CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson Countians fighting to stop the Danish insulation manufacturer, The Rockwool Group from building a facility in Ranson have begun circulating a petition to block a key part of the project.
But the move could result in higher utility rates for area customers, says Dan Casto, an attorney and Jefferson County Development Authority member who backs the Rockwool project.
The nonprofit Jefferson County Vision’a petition seeks to block the public utility service that the $150 million industrial project needs. With enough signatures, it would trigger a provision in West Virginia law that governs the approval of municipal public works projects.
According to state Code, if 30 percent of a municipality’s property owners oppose a public works project in their city, that project would need a “super majority” – four-fifths vote of approval – to move forward.
For Charles Town’s City Council, that would require a daunting eight favorable votes out the available nine.
The City Council will meet next month to decide whether to approve a $16 million bond that would finance the construction of a six-mile sewer line to serve the Rockwool plant and the rest of the 625-acre Jefferson Orchards Industrial Park.
“Rockwool needs an industrial sewer in order to build its global-scale insulation factory, so signing these petitions will help make it harder to build heavy industry in the middle of Jefferson County,” Charles Town’s Hannah Amiet, a Jefferson County Vision volunteer, said in a statement. “This petition effort is another avenue for the residents of Jefferson County to be heard on Rockwool.”
Since word of the project spread following the factory’s formal groundbreaking in late June – more than six months after Rockwool formally announced its plan to build in Ranson –county residents have packed public meetings to express their opposition to the dual-smokestack factory.
The protest group has the backing of Charles Town Mayor Scott Rogers, who initially supported Rockwool.
“We need to make sure that there’s a strong consensus in Charles Town before building any infrastructure for Rockwool,” Rogers said, calling the pollution and truck traffic the factory would generate near local schools “the wrong fit for Jefferson County.”
Charles Town has 2,783 properties in the city, and city staffers are in the process of identifying just who owns them.
A vote by City Council approving the pipeline’s bond financing would clear the way for the Charles Town Utility Board, the authority governing the city’s water and sewer system, to initiate the public works financing.
But if the Utility Board were to not issue the bonds to pay for the sewer extension, that wouldn’t mean the end of the project, explained Casto, who has waged a sometimes overheated war of words with Rogers about the project over social media.
In a post this week on the Facebook page Concerned Citizens Regarding Rockwool, Casto said the failure of the utility board to issue bonds for the the sewer project would just mean the project would get financed another way — a more expensive way that would mean higher rates for the city’s public sewer customers.
“The CTUB cannot deny service to users under state law,” Casto posted Tuesday. “The only thing that Jefferson County Vision would accomplish by this petition is increasing your water and sewer rates.
“The utilities will be provided. It’s just a question of financing.”
The cost for the sewer pipeline would be repaid through special arrangements by state and local economic development agencies.
It’s a significant negotiation point for Rockwool officials with state and local officials. The new sewer line would also serve current and future commercial, industrial and residential developments along the W.Va. 9 corridor.
It’s not known which other Charles Town council members might vote against funding the sewer project. Councilman Mike Brittingham has been outspoken in his opposition to Rockwool while other council members have asked questions and raised concerns about potential liabilities for the city if it rejects the Rockwool sewer line.