Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was scheduled to address the gathering at 9:45 Thursday morning, according to the symposium's published schedule. Tomblin, however, did not speak, and it's unclear why. Tomblin sent Charles Lorensen, his chief of staff, in his place.
Amy Shuler Goodwin, Tomblin's communications director, said the governor was never on the schedule.
Bill Raney, president of the coal association wrote in an email that Tomblin, "indicated he had matters regarding the state's emergency situation that had to be done which unexpectedly conflicted with the time he was scheduled."
Jason Bostic, vice president of the Coal Association, said he thought Tomblin was "diverted for some other reason."
It was the first time in Tomblin's tenure as governor that he has not addressed the symposium. Sitting governors almost always address the annual symposium.
The protesters marched back and forth in front of the entrance to the Civic Center, carrying signs and chanting.
"I think it's horrifying that the governor would say it's our decision whether to drink the water," said Vivian Stockman, a protester from Roane County who works for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "I would rather him say that, 'Folks, we're working desperately to figure out what's happened here; there will be changes; we're going to take command; we're going to make sure that the water plant is properly cleaned."
Later, the protest migrated to the Capitol Building, where it doubled in size and set up outside the House of Delegates and then the Governor's Office.
Dustin White, an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, was kicked out of the Capitol for bringing in a gallon jug of brownish "unidentified liquid." White said the liquid was water, taken Tuesday from his father's tap in Boone County. It smelled of bleach and the licorice-like odor associated with the chemical leak.
"As of two days ago, it started turning this brownish-red color, and this mucus-like stuff has been coming out of the tap," White said. "I just want people to see it, this is what we're supposed to take care of my dad with."
On Tuesday, the water company issued a precautionary boil-water advisory for White's father's home on James Branch Road in Boone County. Boil-water advisories are not connected to the chemical leak.
White said his dad, a 65-year-old retired coal miner, is suffering from bladder cancer.
"We're using bottled as much as possible now," he said. "After the ban was lifted, we did try to do some laundry but, now that it's this color, we can't even do the laundry, and he needs clean towels and things like that all the time."
Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, eventually was allowed to take the jug into the Capitol and White was let back inside. Manypenny took the jug to his office and said he'd take it to the Board of Public Health for testing.
Manypenny stressed that this was a one-time event and if people want water tested, they should contact the National Guard, although the National Guard has said it will not test in people's homes.
One of the only delegates to engage with protesters outside the House chamber was Delegate Randy Smith, R-Preston.
"You guys need to go after some of the other places besides coal," Smith said. "I'm a coal miner, and I take offense to that."
Also at the Capitol on Thursday, a bill was introduced in the House that would require state inspections of above-ground storage tanks like the kind that leaked the chemical.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously earlier this week but was referred to three committees in the House. Referring a bill to multiple committees often is a sign that the bill does not have good chances of passage.
House Speaker Tim Miley said that is not the case with this bill. He said the bill was sent to the Health Committee because it is a public-health bill, to the Judiciary Committee because of its legal requirements and to the Finance Committee because he was unsure of its fiscal impact.
"The Health Committee has already called for a public hearing for Monday evening so that we can receive input from affected residents," Miley said in an email statement. "Legislation of this magnitude should be addressed very methodically and not rushed through in a matter of days."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.