In summer of 2018, the people of Jefferson County came together to oppose heavy industry near our schools. We connected on Facebook, attended public meetings, and formed a new non-profit organization, Jefferson County Vision. We’ve also held some influential protests of Rockwool at Climate Week in NY, and at the Greenbrier WVMA Winter Convention. It is now very clear to Rockwool and our government that they picked the wrong community to exploit.

So, a lot has happened—but what will 2019 hold?

During the fall elections, we distributed a voter education guide on Rockwool. Of the state and local races we tracked, five of the six candidates opposing Rockwool won their elections! That outcome is continuing to rock the state.

Almost immediately, most of the pro-Rockwool members of the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) resigned. Rebuilding and reforming the JCDA is a priority in January 2019. At a minimum, the new JCDA should not pursue businesses like Rockwool that don’t comply with the county’s land-use comprehensive plan. The JCDA should move to withdraw all government support for Rockwool, and also cooperate with Jefferson County Vision’s open records lawsuit, so that we can get to the bottom of the JCDA’s highly irregular bidding process on Rockwool’s water line.

The JCDA is also central to a tax avoidance scheme which allows Rockwool to escape the taxes that all other local businesses pay. Under the plan, called PILOT, the JCDA  will take ownership of the Rockwool property and plant, and lease it back to the company. By letting the government technically own the plant, Rockwool’s tax liability magically disappears.

More in the Works

Fortunately, the West Virginia constitution promises all citizens that “taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state.” Jefferson County Vision is challenging the constitutionality of PILOT in court, with esteemed West Virginia University constitutional law professor Robert Bastress as co-council. This will be one of the state’s most important public policy lawsuits in 2019.

Additionally, Jefferson County Vision filed a lawsuit against the City of Ranson, arguing that adequate notice was not given when changing the zoning of Jefferson Orchard—Rockwool’s site—to industrial use. We look forward to our day in court to show that the plan to develop heavy industry next to schools hinges on failed public notice.

Beyond the courtroom and the JCDA, the effort to stop Rockwool will continue to grow. The City of Charles Town has municipal elections in May 2019, and the city is at the center of the fight over Rockwool’s industrial sewer infrastructure. Research has brought to light that Rockwool has given vastly different numbers for the amount of wastewater it will discharge, and that the planning and financing for Rockwool’s infrastructure was done questionably. We have more in the works on this and other efforts to stop Rockwool.

Ultimately, this issue comes down to our community’s values and local control over our own destiny. Are we going to allow a foreign company, through the misdeeds and deceit of some public officials, to pay near zero taxes and spew hazardous pollution next to our schools? Rockwool doesn’t understand that this question is at the heart of who we are as a county. Stopping heavy industry near schools is a test of our character as a community, and we will not yield.

 

— Article submitted by: Krista Guido / Jefferson County Vision

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