SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Those who come out to see fireworks at Sam Michael’s Park the weekend before Independence Day may be asked to pay an admission fee for the first time, even after parks officials accepted a controversial $8,000 donation from Rockwool.
Toni Milbourne, president of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission, said the $2 fee might still be waived if the commission gets enough donations.
The fee is new, although the commission once charged $5 for parking, Milbourne said. The idea of charging admission won approval by the commission because of a “significant” drop in sponsorships this year, she said.
At last week’s parks commission meeting, board members considered rejecting the sponsorship donation from Rockwool.
Some two dozen opponents of the 460,000-square-foot stonewool manufacturing facility set to open on the outskirts in Ranson in the fall of 2020 came to the May 22 meeting and implored parks officials to reject Rockwool’s gift.
No other entity has donated more than $1,000 toward the celebration. The parks board has collected a total of $11,725 toward the fireworks. The cost of putting on the daylong celebration at the park will total about $30,000.
Most of that – some $25,000 – is for the fireworks display, parks officials say.
Ultimately, only two members of the commission voted to reject Rockwool. The other five voted to accept the money.
“My opinion is that Rockwool is not a good neighbor because they aren’t doing enough to control their air pollution,” said Paul Marshall, the parks board member who proposed rejecting the sponsorship.
“I blame the Rockwool process and the West Virginia process that ended up with them here,” he continued. “I don’t want to be a party to it. I’m a citizen of the county. I’m a member of this commission. That’s why I made the motion.”
The only other board member to vote with Marshall was Dale Manuel, a former Jefferson County Commissioner and Democratic state lawmaker.
Manuel said he opposes the Rockwool plant and believes accepting a corporation’s donation could be viewed an endorsement.
Before the vote, several citizens spoke out in agreement with Marshall and Manuel.
“There is a lot more at stake than just money,” said Susannah Buckles of Charles Town. She said Rockwool shouldn’t be allowed to “exploit America’s birthday” or the company’s marketing and public relations goals. “If you sell out, it makes it mean nothing or next to nothing,”
“All you are is a pawn in their game,” Scott Sarich of Shepherdstown said. “You’re in parks and recreation. You’re all about children.”
Barbara Stiefel of Harpers Ferry said she serves on several nonprofit boards which are beginning to refuse donations and sponsorships from corporations that are incompatible with their organization’s values.
“Be on the forefront of good, right thinking,” Stiefel said. “Just because something is legal doesn’t make it good.”
Three other citizens spoke against rejecting Rockwool’s support.
Summit Point resident Ray Bruning said that denying the donations “borders on ludicrous.”
He pointed out that Sammi Brown, a Democrat and a Rockwool opponent, sponsored a parks and rec commission event when she was running for House of Delegates last year, and that her sponsorship was never viewed as an endorsement of her campaign by the commission.
Bruning added that the county needs begin fostering more neighborliness toward Rockwool and any other company operating legally.
Rockwool’s $150 million factory is under construction near North Jefferson Elementary School. It’s expected to employ about 150.
“This is not being good neighbors, not accepting people’s money,” he said. “You might as well take their money. They’re going to be here for a while.”
Earlier this month Rockwool contributed $30,000 to the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association to pay for a system designed to track the whereabouts and enhance the safety of emergency crews at fires and other rescue scenes.
Some Rockwool adversaries spoke out against that donation as well.
Not all the parks board members who voted to accept the donation support the company’s factory.
“They’re a legal business,” explained David Hill, a board member. “They’re able to do business in our county, in our state.”
Hill and Ann Mountz, the board’s vice president, said accepting a corporate sponsorship does not imply any endorsement of that company from the parks and rec commission.
Mountz said she worried that rejecting Rockwool’s donation could upset other donors and make it harder for the commission to collect sponsorships in the future.
The commission should remain neutral and evenhanded in how it treats corporate sponsors, she said. “We need money from all over the place,” she said.
This year’s Fourth of July celebration at Sam Michael’s takes place June 29.
Along with Hill and Mountz, others voting to accept the Rockwool donation were Milbourne, Heather Morgan McIntyre and Mike Jacobs.
Board member Lanae Johnson abstained and Katie Osantowske recused herself because she works for Rockwool. Board member Gene Taylor was absent and one voting position on the board is vacant.