulations to the Division of Tourism for initiating a clever, efficient and effective campaign to promote the state using the state’s best ambassadors - its own citizens and people who come here to travel.

“At its peak, #AlmostHeaven was one of the top 10 trending Twitter hashtags in the world,” Ruby wrote.

She credits each social media user who used the #AlmostHeaven hashtag and posted a picture, nominated a friend, or shared a post. Other social media users were able to see “spectacular sunsets, jaw-dropping mountaintop views, and outdoor adventure that never stops. And in the middle of it all was you - and the people you love - having the time of your life.”

“In thousands of comments, people from outside West Virginia gave their instant reactions to the campaign,” Ruby wrote. “They expressed awe at our beauty, surprise at seeing a side of West Virginia totally different from their expectations, and plans to visit destinations they’d never even heard of a month ago.”

Like every other state agency, the Division of Tourism operates on a tight budget - although it has $6.5 million more than the “zero dollars” Gov. Jim Justice famously claimed in his Fiscal Year 2018 budget news conference.

Yet dollars to advertise the state to tourists in nearby big cities are limited. Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly making travel plans based on what they see on social media.

Ruby and the staff at the Division of Tourism are making the most of an inexpensive, widespread and influential new way to spread the word. And they are using the state’s own residents, as well as visitors, to be the ones to do it.

While the program was initiated in conjunction with West Virginia Day, it doesn’t need to end.

“West Virginia Day may be over, but that’s no reason to stop posting your West Virginia memories,” Ruby wrote. “Keep showing off those scenic views, big bucks, happy dogs, and laughing kids. Keep shining a light on the real West Virginia. And let’s make every day #AlmostHeaven.”

Good job by the West Virginia Division of Tourism in anointing the state’s citizens and visitors as travel ambassadors. And great job by all who have participated. Keep it going. And, if you haven’t already, join in.

Learn more at gotowv.com.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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July 20

The Register-Herald of Beckley on customers seeing a 39 percent reduction in tree-caused outages since Appalachian Power launched its cycle-trimming program:

Since the launch of Appalachian Power’s new cycle-trimming program three years ago, customers have seen a 39 percent reduction in tree-caused outages. That’s important given the mountainous terrain of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

Trees and other vegetation are the number one cause of power outages in the region, according to the company.

By keeping right of ways clear of branches and other vegetation, the overall reliability of the local grid has improved. A side benefit is the company’s improved ability to access right of ways with its equipment, which can help in shortening the duration of those power outages that do occur.

The initiative started in mid-2014 when the company transitioned to a cycle-trimming program to manage trees and other vegetation. The program calls for a six-year phase-in period in which all of the company’s West Virginia distribution circuits are cleared end-to-end, after which every circuit will be trimmed on a four-year cycle.

Tree crews have completed 200 of more than 500 circuits in the state to date, according to Phil Wright, AEP distribution operations vice president. That’s more than 11,000 miles of distribution and transmission lines.

The circuits with the worst vegetation-related performance were scheduled to be addressed in the earlier years of the program. Reliability results have proven to be significant, according to Wright.

“On those circuits that are completely trimmed, the number of vegetation-related outages is down 39 percent,” he said. “Plus, the frequency of outages is down 45 percent, and the length of outages is down 46 percent.”

The company expects to clear another 4,000 miles this year of cycle trimming.

Vegetation management work includes pruning trees, identifying and removing danger trees, applying herbicides, mowing and hand-clearing brush, and widening rights of way.

Contractors perform most of the clearing and herbicide spraying with AEP foresters supervising the work.

We, too, have noticed a decrease in power outages across the region.

Of course, it is important to remember that outages will still occur, particularly during strong storms with damaging winds, and during periods of heavy snowfall. No one can control the weather. But the ongoing tree trimming work can help in reducing the number and duration of such outages. And when an outage occurs, and trees adjoining lines have been properly trimmed and are off the line, it makes it much easier for APCO crews to restore electrical service in a timely manner.

The ongoing cycle-trimming program is welcomed. Taking steps today to prevent power outages tomorrow is a prudent and necessary move by Appalachian Power.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/

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July 23

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to impose sanctions on West Virginia:

s if the West Virginia legislature’s action to cut state support for higher education wasn’t enough, now we learn that tardiness on the part of someone in state government could complicate the finances of the state’s colleges and universities even further.

The latest blow is represented by the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to impose sanctions on the state regarding the way federal funds for students’ Pell Grants and federally subsidized loans are distributed. Until now, the federal government would give the money for those student grants and loans directly to the institutions, after which the schools would distribute the money to students.

Now, however, the colleges and universities will be required to come up with money first, record how the money is distributed and seek reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Education sometime later. That could cause some significant cash flow problems for some of the state’s institutions.

The change means that West Virginia’s public colleges need to come up with $245 million in the next month.

The reason for this extra stress? The sanctions resulted because West Virginia submitted its audit of federal dollars disbursed to the state past the required deadline for three consecutive years, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Federal regulations classify financial audits submitted late as a sign of financial irresponsibility, and that triggered the sanctions, the newspaper reported.

The latest annual audit was due March 31, but the federal department said in a letter to the state that it didn’t receive it until nearly two months later.

It’s not clear who dropped the ball on this matter, but Gov. Jim Justice said he intends to find out.

This example of ineptitude on the part of someone comes after the legislature passed a budget that continued the trend in recent years of cutting state funding for public higher education institutions. The colleges and universities have trimmed their spending as a result and have raised tuition. But many of them struggle to have significant amounts of cash on hand, and being required to come up with money for student grants and loans and then seeking reimbursement will only add to their financial burdens.

Officials say the colleges and universities submitted their data on time to the state, so they are not to blame. Justice said he will determine who was at fault and take actions to ensure that future audits are not submitted late. He plans to ask the state’s congressional delegation to try to persuade the Department of Education to change its stance.

Let’s hope that works. Meanwhile, determining what went wrong and how to get back on track with the audits may help improve the situation in the future.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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