CHARLESTON — The labs the West Virginia Department of Agriculture uses to test for food contaminants and other biohazards are in urgent need of repair, the department’s communications director says.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last week heard an update on the current state of Guthrie Laboratories from Communications Director Crescent Gallagher.

Gallagher’s presentation laid out the repairs needed at the Guthrie Agricultural Center in Charleston, which the department uses to test for food contaminants and other biohazards.

The department is seeking 3 years of appropriations at $12.6 million per year or a one-time appropriation of $37.8 million.

Others presenting to the committee included Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, Forestry Director Barry L. Cook and Natural Resources Deputy Director Emily Fleming.

Gaunch said West Virginia Commerce is responsible for 9 different agencies. He said the agricultural industry can, does and will create industrial opportunities and jobs for West Virginia.

Gaunch spoke to the committee in support of the development of the industrial hemp, dairy, poultry, pork and beef industries.

Delegate Daniel Linnville (R-Cabell), asked Gaunch about WiFi at state parks. Gaunch said he would take the delegate’s questions and concerns back to his department.

Cook spoke on the opportunity for the yellow poplar tree species to gain status as timber certified for construction. He said the certification has the potential to create 150 jobs per plant. Cook referenced the numerous yellow poplar products being used around the world.

Linville asked Cook if there is any concern or connection between the fires in Australia and West Virginia forestry. Cook reminded the committee that good forest management helps in fire situations by reducing fuel levels and improving access to fire areas.

Cook expressed confidence in West Virginia’s forest management.

Fleming presented the committee with an overview of the DNR and shared the department’s large legislative agenda that includes 10 bills and 12 rules. Some of the bills and rules include penalties for breaking hunting laws, crossbow terminology, park signage, and rules for the whitewater industry, boating, campground reservations, fishing and falconry. 

She said that West Virginia state parks are in need of an endowment fund for updates and repairs. 

Agriculture Chairman Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said that the committee would meet at 2 p.m. Mondays for the remainder of session.

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