Representatives from across Wyoming County are exploring the possibility of becoming part of the Groundwork USA Network, a national partnership of communities working to restore brownfields and to develop under-utilized land.

A dozen candidates for a steering committee, known as Groundwork Wyoming County, met Tuesday afternoon to begin work on the project, which will include an outline of sites across the county that can be developed for recreational opportunities, housing sites, and/or economic development.

“I want this to be a Wyoming County project, so everybody in Wyoming County feels like they have a part in this,” emphasized county Commissioner Silas Mullins.

All three municipalities — Mullens, Pineville, and Oceana – were represented, along with other areas, including Baileysville, Hanover, Pierpoint, the faith-based community, among others.

Two public meetings will be conducted this week to collect additional public input as to possible projects. Groundwork Wyoming County representatives will conduct a public meeting today, Dec. 10, from 4 until 6 p.m. at Wyoming County East High School in New Richmond. The group will conduct a second meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 4 until 6 p.m. at Westside High School in Clear Fork.

In the past 10 years, most of the communities working as part of Groundwork USA to reclaim under-utilized land have been urban areas, such as Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colo.; and San Diego, Calif.

Wyoming County is the first entire county and the first exclusively rural area to participate, according to officials.

The county will participate as a pilot project, Mullins explained.

The steering committee will work with an initial grant of $15,000 – administered by Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) – to develop a feasibility study and create a strategic plan for developing sites that may include abandoned mine sites, industrial areas, and other possible points to create development.

Wyoming County qualified for the program as the result of a federal Brownfields Assessment Grant of $200,000 to identify contaminated land parcels for possible clean-up and development — in other words, turning the “brown,” or contaminated land to “green,” or useable.

The second phase of the project will be to obtain an $85,000 Groundwork USA grant to move forward with any possible projects; however, the grant must be matched by $25,000 from local sources each year for three years.

The steering committee can decide not to move forward, according to Peggy Pings, of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.

In the event the committee moves forward, it will become an independent, non-profit environmental business.

Several possible sites and projects have been tentatively outlined by RAIL, but the list is not all encompassing, noted Dvon Duncan, director.

One of the listed projects included clearing out derelict housing and abandoned vehicles.

“We have about 200 homes that have been abandoned in Wyoming County,” Mullins explained.

“We have about 100 trailers that are hindering our environment,” he added.

Whether the Groundwork Wyoming County project is pursued, Mullins pledged to continue working with other agencies to clean up the county.

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