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We Never Imagined It Could Happen Here

This is a story of greed, betrayal, compassion, kindness & love

No Friend of Coal

Last week Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a resolution for the Green New Deal, a 10 year, multi-trillion dollar program for a net-zero emissions economy while putting every American to work in a family-supporting job. The legislation focuses on "frontline communities," economically distressed areas that have suffered from poor health,

 

This article, the third in a series for Forbes, shows how the outcome of the Rockwool controversy in Jefferson County, WV, could predict the success or failure of America’s attempt to halt climate change and build a more equitable and productive economy. For background, please read Rockwool: Three Truths And A Lie About The Economic Development Game and How To Stop A Toxic Factory By Cutting Off Its Energy Supply.

The Green New Deal had a big roll-out last week with all presidential candidates in the Senate among their nine colleagues who co-sponsored and 64 co-sponsors in the House. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi mocked the plan in a Politico interview, calling it “the green dream” and stating that “nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it.”

 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., arrives to hear President Donald Trump deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The reason they’re for it is that the Sunrise Movement made it a popular cause. The group entered public consciousness soon after the 2018 midterms with a protest at Pelosi’s office that was joined by Ocasio-Cortez. Because of the inherent, widespread popularity of the program, the Sunrise Movement was able to make Green New Deal support as a litmus test for 2020 presidential race by starting with a sit-in at Pelosi’s office.

 

An hour before Ocasio-Cortez famously threw shade at Senator Manchin’s public enthusiasm for fossil fuel interests during the state of the Union, the group launched a campaign to support the Green New Deal with about 400 watch parties around the country that included over 2000 individuals. One of those watch parties was at Shepherd University in Jefferson County, WV. Those gathered in the Robert C. Byrd Auditorium felt an eerie deja vu as author Naomi Klein and Sunrise organizers Aru Shiney-Ajay and Jeremy Ornstein described the stakes, challenges and possible outcomes of an organized, unified climate movement supporting a specific set of public policies.

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In Jefferson County, WV, an exurb of Washington, DC blessed with profound natural beauty and rich American history, faces a comparable crisis with the planned construction of a heavily-emitting Rockwool mineral wool insulation factory across the road from an elementary school. The primary differences between the Sunrise Movement across America and the opposition to the heavy industry in Jefferson County are a matter of spatial and temporal scale along with the size of the affected population. Because the industrialization of Jefferson County is moving faster than climate change, encompasses only the Washington, DC region and involves far fewer players, the Rockwool controversy can serve as both a test-bed for actions to counteract the corporate and fossil-fuel interests driving climate change and as a predictor of success.

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Jefferson County’s corollary to the Sunrise Movement is Resist Rockwool, a group of citizens (including me) formed to employ non-violent direct action and online organizing to build widespread opposition to the factory.

Jefferson County Vision, a separate citizens group with about 10,000 participants their Facebook campaign, has successfully caused the resignation of over half the county economic development board, triggered a seismic shift in the local midterm elections, slowed or halted the provisioning and financing of water, sewer and fracked gas utilities to the industrial site, questioned the constitutionality of a common tax incentive, turned the Board of Education against the project, brought thousands of records of backroom deals into the sunlight and drawn international attention to the greenwashing, public health concerns, pressures on civic governance by corporate interests and environmental degradation associated with the industrialization of a popular DC tourist destination.

The Corrupting Influence Of Corporate Interests

Corruption is a big, loaded word and not one that should be tossed around lightly. In the Green New Deal rollout, Aru Shiney-Ajay, a 20 year-old organizer with the Sunrise Movement, said “Our generation knows that climate change is happening, we can see it happening before our very eyes. And the thing is we know the solutions are out there as well. Technologically the price of renewable energy is plummeting and the efforts of the Green New Deal show massive popularity and massive potential for real transformative action. But we all know for decades action has not happened. Why? Because fossil-fuel billionaires and corrupt politicians have bought out every level of our government. They have actively unseated politicians who call for climate action, they have dropped millions to defeat statewide climate initiatives and this is all part of a decades-long strategy of denial. And as of two years ago, they have even succeeded in putting a billionaire climate denier into the highest political office of this country."

 

 

Shiney-Ajay is redefining corruption away from small unmarked bills in an aluminum suitcase toward the slower, deeper, more thorough distortion of the political process away from services to vulnerable constituents toward the service of powerful interests. When you have a clear will of the people and public benefits associated with the transition to a clean economy, it’s only the corrupting influence of deeply entrenched fossil fuel interests that can resist that change.

