CHARLESTON -- Second-term Senator Sarah Minear said her overriding priority is and always has been to improve the living conditions of her constituents.
Minear, R-Tucker, represents the 14th Senate District, which includes Tucker, Barbour, Taylor, Preston and parts of Monongalia, Grant and Mineral Counties. Minear serves on seven committees: Finance, Government Organization, Education, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Interstate Cooperation, and Rules. However, Minear holds no chairmanships or co-chairmanships, a situation she said she prefers because it allows her more leeway to express her opinions.
One of Minear's greatest concerns is bringing water, sewer and transportation infrastructure to her mountainous, sparsely populated district. She said that in the past, the 14th District was often overlooked when lawmakers doled out infrastructure projects, which she believes are an absolute necessity for economic development.
"That was my goal when I came here. We had people living in little towns without water and sewer infrastructure," Minear said. "I wanted to get people into the 20th century -- forget the 21st century. I think I've managed to accomplish a lot of those goals and I'm happy with that, especially considering that I'm a member of the minority party."
Minear said her district's greatest current need is for transportation infrastructure, a need that is difficult to fill in the mountains, where road construction and maintenance is extremely expensive. She believes Corridor H would improve the lives of her constituents and hopes the project will be completed as soon as possible.
"We're kept abreast of what's going on with the mediation process and I'm confident that it will be completed," Minear said. "The sooner the better. The time and delay makes the construction more costly and generates millions of dollars in legal fees that I think are a waste of taxpayer's money.
"Corridor H is critical for economic development to ever happen in that general area. I think it will open up tourism. Another seldom mentioned benefit is that it will open up vistas. If you drive through the area now, you can't enjoy the scenery much because you can't take your eyes off the curvy roads."
Minear's emphasis on economic development often conflicts with the views of environmental activist groups such as the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, especially on the issues of logging in the Blackwater Canyon and a moratorium on treated sewage discharges in the Blackwater River that was imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. She has often been publicly criticized by media-savvy environmental activists and believes she is sometimes unfairly treated by liberal reporters and newspaper editorial boards.
"I believe there can be a balance between the environment and development. People who oppose something need to come forth with a viable alternative. My problem with them is that their primary goal seems to be to stop anything and everything," she said.
Minear said she believes Allegheny Wood Products, which has permits to log approximately 235 acres in the Blackwater Canyon, is an environmentally responsible company. She added that company owner John Crites's private property rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and he has made concessions without any legal obligation to do so.
"My stance on Mr. Crites is that he's a responsible forester. He does selective cutting and has made a $5 million, long-term investment in that area," she said. "I don't think it is his intent to destroy the beauty of the Blackwater Canyon. He has sold us the land around Lindy Point. He has been very accommodating."
Minear added she does not think Crites intends to develop any of the canyon land, as environmentalists have claimed based on appraisals Crites had done on the property.
"He's not in the development business. I don't see how people can claim to know what he will do with his property just because he had it appraised for its most efficient use," she said.
Also, Minear said it was reported inaccurately that she wanted to rescind the EPA's treated sewage moratorium on the Blackwater River through a legislative act. However, she does oppose the moratorium because she believes it harms the livelihoods of her constituents.
"There has been no development in the valley for 2 1/2 years because of the moratorium. The EPA has done a second study that concluded that in the summer months, trout migrate out of the river to tributaries because the water ebbs and the oxygen level is very low," she said. "The study has been submitted to the Water Resource Board and the EPA. I don't know which direction it will go."
Minear added she has other concerns during this legislative session, one of the most serious being the Public Employees Insurance Agency deficit.
"I'm on the select committee for PEIA. It's a no-win situation," she said. "The program is going to go bankrupt if we don't address the funding problems. If it does, the 200,000 people it covers will suddenly have no insurance at all. I can't stand by and watch that happen."
She also noted several gubernatorial proposals that enjoy broad political support that she sees as positive developments, including proposals for a veterans' nursing home and a cost-of-living increase for retired state employees who receive less than $500 a month.
Minear also said he has made a promise of her own to voters -- not to support tax increases of any kind.
"Some people in the Governor's Office are not going to be happy with me for that," she said. "But I don't represent them."