The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 23, 2013

Fayette Commission to spend coal severance funds on park infrastructure

FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayette County Commission has chosen to spend all redistributed coal severance funds for the next four years on infrastructure expansion at Wolf Creek Park, the county’s 1,000-acre mixed-use commercial and residential development.

Roads, utilities and shell buildings will be built in the commercial section, as funds permit, under the direction of the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority and the Fayette County Building Commission.

Additional roadway will make accessible a 4.2-acre commercial building site beyond the recently-constructed 911 Center. More developable acreage is available past that lot, if roadway and utility hookups can be extended.

The expenditures are an effort to make the park into a sustainable investment and recapture some of the roughly $6.6 million that was spent in its initial development.

“It would be fair to say that unless we can do this on our own, where the state is not going to come in and build roads, Wolf Creek Park will not be able to get another developable site without this road,” said Commission President Matthew Wender.

“Not that this was any grand plan six or eight years ago. Nevertheless, we knew we had a tremendous amount of money to start the park and that we would have challenges as we went. I guess we’re at one of those points now.”

With more investment in the park, more Industrial Access Road Funds become available from the state to extend the road throughout.

The Industrial Access Road Fund is spent by the Division of Highways to construct roads to industrial sites where manufacturing, distribution and other economic development occurs.

The use of funds is based on the “volume and nature of the traffic to be generated as a result of developing the industrial site,” according to state code.

“We’ve used all the Industrial Access Road funds we’re entitled to,” said Wender. “We don’t qualify for more unless there is an additional investment in the park.”

A representative from Thrasher Engineering told the commission that the project — which includes site prep, earthwork, gravel roadway, paving, utility extension — could be done for approximately $600,000.

The project will move forward incrementally, as funds become available.

Judy Radford of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority told the commission that warehouse space is in demand in the region and that constructing shell buildings would be a boon to potential site occupants.

“It’s hard to sell an empty site,” she said. “This would take you to that next level.”

Wolf Creek Park is currently home to The Robbins Co., Bridge Brew Works and a new 911 Center. No residential building sites have been sold.

Some residential areas in more remote parts of Fayette County are still in need of sewer and water infrastructure, which would be an allowable use of the redistributed coal severance funds.

But Wender said that if roads are built and lots are sold as a result, the tax base of Fayette County will grow and the increased revenue can be spent on such infrastructure.

“But all that is easily said and lots of things have to happen in between,” Wender acknowledged.

The outgrowth of state legislation, redistributed coal severance funds give coal-producing counties a portion of coal severance tax revenues, relative to how much coal was mined in the county. The money must be used for infrastructure improvements and economic development.

The program began last July and ramps up over five years. The first year, coal-producing counties got the first 1 percent of the severance tax that used to go directly into the general revenue account. This coming fiscal year it will jump to 2 percent. The money will increase yearly until it reaches a 5 percent cap.

Fayette County’s allocation was approximately $110,000 this year.

If coal revenues remain steady, Fayette’s share will reach approximately $550,000 by 2016.

"I think we’d be assuming a lot to say that’s a given,” said Wender. “I just wish we’d done this 10 years ago.”

This year, the regular coal severance tax revenues for the county are down 14 percent from initial estimates, reflecting a downturn in the coal industry that some expect to continue as western markets develop and easy to reach coal in West Virginia becomes mined out.

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In other county commission business, Shawn Wolford was welcomed as the new Emergency Management Agency director for Fayette County.

He will occupy a reinstated position that heads up three county departments: fire, emergency services and 911. Wolford previously served as the chief of Rainelle Volunteer Fire Department.

“What I liked most (about your resume) is it says, ‘I see both the 911 Center and the combined emergency services recognized as the best that West Virginia has to offer,” said Wender. “We appreciate hearing that and we want to support you in that endeavor in any way we can.”

Dr. George Becker and Carolyn Milam-Becker, residents of Winona, notified the commission of an “emergency situation” with the Winona pool hall, which has crumbled and fallen in, partly in the roadway.

The old pool hall is on the county’s list of dilapidated structures to tear down, but “chasing down” the owner of the building has been difficult, said officials. The commission will notify the Division of Highways that the building has collapsed onto public property and ask that it be removed from the road and right of way.

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