Twelve members of the Jefferson County Development Authority, who played an important role in enticing the Rockwool company to build an insulation plant in a former apple orchard in West Virginia, have resigned.
WASHINGTON – Twelve members of the Jefferson County Development Authority, who played an important role in enticing the Danish-based Rockwool company to build an insulation plant in a former apple orchard in West Virginia, have resigned en masse.
Since July, pioneering for the 24-hour factory, thousands of neighbors and environmental advocates have expressed their concern and opposition to their construction, fearing air, water and noise pollution. In the factory, basalt rock is melted into molten lava and spun into fibers that are used in the production of rock wool insulation.
"These board members all came to the same conclusion that a part of the county wishes a different direction for economic development and that a different direction should be led by new board members," said CEO Eric Lewis in an e-mail that was sent to fellow board members.
Lewis and eleven other members filed discharge letters with the Jefferson County Commission on Friday morning, starting 1 minute after noon.
The JCDA, founded in 1979, aims to attract companies to Jefferson County. The 20 members of the board are unpaid, consisting of local business people, and representatives of local councils, who are appointed by the Jefferson County Commission.
WTOP reached Lewis to see if he could elaborate on the conditions behind the mass exodus. He replied: "I have no comment on that – my resignation letter speaks for itself."
The Jefferson County Development Authority is one of several entities whose combined efforts resulted in negotiations on the deal to bring the Rockwool factory to the province, in the city of Ranson.
The Jefferson County Commission entered into the Payment of Lies or Laces Agreement on October 3, 2017 and has taken on the authority to obtain bond financing for improvements to the waterline.
In return, Rockwool promised to invest about $ 150 million to build and operate its facility and create around 140 jobs. Jefferson County is the richest province in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the country.
Opponents of the factory have argued that heavy industry is not compatible with living in Jefferson County, one of the tourism drives in the state, known for its natural beauty and historic sites, including Harpers Ferry.
"Reasonable people must be able to differ respectfully about that direction", Lewis wrote to the other authorities. "Unfortunately, that has not been the case."
In September, watchdog group Jefferson County Vision filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Development Authority, declaring the deal to bring Rockwool involved non-bidding contracts, violating ethical guidelines, and enforcing an attempt to deprive the public of an opportunity to review and provide input. The case is underway in circuit court.
In a statement, Michael Zarin, vice president of communications for Rockwool Group, told WTOP that the resignation will not derail the construction of the plant.
"We want to praise the whole JCDA for their commitment to public service and the good work they have done for Jefferson County.It is unfortunate that so many members feel compelled to resign, but we want to be very clear with the community that we the promises we have made will continue and will continue to build the factory, make the investment and create the jobs and economic activity that we have said we will do, "Zarin said.
After months of discussions between Rockwool supporters and opponents – much of it took place on Facebook – one of the eleven delegates spoke with WTOP on condition of anonymity.
The member said that all 11 retiring members were planning to vote on Wednesday to approve a $ 7 million public loan to finance the water line to the Rockwool plant.
But the vote was canceled shortly after Josh Compton, Jefferson County Commission, posted on Facebook: "If there are members of the JCDA who do not feel comfortable or feel like they need more information before making a decision, I think it would be absolutely sensible to request an extension of the timeline of the voice instead of taking a decision that they may or may not have self-confidence. "
"It was overwhelming," said the Jefferson County Development Authority member. After reading Compton's post, the source said that the Rockwool supporters of the panel felt that Compton had put them in a politically unrecognizable position.
"We decided we were done with this mess," said the member. "If he thinks that's what voters want, he can have it."
WTOP approached Compton for comment.
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