PARKERSBURG - A review of West Virginia State Police detachments has Calhoun County leaders concerned their detachment may be closed.
For almost a month, Bob Weaver, president of the Calhoun County Commission and editor of the Hur Herald, an online news site, has been trying to find out if West Virginia State Police officials were considering the closure of the Grantsville barracks, consolidating it with the Clay County detachment.
The Hur Herald reported earlier the agency was looking at a $450,000 piece of property in the Big Otter area that could be used as a combination barracks for Clay and Calhoun.
Weaver said he couldn't get an answer from state police officials and enlisted the aid of acting state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
"Just to get this piece of information has taken weeks," Weaver said. "We got it by using Sen. Kessler."
In a letter sent to the commission, and copied to Kessler, Col. Jay Smithers, superintendent of the West Virginia State Police, acknowledged consolidation of the detachments was being considered, but no action had taken place.
"Prior to taking such action, the appropriate individuals will be notified, such as you, to discuss the consolidation," Smithers stated in a letter to Calhoun County Commission members.
The letter did little to ease Weaver's concern.
"The county is really concerned because of the response times to most parts of the county," he said. "It certainly will create a problem for many citizens in the area of the county that will be a considerable distance from Big Otter."
"We live in a rural, distant, crooked-road kind of a state and response times can be as long as an hour," Weaver added. "Response times are a big issue for most of West Virginia."
In 2007, state police officials pulled officers from Pleasants and Wirt counties to the Wood County detachment, but the move was rescinded following an outcry of complaints from politicians, residents and local law enforcement.
Smithers said officials were reviewing facilities throughout the state, particularly those being leased by the state police. Sgt. Michael Baylous, spokesman for the State Police, said they have 22 leased sites.
"We are continually reviewing leases and always considering the possibility that it might be more of an economic advantage to own rather than lease," Baylous said.
The monthly lease of the barracks in Calhoun is approximately $600, according to Weaver.
In the letter Smithers reminded commission officials that a 2009 study recommended closing 21 detachments across the state. The cost of leasing those detachments was approximately $200,000 and was removed from the state police budget, according to Smithers.
"We were ultimately not permitted to close the detachments causing a serious budget shortfall," Smithers stated, "Without adequate monies being appropriated to cover leasing costs, the state police will be forced to strongly consider closing several detachments."
Wednesday, The News and Sentinel requested lists of the 22 leased sites as well as the 21 sites recommended for closure in 2009. Thursday, the News and Sentinel submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.
Weaver doubts any such move to Big Otter would be a cost savings. He thinks the cost of manpower, gas and the extra mileage will not amount to a cost savings.
"It is beyond my scope of understanding," he said.