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Sen. Byrd’s impact felt statewide

By Staff | Jun 30, 2010

While Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s legacy will be remembered throughout West Virginia, local officials say his financial impact on this and other areas of the state will be sorely missed.

“The death of Robert C. Byrd does not mean the federal government will stop spending money, it just means we won’t get any of it,” said Keith Burdette, president of the Wood County Economic Development Authority.

Burdette said many state projects funded with federal dollars, thanks to Byrd, have benefited the area throughout the years, including funding for highways and public colleges to Public Debt being located in Parkersburg.

“He has had a hand in every federal appropriation we’ve received,” Burdette said.

Though some accused Byrd of “pork barreling” funds to West Virginia, the senator remained unapologetic for helping balance what he saw as the federal government’s neglect of the state for years.

“Is is pork?” Burdette said. “I guess if it’s going to us and not you, then it is pork.”

Byrd is the second high-ranking appropriations official lost to the state this year. Rep. Alan Mollohan, who was the third highest ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, lost a bid in the primary for re-election in May. Appropriations committee positions are among the most coveted positions in politics and require a number of years and a great deal of work to achieve.

“We’ve gone from having two very influential appropriations committee members to having no influence,” Burdette said. “I don’t see us having anyone on those committees … in the next decade.”

Ann Conageski, development director for the City of Parkersburg, said Byrd and Mollohan both were instrumental in securing funding for the city’s Riverfront Park project. Some funding is still in the process of being approved, she said, but her concern lies more with future projects.

Byrd’s “level of influence was unparalleled,” Conageski said, “especially for a small state like West Virginia. The funding won’t be as easy to come by now. Whoever comes into office to replace them (Byrd and Mollohan) will have to work a little harder to make sure West Virginia gets its projects funded.”

“It is a big loss, a huge loss,” Burdette said.

The American Heart Association of West Virginia issued a press release about Byrd’s passing, saying the senator was instrumental in obtaining funding in 2008 for Center for Disease Control and cardiovascular disease prevention programs in West Virginia. The organization had lost significant funding that year due to a cut in federal funding.

Officials with West Virginia University in Morgantown issued statements Monday, saying Byrd’s efforts helped the college build facilities and develop programs that have had lasting financial impacts for students and communities throughout the state.

Contact Michael at letters@graffitiwv.com