Ashton Marra

Statehouse Reporter/Producer

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered.

During the legislative session, Ashton focuses on the state Senate, bringing daily reports from the inner-workings of the state’s upper house on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s nightly television show The Legislature Today.  She also hosts that show on Fridays and leads a reporter roundtable discussing the top stories of the week with her colleagues from the statehouse press corps.

Ashton has most recently received national attention for her coverage of the January 9, 2014, chemical leak in Charleston. Her work was featured on NPR's hourly newscasts, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, WBUR's Here & Now, KCRW's To The Point and the PBS NewsHour.

Ashton came to WVPBS in October of 2012 from ABC News’ morning program Good Morning America where she worked as a production associate. Ashton produced pieces for the broadcast, including the first identified victim of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, as well as multiple entertainment news stories.

Before her time at GMA, Ashton worked as an intern on ABC’s news assignment desk, helping to organize coverage of major news stories like the Trayvon Martin case, the Jerry Sandusky trial and the 2012 Presidential election. She also spent 18 months as a weekend reporter for WDTV based in her hometown of Clarksburg, WV, breaking the story of missing Lewis County toddler Aliayah Lunsford. Ashton’s work from that story was featured on HLN’s Nancy Grace in October of 2011.

Ashton graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in May of 2012, where she was named WVU’s Reporter of the Year. She covered government for the P.I. Reed School of Journalism’s bi-weekly newscast WVU News and also served a semester as the WVPBS bureau reporter.

When she isn’t reporting, Ashton enjoys cooking and is an avid supporter of the arts, including theater, music and dance. She is a huge fan of musicals and touts her collection of Playbills from the Broadway shows she’s attended, which grew by nearly 30 in her 9 months living in New York City.


West Virginia Morning
8:01 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Constituional Powers Questioned in W.Va., Young Fairmont Poet Wins National Award

After some controversial vetoes from Gov. Tomblin, lawmakers, academics and citizens a like arequestioning the balance of power in West Virginia's Constitution and a 21-year-old Fairmont native is making a name for himself on the national poetry scene.

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Online Renewal Service
2:35 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

W.Va. DMV Announces Online Services Now Available

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Division of Motor Vehicles Acting Commissioner Steve Dale announced Tuesday that many DMVs throughout the state may see less foot traffic as some West Virginians may now have the option to go to the web for vehicle services.

Dale says some customers can now renew their vehicle registration and request a duplicate registration card online. The  DMV’s online service portal is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Mingo County
10:14 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Williamson Mayor Resigns, Charged with Making False Statements

Credit Flonight / wikimedia Commons

The soon-to-be former Mayor of Williamson is charged with making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Internal Revenue Service just hours after resigning from his post.

Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick submitted his resignation letter Monday, but didn’t give a reason for the departure. That information was made public Tuesday and was followed by an information from US Prosecuting Attorney Booth Goodwin.

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West Virginia Morning
8:00 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Preserving Cheat Canyon, Celebrating Shakespeare's 450th Birthday & A Man's Roots in W.Va. Slavery

Two national conservancy groups have announced plans to turn the Cheat Canyon into a nature preserve and wildlife management area. West Virginia University celebrates the 450 birthday of William Shakespeare with an adaptation of Henry IV and a Michigan man traces his ancestry back to Cabell County and back to a slave owner with whom he shares a name.

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Chemical Leak
4:35 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

WVAM Says MCHM Not Detected After Carbon Filters Changed

Credit Foo Conner / Flickr

West Virginia American Water said new tests show no signs of MCHM from water filtered through two newly replaced carbon filters.

The company began changing out the 16 activated carbon filters in the Charleston plant on April 1.

In a release this Monday, WVAM said 16 water samples taken throughout the filtration process at that location returned non-detect levels of MCHM.

The results came from Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories, Inc. in Lancaster, Pa., which WVAM said is testing the water at the 0.38 parts per billion level.

