BUCKHANNON - The Upshur County Commission recently voted to accept a land use plan that would potentially allow for the development of areas in the county that previously operated as strip mines.
At the commission's meeting last week, Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Steve Foster presented the commission with the 2013 Land Use Management Plan for Upshur County.
The plan was put together by the West Virginia Division of Energy's Office of Coalfield Community Development, Foster said.
"Basically what this is, is they look at all coal mining activities in counties throughout the state and they encourage you to develop a land use master plan where you can work with existing people that have strip mine operations to possibly facilitate having that land left when they are done with it in a type of format where you might be able to use it for something in the county, be it industrial development, recreation property, etc.," Foster said.
Foster said there are four active strip mining permit locations in the county, noting that one of those locations -situated several miles north of Buckhannon along Route 20 - could possibly be used in the future for recreational purposes.
"Basically this allows the (strip mining) company to potentially have a little less expense when they close out the operation and their permit and it also leaves us with the opportunity to have something there that we could use," Foster said.
Foster asked the commissioners to accept the plan, noting that it is nonbinding and that there is a 30-day public comment period that would have to be advertised.
"This is an update of a plan we already have," he said. "There's nothing binding about it at this point. Specific agreements would have to be worked out with individual companies."
Commissioner JC Raffety said he's heard redevelopment of strip mining sites has worked well in southern sections of the Mountain State.
"This has been successful in the southern part of the state where they've put shopping malls and things of that nature?" Raffety asked Foster.
"Shopping malls, hospitals, industrial parks," Foster replied. "It's pretty impressive what they've been able to do down there. To bring it home locally, Meadowbrook Mall is on a reclaimed strip mine site. Our industrial park is on a reclaimed strip mining shelf so, yes, you can work to have this done and it's common sense."
Raffety said the plan appeared to be "a very detailed study of the demographics" of Upshur County.
Foster said the study shows that Upshur County compares "very favorably" to other coal-mining counties.
However, the Office of Coalfield Community Development did note a concern about the high school dropout rate.
"One of the things they point out and is a concern is the dropout rate in education for primary and secondary schools," Foster said. "It was very high at the time they looked at this report, but now, as we've heard from (Upshur County Superintendent of Schools) Roy Wager, it's down to 1.7 percent which is incredible."
Raffety made a motion to accept the plan, which was seconded by Commissioner Troy Brady before passing unanimously.
The commission also approved a resolution asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the state Legislature and the Department of Transportation to finance the completion of Corridor H through public-private partnerships.
Foster, who is also president of the Corridor H Authority, said the "3P" approach would allow the design, the actual construction and the financing of the highway to be bid out to contractors.
Previously, only the design and construction could be bid out to private contractors, Foster said, adding that the Department of Highways wants to utilize the "3P" approach to build the section from Parsons to Kerens, which is about 10 miles and a $400 million job.
"Basically, it would allow us to be driving on that road in four years but we'll pay for it in 10," he said. "It's akin to buying a house. Most people don't have the luxury of saving up enough money to go in and pay for a house the first time they buy it; they have a mortgage, and that's basically what this is - it's a concept which allows you to build the road and use the road while you continue to pay on it."
"It's a pretty novel tool that we've never had to work with before in West Virginia," he told the commission. "Again, I can't think of a single economic incentive that would be higher for this region than to get this road done."
"At this point in time, I think we're all in agreement that it would be good for everyone if Corridor H is completed clear through to Virginia," Tenney said.
Raffety made a motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Brady before passing unanimously.
Also at Thursday's meeting, the commission learned that an application for funding assistance through the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority had been denied. Had it been approved, the $20,000 grant would have been used to repair and possibly replace the chimneys on the Upshur County Courthouse, which pose at a safety risk, Assistant County Administrator Jennifer Dinkelo told the commission at a November meeting.
"We've been hearing that grant money is probably going to start going down... that's probably a smaller project compared to some of the other applications they received," County Administrator Megan Pomeroy said.
Tenney said the county will "just keep working" on obtaining the needed funding.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.