Prillaman, Baeza: 5 reasons Rockwool fight isn't over (Opinion)

“Why are you still fighting Rockwool?” “Isn’t it a done deal?”

People occasionally ask us these questions when they see a “Stop Toxic Rockwool” bumper sticker on our cars, a sign in our yards, or a T-shirt in opposition to the Danish insulation company’s plant in Ranson. Like the vast majority of Jefferson County, they are concerned about the polluting factory being built across from North Jefferson Elementary that would consume over 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic feet of fracked gas a day.

Nevertheless, whether it’s because of the inaction of some of our elected officials or due to misinformation, people have been led to think that nothing can be done to stop Rockwool.

This is clearly not the case. Thousands of us are still fighting to stop Rockwool. These are five reasons why the struggle is far from over:

1. Rockwool is part of a planned 1,000-acre industrial park. According to an October 2017 memo obtained through a FOIA request to Ranson, the “West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council (IJDC) is seeking to bring a 1,000-acre industrial park to the Eastern Panhandle region,” and Rockwool is supposed to be the first factory of many to set up shop in the area. Without losing sight of Rockwool, our movement is expanding its focus as the threat of massive industrialization becomes more apparent.

2. Rockwool does not have sewer service. Among the promises made to Rockwool by state and local authorities, West Virginia’s plan to subsidize a $16.5 million industrial sewer is one of the most controversial. The sewer would have eight times the capacity needed for Rockwool — obviously, the plan is to serve more industrial clients. Nearly 1,500 residents and homeowners of Charles Town signed a petition for the City Council to hold a hearing on the sewer and submit the bond issuance to a vote by council members. To this end, the nonprofit organization Jefferson County Vision and members of the public filed a lawsuit that is currently before the circuit court.

3. Rockwool’s permits are being challenged. Per Ranson City Code, the city should have never granted Rockwool a vertical building permit, given that there is no sewer service in place. The circuit court has been petitioned to order Ranson to comply with the law. In addition, neither the construction nor operations stormwater permits have yet been approved, and both are deeply flawed as written. Over 200 citizens showed up at a late October hearing of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to provide detailed comments highlighting the permits’ numerous problems. These include inaccurate and/or incomplete information, discrepancies and improper remediation processes for at least 17 known sinkholes found on the property.

4. Ranson’s rezoning process is flawed. The plan to build Rockwool’s factory hinges on a legal blunder by the city of Ranson, which failed to give adequate public notice of its plans to modify its zoning ordinances and zoning map to allow heavy industrial use at the construction site (formerly known as Jefferson Orchards), casting aside a multi-use, train station-centered plan. A pending lawsuit filed by Jefferson County Vision last December holds that, simply as a matter of law, these zoning changes should be declared void.

5. Rockwool has no gas supply. A U.S. District Court in Maryland ruled in August that Columbia Gas Transmission cannot assert eminent domain to complete its Potomac Pipeline project to supply natural gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia — including Rockwool’s plant in Ranson. This means that, at the moment, Rockwool does not have sufficient gas to meet its needs.

The grassroots effort to stop Rockwool in Jefferson County has been extraordinary. Rockwool’s November 2017 air quality permit stated that the plant’s anticipated startup date was October 2019. Our fight has delayed the company’s plans to start operations by at least a year. In 2018, virtually every candidate running for office in the county who supported Rockwool was defeated, including powerful incumbents. The sole exception was House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, who has since been hired by Rockwool as its public affairs manager.

In spite of secrecy, rule-breaking and skirting of the law, many of the promises made to Rockwool behind closed doors continue to be challenged. Despite unresponsive and often dismissive local and state officials, we will continue to fight. We are confident that our efforts will help Jefferson County fend off polluting from heavy industry, bring transparency to our state and local governments and attract development that creates jobs without sacrificing the environment.

Grant Prillaman, a retired Jefferson County teacher, worked in nonprofits and with government. Gonzalo Baeza is a former reporter for United Press International and other news agencies. Both are members of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition.

Funerals for Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bias, Kenneth - 7 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Carrow, Mildred - 1 p.m., Marmet Memorial Gardens, Marmet.

Coleman, Aaron - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.

Fore, George - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Midkiff, Cleo - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Outman, Roxine -  2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Shamblin, Cathy - 7 p.m., Christ Community Church, Scott Depot.