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Chemical Spill
4:14 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Freedom Industries Submits Site Remediation Plan

This photo from the Chemical Safety Board shows the holes in the Freedom Industries tank that allowed the January 9 spill into the Elk River.
Credit @chemsafetyboard / Twitter

Freedom Industries has submitted its remediation plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection to address environmental conditions at the company’s Charleston storage tank facility. The facility was the site of the Jan. 9 chemical spill of MCHM and PPH into the Elk River. 

The site remediation plan was developed by Civil & Environmental Consultants, a Pennsylvania-based firm also responsible for Freedom's tank decommissioning plan submitted to the DEP in March. It includes a summary of water quality sampling and remedial measures Freedom Industries has already implemented at the spill site.

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West Virginia Morning
8:24 am
Mon April 14, 2014

Apprentices Compete to be Best in W.Va., A Historic Mill Gets a Second Chance

The West Virginia Pipe Trades Apprentice Contest in Wheeling pits plumbers, pipefitters and HVAC workers against one another competing to be the best of the best in the state. Feagans’ Mill was recently added to the Endangered Historic Structures list, but a Jefferson County man is working to save the site by thinking of new uses for the historic building.

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Electricity Rates
4:43 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

Senator Calls on PSC to End Electric Bill Estimates

Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Unger
Credit WV Legislature

Senate Majority Leader John Unger called for a change Thursday in the way a First Energy subsidiary is billing its customers.

Unger requested the state Public Service Commission order Potomac Edison to stop estimating electric bills for customers. Instead, he said the company should be reading the meters every month.

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West Virginia Morning
8:17 am
Tue April 8, 2014

W.Va. Struggles in Election Performance, Specialized Bikes for Kids, and a W.Va. Farmer's Story

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Election Initiative releases their state rankings for election performance in 2008, 2010 and 2012, showing West Virginia did poorly in many areas. A program in Northern and Central West Virginia brings donated bikes to children with special needs and Traveling 219 takes us to Pocahontas County to meet a farmer who happens to also be a middle school principal.

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Elections Data
12:24 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Study: West Virginia Ranks Low in Election Performance, Shows Signs of Improvement

Credit Courtesy Photo / West Virginia Secretary of State's Office

Data gathered by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Election Initiative is making waves Tuesday as the organization released four years of collected elections information, ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their performances in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.

According to their indicators, West Virginia is improving, but not as quickly as state elections leaders might hope.

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Federal Water Regulations
8:33 am
Fri April 4, 2014

U.S. Chemical Safety Bill Passes Senate Committee

Although it’s only the first step in a long road on Capitol Hill, Senator Joe Manchin’s Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act was passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Thursday.

 “He knows full well what happens when a community is upended because some kind of chemical gets into the drinking water supply and he went to work,” said Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer of Calif.

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West Virginia Morning
8:20 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Remembering UBB, Protecting the Country's Waterways and the Song of the Week

Four years after 29 miners were killed in an explosion at a Raleigh County mine, Upper Big Branch miners' family members and friends discuss what it takes to change a culture focused on production to one with an emphasis on safety. Sen. Joe Manchin's Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act unanimously passes its first stop on a long road on Capitol Hill, and Todd Snider performs "Stomp and Holler" on the Mountain Stage Song of the Week.

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Mine Disaster
4:31 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

UBB Families: "We Want Answers"

Family and friends of the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 protested in front of the federal courthouse in Charleston.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Family and friends of the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010 gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Charleston Wednesday demanding answers from the Department of Justice.

"It's been four years," said Sheeren Adkins, who lost her son Jason in the blast. "If they were going to find something, they would have found it by now."

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7:39 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Minimum Wage Bill Will Force Lawmakers into Special Session

Gov. Tomblin signs SB 373 Tuesday afternoon. He signed that bill just hours before approving the minimum wage hike.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Lawmakers will be called into a special session slated for May to deal with a newly signed bill to increase the minimum wage, according to a press release issued Tuesday evening by Governor Tomblin’s office.

The bill will raise the current $7.25 an hour minimum wage to $8 on Jan. 1, 2015, and again to $8.75 the following year.

Tomblin signed the minimum wage bill Tuesday after stating earlier in the day he had some concerns about overtime provisions and maximum hours in the bill. Those provisions could unintentionally costs cities thousands, he said.

