The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 14, 2013

Coalfields Expressway Authority mulls road section, contract

By Mary Catherine Brooks
Wyoming County Bureau Chief

PINEVILLE — Bringing the Coalfields Expressway from Slab Fork Road — where a 6.9-mile section open to motorists ends — to Mullens will cost $100 million, according to Richard Browning, executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority.  

No paving will be done until the road is “at grade” from Slab Fork Road to W.Va. 54 in Mullens, Brow-ning told authority members Thursday.

One of the remaining sections will be bid this fall and the $20 million needed has been allocated, Browning said. The 2-mile grade and drain project will also bring the new four-lane into Wyoming County.

Mike Goode, authority chairman, lauded the efforts of Gov. Earl Ray Tom-blin and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall in keeping the funding coming for the Coalfields Expressway when there is little state or federal money available.

The group also discussed several proposed ideas for raising more money for infrastructure funding on the state level.

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With several new authority members, the group looked over Browning’s contract, which was approved in 2009 when he retired from teaching. At the same time, Browning became a consultant for the authority, through Clear Fork Consulting, and performs the same duties.

Bill Baker, a Raleigh County member, said he was against the contract at the time because he believes it goes against the state Retirement Board requirements. Retirees can’t collect retirement, then perform the same duties, he said.

Browning reminded Baker the Retirement Board and the West Virginia Eth-ics Commission approved the contract before the Coalfields Expressway Authority members voted to approve it.

Jody Cook, a Wyoming County member, said he was a member at the same time. He said making Brow-ning a consultant, through the contract, saved the authority 52 percent over Browning’s previous salary and benefits.

David Tolliver, also a Raleigh County member, said he was interested in looking at the contract because he had never seen it; he wasn’t on the board in 2009 when it was approv-ed.

Tolliver said rumors of Browning’s pay had been greatly exaggerated to him; Browning is paid $42,000 for the year.

“My only goal here is to save the authority some money and keep doing what I’m doing,” Browning said.

Harold McBride, of McDowell County, said he wants the members to vote on the contract rather than it continue automatically.

They also asked Browning to get a written opinion from the state Retirement Board. Browning agreed and said he would also provide the original ruling from the board and the state Ethics Commission.

He also emphasized to the new members he will provide copies of anything they are interested in seeing.

The contract runs through Dec. 31, so the members took no action.

— E-mail: mcbrooks@register-herald.com