RANSON – Delegate Sammi Brown, arrested last week along with 23 other protesters at the site where Rockwool has spent more than $50 million on a manufacturing facility, says the company should abandon its project here.
“I feel like I needed to be a true community leader and step in and show solidarity with individuals that want nothing more than for this project to respect the people of Jefferson County or leave,” she said. “And those are the two options.”
Brown, a first-term Democrat representing District 65, said the facility, which would bring 150 jobs, should be built elsewhere.
While Brown said that some of her constituents support the factory and may hope to work there, she said the benefits aren’t worth its drawbacks.
“I’m seeing so many red flags in what could actually be any kind of promising economic development,” she said. “Neighbors are at each others’ throats. We have now come down to a point where the community is no longer respecting one another.”
Delegate John Doyle, also a Democrat and Rockwool opponent who represents Shepherdstown in District 67, said this week that he sees a six-month window to negotiate Rockwool’s departure from the county.
“I think we still have a chance to stop it,” Doyle said.
Doyle said he and Brown are working with Rockwool opponents to plan a large demonstration in Charleston, an event designed to convince Gov. Jim Justice that opposition to the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County is overwhelming, not a fringe.
“I’ve been trying to get the governor’s attention, and I haven’t been able to do that,” Doyle said. “I’ve talked to a lot of his people, but I haven’t talked to him.”
Doyle said Justice, a Republican, could weigh in to negotiate a way for Rockwool to select another location in West Virginia, in a community where the facility would be widely embraced. Rockwool’s current construction costs could be “managed,” he said.
“I don’t see where they have the best interest in the entire community anymore,” Brown said of Rockwool. “I’m fighting for your best interests here. This is one where I’m going to have to fight vehemently against in order to make sure you have a more promising future with other economic development.”
Brown also said Rockwool should build a factory that is “close to zero emissions as possible, if not zero emissions.”
Many Rockwool opponents recently have criticized the company for not using an electric arc furnace being tested in Europe at the Ranson site.
But officials with Rockwool say that this area’s power grid is coal-based, unlike what’s in place in Europe, and such a furnace would actually mean more pollution here.
Brown’s arrest came Thursday after a three-hour protest along W.Va. 9. She and the others walked over the Northpoint Avenue bridge and sat down in a line in the roadway to block the factory’s entrance before police put them in plastic flexicuffs and drove them to Charles Town where they appeared in Jefferson County Magistrate Court.
Most were released from police custody in less than three hours, said Ranson police Chief Bill Roper.
Brown and the others protestors were charged with obstructing a police officer, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
Kai Newkirk of Martinsburg was charged with a misdemeanor “offenses affecting bridges,” a charge that carries a $10 fine upon conviction.
Unlike the others, he was not charged with blocking a roadway, a misdemeanor traffic violation that carries a possible penalty of a $100 fine upon conviction.
WHO GOT ARRESTED PROTESTING ROCKWOOL? Earlier this year, anti-Rockwool protesters have been arrested in D.C. after blocking U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office i and outside the Danish embassy, but Thursday’s protest at the Rockwool site marked the first time for such arrests here.
Those charged include Shepherdstown residents Benita A. Keller, 64, Mary Anne Hitt, 44, David A. Levine, 53, Lillian E. Prillaman, 69, Philip S. Post, 80, and Morgan Sell, 28; Martinsburg residents Stewart J. Acuff, 64, David E. Browne, 23, Elizabeth A. Freeman, 63, Catherine M. Griffith, 46, Kai Newkirk, 38, and Christopher G. Ridler, 34; Shenandoah Junction residents Sally Schmidt, 68, and James S. Webb, 71; Charles Town residents Sammi Brown, 34 , Susannah M. Buckles, 64, and Marjorie A. McCauley, 59; Harpers Ferry residents Barbara H. Blok, 66, Sheldon H. Fischman, 68, Sharon R. Helman, 68, and Cathy A. Polonchak, 71; Kearneysville resident Mary B. Reed, 72; Hedgesville resident Tracy Cannon, 53; and Stanton, Va., resident David N. Cooper, 72