Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday the state has reached an agreement with local property owners in Boone and Lincoln counties to donate more than 12,000 acres of land, paving the way for the creation of the Rock Creek Development Park at the former Hobet surface mine.
In a news conference Thursday, Tomblin detailed the state’s plans to build the newly named park and attract development to it through the project, which includes developing a road connecting the park to US Highway 119 costing an estimated $99.8 million. The state National Guard will be making a seed investment in Rock Creek, using it for vehicle maintenance work, training and agricultural operations such as greenhouses.
Tomblin first announced the plans for the project during the 2016 State of the State address in January, saying it would help diversify a southern West Virginia economy that has traditionally relied on coal. In August, Boone County residents questioned if the park was the best way to improve its economy, citing the project’s high price tag and the isolated location.
Tomblin said the Boone, Mingo, Lincoln and Logan County commissions recently adopted resolutions in support of Rock Creek and that the state has negotiated with ten different landowners over the past few months to back the project.
“We all know what has happened to these communities with the loss of thousands of coal-related jobs,” Tomblin said in a prepared statement. “And we have all seen the impact of these drastic shifts on families and on our local and state economies. As state and local officials, we’re committed to each area of West Virginia and realize the full development potential of the Rock Creek Development Park. Southern West Virginia has helped our state in monumental ways, and now it is time for the state to help Southern West Virginia.”
Rock Creek will be the largest mixed-use development project in the state’s history, with the site of the park approximately the size of Huntington, according to the state’s Rock Creek website. The West Virginia Economic Development Authority will oversee property development.
The initial steps of the site’s development are the completion of a 2.6-mile road from the park to US 119, the extension of existing utility lines and continued master planning. The Department of Commerce has contracted consultants through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to figure out the best investment opportunities and park infrastructure, according to Tomblin.
The state National Guard will begin transporting equipment to the site of its vehicle maintenance and tire assembly facilities within the next month, according to Maj. Gen. James Hoyer. Eight jobs will be created to support the initial phase of development. The facilities will be located on now-defunct mining maintenance sites.
“The primary reason we chose [Rock Creek] was the proximity to Yeager Airport, our airbase and our headquarters,” Hoyer said. “Having those maintenance facilities available will make us exceptionally competitive with other players in the Department of Defense maintenance complex.”
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