A bill that will be introduced later this month in the West Virginia Legislature seeks to create a statewide program to help pay for the demolition of dilapidated structures across the Mountain State. The legislation, which is being introduced by Sen. Chandler Swope, R-6th District, will help localities with the cost of tearing down abandoned houses and buildings that are eyesores and pose public health issues.

Here in southern West Virginia, most of us can pinpoint an abandoned structure that is in a state of disrepair in our individual communities, neighborhoods and towns. Some of these buildings are in danger of falling down.

Of course, finding the funding that is necessary to demolish these eyesores has always been a problem.

Swope, the founder and past president of Swope Construction Company in Bluefield, correctly points to McDowell County as an area in particular need of assistance. Officials estimate that there are between 5,000 to 8,000 abandoned homes and buildings in McDowell County alone that need to come down.

Swope’s proposed legislation will authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to create and administer the program as an extension of the REAP (Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan) program. He believes the measure will have strong support in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Swope actually started working on a demolition project two years ago that initially focused on McDowell County.

Early in 2018 he spearheaded the Clean Up McDowell campaign that also includes bringing sewer, water and broadband services to the county’s communities. The plan was to first focus on removing abandoned buildings and houses in the county.

Swope’s idea was to enlist the help of the National Guard to dispose of the debris and start looking for money to pay for the demolitions. However, with the cost of demolishing a house about $5,000, the price tag for McDowell County alone was estimated at between $25 million to $40 million.

At that point, Swope realized it would have to be a statewide initiative to help all counties, with a continuing source of revenue earmarked for the work. So he took the idea to Gov. Jim Justice, who liked the concept and urged him to develop it with the help of the National Guard.

“Last year, the governor assigned this to the National Guard but they were so busy they didn’t do it,” Swope told the Daily Telegraph last month. “This year the governor gave me the OK to write it and authorize DEP. We got it done and it’s ready to be introduced.”

Swope’s bill is important, and it merits full consideration in the Legislature.

Having a dedicated source of state funding to assist with the removal of dilapidated and blighted structures will help to enhance our individual communities, towns and neighborhoods.

When the blight is removed, there is additional room for growth.

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