WCHS EXCLUSIVE: Court decision against West Virginia DOH to cost state $30 million

A recent decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court is going to cost the state millions, and it could establish a precedent where millions more are at risk.

The case centers around the construction of Corridor H, which when finished will run from central West Virginia to northern Virginia.

A circuit court and now the Supreme Court have ruled that the state owes the property owners $19.5 million plus interest, putting the total amount at about $30 million.

The Supreme Court ruling cites a decision by the original DOH lawyer to agree that the limestone is a mineral belonging to the property owners and the state has to pay for it.

“It appears the Supreme Court has spoken,” said Nick Casey, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff. “We’re trying to determine how that money will be dealt with by the state. The Division of Highways is looking at it closely. It also seems that there may have been some errors in that case. Not by the court so much but by counsel who represented the state at the trial court level some years ago. So, the case is of concern to us in the budget times because it’s in the tens of millions of dollars.”

The state Department of Transportation also released a statement about the lawsuit payout.

“We were surprised by the court’s decision and the amount of the award. Because it is still new to us, we continue to digest the ruling, and are in the process of reviewing and discussing the possible implications,” Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said in the statement.

The $30 million the DOH must pay has put the agency in a real financial crunch. Highways officials have already told vendors to expect delayed payments because money is tight. This court ruling just piles onto the money problem.

As for the case setting a precedent in how the DOH uses limestone when it is unearthed, the agency is well aware that some minerals are valuable. It has protocols in place for working near coal seams and for large amounts of timber. But limestone has not been included in those plans. The ruling could open the door for other property and mineral rights owners, if the DOH used their limestone and didn’t pay for it.