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Chemical Leak
3:58 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Governor Signs Bill to Protect W.Va.'s Water

Gov. Tomblin was surrounded by members of both the House and Senate as he signed SB 373.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On the same day West Virginia American Water workers began changing carbon filters at their Charleston filtration plant, Gov. Tomblin signed a bill designed to prevent future chemical leaks, like the one that affected that company’s customers, from ever happening again.

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Public Education
3:41 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

W.Va. Superintendent Announces Retirement as National Search Continues

State Superintendent Dr. James Phares
Credit West Virginia Department of Education

State Board of Education members are now under even more pressure to complete their nationwide search for a new state superintendent of schools after Dr. James Phares announced Tuesday he would retire from that position in June.

In a short letter to state Board President Gayle Manchin, Phares cited pressing family issues and a desire to spend some time out of the public eye as reasons for retiring from his current position, as well as his 40 years of service in public education.

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Northcott Court Shooting
5:03 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges in Huntington Shooting

Police respond to the scene of a shooting in the Northcott Court area of Huntington on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.
Credit Sholten Singer / The Herald-Dispatch

A Huntington man pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges after shooting six people in a city apartment complex last year.

Thirty-one year old Antonio Michael Smith is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of firearms and of selling heroin.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Smith used two firearms in the shooting in the Northcott Court neighborhood, a Huntington Housing Authority community, on Sept. 24, 2013. He also pleaded guilty Monday to selling heroin in Huntington on Feb. 6, 2013.

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Upper Big Branch
3:56 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

Senator Claims Misrepresentation in UBB Film

Credit Ellen Smith

Updated Tuesday April 1, 2014 at 9:27 a.m.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin wants the company to pull the entire documentary from the internet, discontinue distribution, and remove all references of the Senator. According to a release, Manchin today sent a letter to Adroit Films, the firm that filmed and produced the Don Blankenship-funded documentary, demanding the company to remove what Manchin is calling "propaganda" from all websites.

Senator Manchin wrote, in part: “Your fraudulent behavior in securing the interview and your misrepresentation of my interview are actionable offenses. I expect you to cease distribution of this film and remove any references to my name, image, and likeness.  Please respond to this letter in writing immediately to confirm what actions you are taking in response to my request.”

The release goes on to say Senator Manchin’s office has repeatedly attempted to contact Adroit Films via phone and email. Adroit did not immediately return our requests for comment.

Updated Monday March 31, 2014 at 5:24 p.m. 

It appears that Adroit Films has pulled the individual interviews recorded for Upper Big Branch: Never Again.

The interviews were available earlier today to watch on YouTube along with the full documentary earlier today.

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship released a documentary today claiming it “looks at what really happened at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.”

The film, released on YouTube Monday, is titled Upper Big Branch: Never Again, debuted just days before the fourth anniversary of the mining disaster that took lives of 29 miners.

Produced by Adroit Films, the documentary disputes the findings of the Mine Safety and Health Administration following the 2010 accident.

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Emergency Preparedness
3:04 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

Kanawha Co. Maps Chemical Storage Sites for Quicker Response

Credit wikimedia / Wikimedia

Just days after a chemical contaminated the water supply of three hundred thousand West Virginians, officials in Kanawha County officials started assessing their response to the disaster and found there were things they could do better. One of those things, having a more clear way to locate chemical storage sites quickly during an emergency.

Emergency management officials say that project is in its initial phases, but will never fully be complete.

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Affordable Care Act
6:44 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

The Deadline is Approaching: What You Need to Know to Sign Up for Health Insurance

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care Executive Director Perry Bryant held a press conference in the fall explaining how Medicaid expansion and getting people signed up for insurance through the federal health care exchange could help the overall health of the state.
Credit Ashton Marra

The deadline to sign up for health insurance or Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and the state Medicaid expansion is Monday, March 31, but don’t fret! There is still time to start the application process if you haven’t yet begun.

Michelle Bays, a certified application counselor for Valley Health in Huntington, says there is some basic information you need in order to apply for coverage on the federal healthcare exchange.

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