Former penitentiary to remain tourist attraction
By ALAN OLSON
MOUNDSVILLE — Activities at the former West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville should continue after members of the state Legislature removed a paragraph from a bill that would have led to their end, a development which brings a sigh of relief to local businesses.
Last week, Dels. Mike Ferro and Joe Canestraro, both D-Marshall, pointed out a paragraph in a bill, in the House and Senate, which would have immediately ended all leases to the penitentiary, giving the state authority to end leases at-will thereafter.
This prompted outcry from the public and from the Moundsville Economic Development Council, so legislators worked to amend the bill.
Friday, Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, renounced his sponsorship of the Senate bill, saying that he felt betrayed at the insertion of the paragraph into the bill. By Monday, Maroney, as well as his fellow state Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, met with Ferro and Canestraro, joined by MEDC Executive Director Suzanne Park, as well as West Virginia Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety Jeff Sandy, and other representatives from the state, to strike the paragraph from the bill.
Monday, Maroney said the bill ultimately would not pass with the language impacting the leases, and that going forward, the departments would aim for better communication.
“We’re taking it out here, and now (the House) is seeing if they can take it out of their bill,” Maroney said. “Once their bill comes over, it doesn’t matter what language it has, because we’re going to strike their bill and insert our language. With or without that language, it doesn’t matter, because the Senate’s is the bill whose language is going to be used.
“We got a commitment from Secretary Sandy, saying ‘Listen, I don’t mind if you take that language out or not,’ so there’s not going to be a fight about it. We’re taking it out whether if he likes it or not, so that paragraph is coming out,” Maroney added.
He said the Division of Corrections may be interested in increasing its presence at the facility, at which it holds officer training and state events. One of these is the mock prison riot, which not only trains correction officials from around the world, but also serves as an expo of new tools for the job.
Park said the MEDC was glad to hear that the agreement could be reached, and that the council would be happy to work with the state to coordinate schedules to avoid stepping on toes or intruding on time at the facility.
“We are so grateful,” she said. “With the removal of that paragraph, that allows us to continue going forward with all the things we’re doing. This bill is much bigger than that small paragraph, and it’s so important to what they need to do, and so they agreed to take that part out.
“The issues they’re concerned about, the activities we do, we’re working through that. We’re going to make sure the building is secure whether we’re having an event or they’re having an event. … We’re going to make sure our schedules co-exist.”
In addition to scheduling, Park said other details about the penitentiary, such as billing and past financial issues, would be ironed out as time goes on. Park previously spoke of an issue with the facility’s electric bill over several years, which she said “fell through the cracks” during property transfers during the MEDC’s lease.
“We never received an electric bill,” Park said. “I have no idea (the amount). We’re trying to iron all of that out. There are four or five electric meters there, and it’s for the whole compound. That includes the ones at the back, so those meters haven’t been updated in years.
“I don’t know if we know how they’re all tangled together. We tried untangling all the lines once, just to see if they were accurate to where we thought they were, and they weren’t.”
Clements said the bill was presented to the Legislature with the paragraph from Sandy’s office.
“That was the bill presented by the administration to us. It came from Secretary Sandy. They had that in there — that’s what they wanted,” he said. “But they’re not going to get it. … They’ve turned (the penitentiary) into a very big tourist attraction, and there’s no way we’d ever want to take that away from them.”
“We’re just so blessed with the way things went today,” Park added.