Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Weyers Cave study released: Unable to acquire 1600 acres of land

"We said all along that we would release the study when we thought it was the right time. We have now reached a point where we accomplished what we set out to do." -- Augusta Board Chairman Wendell Coleman
The $440,00 Study, Augusta County, Virginia.

'No active projects' at mega-site
By Joel Banner Baird/staff, jbaird@newsleader.com

VERONA — Augusta County officials released most of its mega-site study to the public Monday afternoon, following months of speculation, rumor, hope and skepticism.

The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to disclose the controversial study after a closed session following their monthly staff briefing.

Electronic copies of the study were distributed and are available on the News Leader Web site.

While the supervisors met behind closed doors, a state development representative told reporters that the need for secrecy was no longer in effect.

"There are no active projects (in the Weyers Cave area)," said Jeffrey Anderson the director of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

Details of real estate negotiations will remain confidential, said county Administrator Pat Coffield.

County supervisors have disagreed over the state of the completion of the study, but securing enough real estate — up to 1,600 acres of largely agricultural land — surfaced as a stumbling block.

In his summary of the study's progress, Coffield wrote, "Good faith negotiations with principal property owner unsuccessful to date. County at this time unable to proceed with securing control of property."

Gary and Crystal Blosser of Weyers Cave own the 600 acres that comprise the single largest contiguous property in the targeted area through Blue Mountain Investments L.L.C.

Coffield said the Blossers' development plan — which is still under consideration — called for 23 smaller industrial sites.

"Those sites would be competing with 10 or 15 other sites in the area," he said. "The larger sites narrow things down considerably, to the point where the state tells us that the mega-site was their first choice for an automotive assembly plant."

The Weyers Cave area was desirable, Coffield said, because of its proximity to two interstate highways and rail carriers, an airport and the location of automobile suppliers and markets.

Opponents of the mega-site have argued that a single, large industry would make the county more vulnerable to economic upheaval and ecological disruptions and would strain infrastructure budgets. They have also noted that the county's comprehensive plan directs supervisors to seek out small-to-medium sized industries.

Riverheads District Supervisor Nancy Sorrells, who supported an even earlier release of the mega-site study, said the county could now engage in a better-informed discussion.

"Its release has made the citizenry more aware of the process," she said. "People think a government runs itself. Well, it doesn't — let's all look at the pros and cons of this now."

Originally published June 27, 2006

Diving into details

The mega-site study overwhelmingly confirms the appeal that Augusta County holds for the automotive industry. It also predicts an economic boom:

The creation of 1,572 new jobs during the plant's three-year construction period; thousands more as the plant goes on line (Executive Summary, p. 3).

The "total annual economic impact" to Augusta County from 2009 onward is estimated at $1.71 billion (Executive Summary, p. 3).

Occasionally, though, it raises some doubts.

"The (automotive) industry typically experiences a much greater percentage loss in jobs than the average industry in the nation." — Volatility of the Automobile Industry (page 15).

"Only one of the top 10 declining occupations in Augusta County (team assemblers) can be found in the top 10 required occupations of the incoming firm." — Desirability Index (page 16).

File downloads:

Mega-site Plan Phase II (Ziped PDF files)
Mega-site study Part I (Zipped PDF files)
Mega-site Plan Appendices (Zipped PDF files)
Mega-site plan site maps (PDF file)

‘Megasite’ Study Released
By Dan Kipperman, The Daily News Record, June 27,2006

VERONA — The secrecy over the $440,000 Megasite study came to an end Monday afternoon as the Augusta County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the release of the report.

The study done by the Timmons Group — a Richmond based engineering consulting firm — was commissioned by the supervisors to determine the feasibility of an industrial site in Weyers Cave, between Interstate 81 and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.

Three Options

The study looked at three potential industrial sites, including a 1,600-acre site.

The study concluded that acquiring enough land for such a large site would pose problems. Board Chairman Wendell Coleman also said that maintenance of a 1,600-acre site would require two million gallons of water.

"Weyers Cave is not equipped to handle that much at this point," he said.

The second location — at approximately 1,200 acres — was in roughly the same area as the 1,600-acre plot, but excluded portions of the county bordering I-81, according to the study.

The third option covered only the 500 acres directly west of the airport.

The study states that the second and third options had similar issues to consider. One issue was accessibility to the site, with no direct access from I-81.

"People might not even know a site was there if it was tucked away from the highway," Coleman said. "Weyers Cave would have seen a lot more traffic and that was addressed in the study."

The study made no official recommendation as to where an industrial site should be located.

Board member Kay Frye spoke earlier this week about her desire to see industry come to the county, but only if it was done correctly.

"We are all aware that these things need to happen," she said. "But not at the expense of the agricultural industry that we rely so heavily on."

A vote to release the study earlier was rejected last month by a 5-2 vote. Frye and Nancy Taylor Sorrels voted to make the release public.

Coleman thought it best for the board to take its time.

"We said all along that we would release the study when we thought it was the right time," he said. "We have now reached a point where we accomplished what we set out to do."

