— As debate continues to intensify, both sides double down.
Last month, we attempted to tell the basic story behind the arrival of the Rockwool plant to Jefferson County. If you’re one of the few remaining local folks who haven’t heard about it, or if you don’t live in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and haven’t kept up, then just Google “Rockwool WV” to read all about it.
To that end, Rockwool began building its highly controversial plant this month—while those who oppose it continue to work diligently to block its development and eradicate it from the region.
Rather than re-cover what has already been covered in depth by the area daily and weekly publications, as well as the massive social media efforts, we’re taking the opportunity this month to allow one representative from each side to say their piece.
Michael Zarin, Vice President, Group Communications, at ROCKWOOL Group submitted on behalf of his employer, and Megan Hartlove submitted on behalf of those who oppose Rockwool.
— — This is what Michael had to say:
Jefferson County was one of 50 locations that sought ROCKWOOL’s eco-friendly insulation plant. In July 2017, we publicly announced the new factory would be coming to Ranson. We’re delighted to have made that choice, as many have told us that what we offer in terms of jobs, economic development, and best-in-class environmental performance is what the county seeks.
That announcement was followed by multiple public events, newspaper articles, and other activities related to the announcement. In March 2018, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent an email notification about the ROCKWOOL air quality permit and the public comment period to a long list of recipients that included the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, none of which submitted comment.
It was only after the public groundbreaking in late June 2018 that some members of the community began to object. To say there has been a spirited discussion about the ROCKWOOL Ranson facility since then would be a considerable understatement.
Unfortunately, much of the anti-project rhetoric is based on misinformation, inaccurate assertions, or claims that misrepresent past events.
We have worked to provide as much fact-based information as possible over the past several weeks, including hosting four community open houses as well as presenting at public meetings at the Ranson, Charles Town, and Shepherdstown City Councils, the Jefferson County Commission, and the County Board of Education. We appreciate the questions and comments residents make on our Ranson Facebook page, which we do our best to answer.
We hope the DEP’s September 18th statement allayed health and environmental concerns when DEP Secretary [Austin] Caperton said: “Based on all available information that we have gathered and that we have reviewed, we see no threat to the health of our citizens and no threat to our environment.”
That statement is backed by an exceptionally robust body of scientific research and analysis that includes work by the Sierra Club, which had raised concerns regarding standards for mineral wool production. The Sierra Club was an active participant in the entire EPA rule-making process that culminated in additional limits being imposed in 2015—limits that ROCKWOOL’s state-of-the-art technology will keep the Ranson factory well within.
For a company that prides itself on its record as a good neighbor and with global recognition as a leader in sustainability, we have been taken aback by the behavior of the most vocal project opponents. That’s included threatening a ROCKWOOL staff member’s family, asking other staff members where we live and where our kids go to school, and demanding the license plate numbers on our cars. It’s also included calling one of our executives a Nazi propaganda minister, and parents posing their kids giving our CEO the middle finger.
Some public officials have uncritically accepted and acted on whatever project opponents have told them. The most prominent example is Charles Town City Councilman Michael Brittingham publicly accusing ROCKWOOL’s Trent Ogilvie of lying about emissions at our Mississippi plant based on nothing more than a snippet from an EPA website with a yellow icon that says “violation.” A simple phone call or email would have clarified that this violation pertained to an administrative error in building a storage silo, having nothing to do with emissions or health risks.
Many residents have told us that even if they were to accept the science that there is no health risk, they would still oppose the facility because they don’t believe any type of industry is appropriate for Jefferson County. That’s an economic policy that’s up to county residents and their local leaders to shape for future decisions.
But if the apocalyptic future described by some protestors is what truly awaits Jefferson County, it would have already happened in the dozens of other communities in which we operate. The reality is that it hasn’t. And neither will it happen here in Jefferson County.
— — — — —
This is what Megan had to say:
By now you’ve seen the “Stop Rockwool” signs popping up across Jefferson County. The reason for the outcry: our government is subsidizing a global-scale insulation factory on an apple orchard next to our schools.
You read that right: the government is spending our tax dollars to build heavy industry in the middle of West Virginia’s most successful residential growth zone. Jefferson County’s booming economy is outperforming the U.S. as a whole, but the bumbling West Virginia Department of Commerce is now here to help, whether we like it or not.
This summer, we learned that our state and local politicians secretly negotiated with Rockwool, making promises to change our zoning and give the company millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks. Without any economic or environmental review, those promises were fast-tracked in quick votes with little public discussion.
Jefferson Orchard was never supposed to have heavy industry. The federal government paid for award-winning plans to make the site a mixed-use community built around a new MARC train station: NorthPort. Those plans for smart growth are wrecked by Rockwool—an industrial plant using tremendous amounts of water and generating just one job per ruined acre of land, while bringing in a hundred heavy trucks a day (24/7) to tear up our roads.
Angry and entitled, Rockwool refuses to even pause site blasting to answer questions about safety from the Jefferson County Board of Education. As a mother of three school-aged children, this is especially concerning to me. The safety and well-being of our children should be the top priority for everyone involved, including executives for Rockwool, who have continuously stated they want to be “good neighbors.” Now that local government wants to reconsider the deal, Rockwool is threatening our community with an absurd $100 million lawsuit. If this is how Rockwool acts when their plant isn’t even approved for construction, what kind of long-term neighbor will they be?
Rockwool claims dumping hundreds of tons of hazardous waste into our air will be safe, and that “approximately” 150 new jobs are worth the risk. But the company doesn’t mention that West Virginia taxpayers are giving them a $2.2-million-dollar bonus check if they hire just 120 people. Not only does Rockwool pay almost no local taxes, they are grabbing money from our struggling state budget! Why are our politicians giving a foreign company millions of our hard-earned dollars? It just doesn’t make sense.
Jefferson County is special, and our economy is growing, with rising incomes and low unemployment. We’re fortunate to be in the D.C. metro area, and our development strategy should build on our existing strengths: education, agriculture, tourism, and livable towns and cities.
Instead, Rockwool will harm our economy by making Jefferson County a less attractive place to live, work, and visit. Putting a toxic industrial facility by our schools is going to drive away jobs and growth.
Our new non-profit organization “Jefferson County Vision” is asking every candidate for office to take our Stop Rockwool pledge, which reads: I oppose Rockwool’s heavy industry next to Jefferson County schools. If elected, I will oppose any actions or votes that support, subsidize, or promote Rockwool in Jefferson County, WV.
We will post results on our website, www.ToxicRockwool.com, and will begin direct mail and other communications to inform voters where each candidate stands on Rockwool.
This is the first step in a multi-year strategy to improve government transparency, stop subsidies for heavy industry, and change Jefferson County’s strategy for economic growth.