South Charleston’s proposed tax increment financing district is on its way to the West Virginia Development Office and Legislature for approval.
The City Council passed a motion for the TIF district after a public hearing Thursday.
The TIF district would cover much of the city and has two distinct sections: a sales tax TIF generated by new private businesses and a property tax TIF for any businesses that would settle at a development on the fly ash pond once owned by FMC.
Funds generated by the TIF district would be used to finance roughly $155 million in public improvement projects, such as an educational complex and a wellness center. South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens has said the TIF district wouldn’t change the current tax structure in any way.
During Thursday’s hearing, the City Council heard largely positive comments about the TIF from speakers representing the West Virginia Regional Technology Park, Alpha Technologies, Terradon Corp. and other companies and organizations.
“The project proposed here is something that many communities would kill for,” said J.D. Stricklen, a local real estate developer. “It would raise everyone’s property value and enhance their lifestyles.”
Representatives said the TIF district would help draw in new private businesses while improving the city’s infrastructure.
One aspect they focused on was the plan to make the fly ash pond, near the Kanawha Turnpike exit of Interstate 64, a commercial development site by filling it with excess fill from the planned Jefferson Road project.
Art King, part owner of Poca-based Terradon, said the collaboration between the city and the West Virginia Division of Highways would save both entities money, which is why the TIF district needs to be approved soon.
“This is a one-shot deal, folks,” he said. “It would be too expensive to get rock material that would fill the pond, otherwise. The fact that Jefferson Road is being expanded, this makes the whole thing possible.”
But South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper said building on top of the fly ash pond could be hazardous. He said fly ash contains trace minerals, some of which are poisonous, and he questioned the safety of leaving the fly ash in the pond.
“If you’re planning on leaving that stuff there, I have a big problem,” he said. “Are you going to put up signs to let [shoppers] know they are on top of a toxic waste site?”
Kelley Goes, a member of the Jackson Kelly law firm and counsel for the city on the project, said state Department of Environmental Protection guidelines prevent the fly ash pond from becoming a residential center or day care, but commercial retail development is “perfectly suitable” for the space.
The fly ash pond was reclassified as a voluntary cleanup site in 2012, waiving requirements it had when it was classified as a solid waste impoundment.
Howard Swint, a commercial property broker with the tech park, said if the fly ash in the pond contains rare earth elements, it could prove useful to the tech park’s current research. Swint said the tech park is examining ways to extract rare earth elements, which are used in various electronics such as iPhones.
“Believe it or not, we use fly ash every day,” he said. “There is an upside in taking fly ash, refining it and getting rare earth elements from it.”
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