Agricultural Concern

At the June 14 board meeting, hundreds of residents voiced their opposition to a large industrial site. The main concern seemed to be for the protection of the agricultural strength of the county.

"I think Augusta County has the greatest farmland in the entire country," Augusta County Farm Bureau president Larry Weeks said at the meeting. "It doesn’t seem right for an industry to come in and try to take that land."

According to the farm bureau, Augusta County boasts more farm acreage than any other Virginia county, with 1,691 farms on 306,048 acres.

Coleman said the board would welcome any potential industry to the area.

"Weyers Cave is designated as an urban area," he said. "There is going to be a point in our future when we see some development out there."

For More Information: The Megasite study is available online at www.co.augusta.va.us

Contact Dan Kipperman at 574-6274 or dkipp@dnronline.com

Where is the silent majority on the megasite?
Chris Graham, Augusta Free Press, chris@augustafreepress.com

What do you think? Are you in favor of a Toyota megasite in Augusta County? Weigh in with your opinion in our survey at the bottom of this story.

Supporters of the proposed Augusta County megasite that is said to have the interest of Toyota as a possible location for a new automobile-manufacturing plant think that there are more of them than there are those who have been grabbing the bulk of the local-media attention for opposing the development of the Weyers Cave-area site.

"I do feel like there's a very significant segment of people out there that would support something, whatever it is - and that's the people that are working, still trying to make ends meet, some of them working two and three jobs, people that recognize that we're losing manufacturing jobs at a pretty rapid clip, and recognize that in terms of taxes and keeping our taxes low, which is what people in Augusta County want to happen, we've got to have a strong and diverse economy, and manufacturing certainly is at the head of that," Augusta County Board of Supervisors chairman Wendell Coleman said.

"With the exception of these 140 or so people that seem like they're always there at supervisors meetings and always vocal and involved in the Talk Back thing in The News Leader, my encounters with my John Q. Public average constituent off the street that I bump into all the time, I'm seeing a lot of support," said Jim Bailey, who represents the Middle River District on the county board of supervisors.

You might have to use the Nixon-era term silent majority to describe this group of supporters - because they're surely not making themselves heard to any kind of appreciable degree. A handful of megasite supporters rose at a recent supervisors meeting when Coleman asked the more than 200 in attendance to stand to register their feelings on the issue. A trickle of letters to the editor and comments posted on local news blogs has also registered marginal support for the development of the site.

"I don't happen to agree with the idea that there is a large group of people out there who support the megasite," Kay Frye, who represents the Middle River District, which includes Weyers Cave, on the board of supervisors, told The Augusta Free Press.

"If they're out there, I'm not hearing from them," said Nancy Sorrells, who represents the Riverheads District on the county board.

"That could be that people know where I stand on this issue. But I've heard from literally hundreds of people who are opposed to the megasite from all over the county," Sorrells told the AFP.

"I believe that if there were a sizable number of people who supported this, they would have made their voices heard by now," said Elizabeth Lewis, the chair of the Greenville-based Save Our County Committee, which has been involved in the effort to organize local opposition to the megasite.

"The fact is that there's not a sizable number who hold that view. What I want to know is, who are these supervisors listening to?" Lewis told the AFP.

Coleman has a ready answer to that oft-asked question.

"They keep coming across that we're not listening to the public - and I've said before, 'Let me make sure I understand. You think that the people in this room and the comments you're making represent the public?' " Coleman told the AFP.

"We have worked diligently to listen and to reinforce the fact that we are listening - and I have heard from some people who have expressed their concerns, sure. But I've heard from many more people who are on the other side of the issue," Coleman said.

"People say, Well, if there is so much support, then why don't they come to the meetings? I'm at the point where maybe we need to see as many people coming out in support as opposition - if indeed they're out there, as I believe that they are," Bailey told the AFP.

It might prove difficult for those so inclined to mobilize whatever number of megasite supporters there is out there, said Bob Roberts, a political-science professor at James Madison University who has been monitoring the developments on the megasite front.

"It's interesting that you don't have at least a core of boosters trying to promote it here at the outset," Roberts told the AFP.

"Usually you have a chamber of commerce and local leaders coming out strongly in support of such a thing because they're trying to push economic development. It's kind of unusual that you don't have a strong group of businesspeople, local-government people, county people, initially behind it," Roberts said.

"It's quite common to have people opposed to it - particularly in an area like this, where you don't have high rates of unemployment. Most of these plants have been located in areas where they badly wanted them - and this is not an area where you have high rates of unemployment, et cetera, so it's not a type of plant that would normally find this type of support in this type of region," Roberts said.

Frye thinks that message is getting across loud and clear in the current discussions.

"My guess is that there are many more people opposed to this than there are people who support it. I think there is a solid majority out there," Frye said.

Sorrells agrees.

"It's interesting to me that we haven't heard much outside of a few people speaking at supervisors meetings who support the megasite. It does tend to make you wonder how many people are out there who support it," Sorrells said.

Mega-Site Upate WHSV-TV Harrisonburg.

Weyers Cave mega-secrecy, fears of eminent domain June 26, 2006


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