Bill Would Jeopardize Events at Former Moundsville Penitentiary

Photo by Alan Olson The former West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, shown here, hosts guided tours and numerous events throughout the year.

MOUNDSVILLE — One paragraph in a proposed bill in the West Virginia House of Delegates could spell the end of activities held at the former state penitentiary in Moundsville, which has lawmakers and local business owners working to stop it.

Early in February, Delegates Mike Ferro and Joe Canestraro, both D-Marshall, identified language in HB 4338, which states in part that “… (all) current leases for or involving the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville … are hereby abolished immediately.”

At the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, Jeff Sandy, leases could be entered into five-year terms, which could be terminated by the Secretary or the Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation at any time.

The Moundsville Economic Development Council had entered into a 25-year lease in 1999 with the Division of Corrections to use the facility for the Moundsville Center for various events, such as expos, wedding receptions and business conferences, as well as the prison itself, which is used for guided tours and the seasonal Dungeon of Horrors Halloween attraction.

Suzanne Park, executive director of the Moundsville Economic Development Committee, said the loss of the use of the facility would be a devastating hit to the MEDC, and to the community as a whole.

“(The Division of Corrections) really doesn’t understand the tourism, and the impact this has on our community,” she said. “In doing this, not only are we going to put people out of work, the economic factor is … that in 2017, just in gift shop sales, tours and activities, we generated over half a million dollars. … We don’t get any state funding. We don’t ask for any. We’re self-sufficient and they want to close us down.”

Park added that due to a nationwide assessment of investment to revenue, the MEDC generated 1.9 million annually.

Ferro agreed that the demise of the facilities at the former penitentiary would be a huge loss to Marshall County. He said he was in talks this week and will continue next week to find a solution.

“We will try to amend that out of there,” he said. “Joe Canestraro and I are in the process of trying to amend that section out. Certainly Joe and I do not want the MEDC to be gone. They are a huge economic driver in Marshall County, they provide a lot of activities, they do a lot of booking events, a lot of repairs to the prison. … There are a lot of good people that work there, and I asked a lot of questions … We were assured they’d be vetted through the state to get jobs with the state. But I worry about that, and the people working there, full-time and part-time.”

“I tried to set up a meeting with Corrections last week,” he added. “Joe and I had a very quick meeting with Corrections, met with their attorney and their (acting) commissioner, Mike Coleman. … It was a very cordial meeting, but they all know that Joe and I will do everything we can to try and save the MEDC. … We’re going to try to work through things. We can’t make an amendment until it gets to second reading on the floor.”

In addition to the recreational facilities, the Moundsville Center also plays host to numerous adult education programs, which may be displaced or discontinued if the lease should be ended.

“There would be an issue with Glenville State College, because they do a lot of training out of there,” he said. “It could prove to be the demise of Glenville State.”

Ferro added that, aside from the section of the bill pertaining to the termination of leases, the bill was otherwise not a bad bill, redefining titles and authority of various correctional positions and reducing costs.

A companion bill, SB 369, alos was introduced in the state Senate in January. Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, representing the district from Marshall to Calhoun counties, including part of Gilmer County, where Glenville State College is located, was formerly listed as a sponsor for the bill, but requested to be removed as a sponsor Friday.

Maroney said his initial support was based on the benefits in monetary savings the bill offered, but when the paragraph singling out Moundsville was added, he withdrew his support immediately.

“Helping the counties out was important to me, and was one of the reasons I got on in the first place,” Mahoney said Friday. “Then they put in this Moundsville part, which I had never even heard of before. When I saw that, I was furious. Livid. As mad I’ve ever been (in Charleston). It was almost like I was being attacked personally. I found out about that yesterday.

“I called Secretary Sandy, I called him on his cellphone. I told him … truthfully, I see it as basically stealing,” he added. “The state signs a lease to the MEDC, and they make it better, they figure out a way to make it work, and then (the state) wants to take it back? The fact that we even have that ability blows my mind. It’s difficult for me to comprehend, because that’s not the way I see things.”

Ferro estimated that, if the bill were allowed to reach the floor for a vote unmodified, it would almost certainly pass without issue, with the termination applying 90 days after passage, for an effective date of July 1.

“I’m going to make sure that one of two things happens: this bill dies or that comes out,” Maroney said.