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WV governor takes flak for ATV trail veto


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed adjacent West Virginia counties to establish regional authorities to manage ATV trail systems, similar to the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.

Gov. Jim Justice’s veto of a bill that would allow counties to establish regional authorities to manage ATV trail systems has drawn criticism.
(File photo)

The veto has drawn criticism from those who allege that Justice rejected the bill to prevent competition with a UTV or Jeep rental and trail-riding program run by The Greenbrier resort — which Justice owns.

The Senate voted 26-8 to pass the final version of Senate Bill 28, followed by the House of Delegates voting 91-9 to do the same.

Accompanying his veto, Justice penned a letter Friday stating that the bill will actually work against its goal of spurring economic development through recreational trail development because it dilutes demand for outdoor recreation.

“We have already learned from the skiing and whitewater rafting industries that there is not an unlimited demand for recreational activities,” he wrote. “Unlimited and unrestricted state sponsored recreational trail development would create an environment where you might increase total ridership, but actually decrease economic development by spreading those riders and visitors over a much broader geographic area. Before private capital will be brought to the marketplace in support of a recreational trail system, a density of trail ridership must be demonstrated and sustained over a period of years to warrant the investment.”

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, who sponsored the bill, said he was disappointed with the veto. He said, given Justice’s tourism emphasis and the widespread bipartisan support for the bill, he thought Justice would have signed the bill. He also questioned Justice’s economic rationale.

“I think it’s a shame that he did that on the basis that he doesn’t believe in competition, apparently, because that’s essentially what his veto message said, that too much competition is a bad thing,” Karnes said. “I think that it completely missed the mark of what made the United States the country that it is. Competition makes everybody better.”

Karnes went on to suggest a potential conflict of interest.

“I hate to say it, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the governor has a similar-type trail system where he rents vehicles out at The Greenbrier, and I have to wonder if this wasn’t just a lot of self-interest, as opposed to trying to do the right thing for West Virginia,” he said.

The West Virginia GOP issued a news release early Tuesday, echoing Karnes’ claims.

The release also noted that, on the same day as the veto, The Greenbrier resort ran an ad on Twitter encouraging viewers to patronize the resort’s off-road trail system.

“Get behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and explore the mountains of West Virginia like never before!” the ad reads, along with an embedded video of a Jeep plowing through a wooded trail.

When asked to comment on the veto, Grant Herring, Justice’s press secretary, referred to Justice’s veto letter.

He did not respond to follow-up questions regarding the potential conflict of interest or to Justice’s progress putting his assets into a blind trust.

Supporting the veto, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, who voted against the bill, echoed Justice’s claim that it would have diluted the demand for trails across the state, spreading the riders too thin for anyone to make a profit.

“There’s a finite number of trail riders. If every two counties could do their own thing, it would be so diluted that no one could make it from an economic standpoint.”

Regarding the potential conflict of interest, Stollings said the Greenbrier’s market is entirely separate from the Hatfield-McCoy Trail’s market, and saying one would hurt the other is unfair.

“The people that are riding or would ride four-wheelers in West Virginia, aren’t going to rent a $70,000 SUV and pay $200 for an afternoon of riding,” he said. “This is apples and oranges, as far as I’m concerned.”

In March, Justice put two of his assets — the Glade Springs resort, near Beckley, and Wintergreen Ski resort, in Virginia — into a blind trust agreement. However, those two are a small fraction of the more than 100 businesses Justice owns.

Rebecca Stepto, executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, would not comment for this report.

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