Siney-Ajay also describes the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, who famously tweeted four years earlier that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and more recently wished for “a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming” during the midwest polar vortex, as the apotheosis of this corruption.

 

President Donald Trump, left, hugs West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, right, after Justice announced at a campaign-style rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va., Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, that he is changing parties. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two years after Trump's inauguration the election results are in. CO2 emissions increased by 3.4% in 2018 after falling in each of the three previous years. In the eighteen months since President Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the gap that the US needs to close in order to meet its target has widened.

The 2016 general election saw a Trump wave across the state of West Virginia. Trump’s margin of victory, 68.5%, gave him his largest share of the vote in any state. West Virginia was one of only two states where every county went to Trump. In Jefferson County, where I live with 12,787 registered Democrats, 12,332 Republicans and 13,452 Independents, strong turnout by Trump voters (53.9%) and weak showing for Clinton (38.8%) pushed every significant down-ballot races to Republicans.

Two Jefferson County Commission (JCC) members swept into office for six-year terms on Trump’s coattails, Josh Compton and Caleb Wayne Hudson, have become pivotal figures in the Rockwool controversy. In an interview conducted a few weeks before 2018 midterms, the editor of the Spirit of Jefferson, Carolyn Snyder, specifically blamed the defeat of Dale Manuel by Compton in the 2016 cycle for bringing Rockwool and heavy industry to the county.

“Dale Manuel always called for public hearings on anything and everything. If he had been on the commission you would have had this discussion in public early on,” Snyder said. “You can place blame all over the place, but the voters elected Josh Compton over Dale Manuel…. saying we don’t want somebody that has two terms under his belt, has been a state lawmaker and knows all the ins and outs. We want a brand new person who hasn’t really been paying attention to Jefferson County or Jefferson County politics, and they put him in that role, and he didn’t call for a public hearing.”

 

I spoke with Commissioner Compton soon a few days before the 2018 midterms to gauge his level of support for the water bond to serve the Rockwool factory scheduled for a vote by the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) on November 7th, the day after the election. According to several JCDA board members President Eric Lewis had the requisite number of votes lined up to push through the water bond. Compton said he would wait for the election results and take action if necessary in accordance with the will of the people.

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While the 2016 election in Jefferson County was driven by enthusiasm for the candidate at the top of the ticket and his anti-immigration, anti-regulation and isolationist rhetoric, 2018 was effectively a referendum on Rockwool. The three West Virginia State House districts in Jefferson County shifted by 30, 17 and 13 points in favor of anti-Rockwool candidates between 2016 and 2018. By a 12-point spread, the anti-Rockwool vote unseated incumbent Riley Moore, the nephew of Senator Shelley Moore-Capito and grandson of the late Governor Arch Moore, who was expected to assume the mantle of Majority Leader.

According to Republican candidate Mike Folk, who lost to incumbent State Senator John Unger’s re-election bid, polls were showing the county at 2 to 1 against the Rockwool plant with only 10 to 20% undecided or unaware of the issue. In the race with the most bearing on the outcome of the Rockwool project former Jefferson County Prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti, an anti-Rockwool Democrat, was elected to the JCC over the incumbent Republican Rockwool advocate Pete Onoszko.

On the morning of the schedule water bond vote, JCC President Josh Compton emailed JCDA board members and posted the following on Facebook:

“Regarding the JCDA water vote that is scheduled to occur at 1:00pm: If there are members of the JCDA that are not comfortable voting or feel they need more information prior to making a decision, I think it would absolutely prudent to request an extension of the vote timeline rather than making a decision they may or may not be confident doing…”

 

Compton’s call for a deliberative process was both the result of the midterm election and the public release a week earlier of explosive emails from JCDA board members Lyle Tabb and Julia Yuhasz to Lewis provided by the City of Ranson in response to a JCV Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. ). The email from Tabb conveyed his concern that Lewis had violated the Open Meetings Act by admonishing and threatening board members to vote for the water bond in executive session. Yuhasz noted a lack of clarity, transparency, communications and purpose. The outcome, they were told, was preordained and the board was informed they were potentially personally liable for damages even though they lacked independence or volition.

Most significantly, Yuhasz stated that she was unaware of the nature of the project, that it was heavy industry with potentially significant health impacts, until after the point when the organization for which she is a fiduciary had obligated the county. From her email:

In reviewing how we got to this point, I believe insufficient communication was provided about the projects and processes that JCDA Board or Staff is involved in or routinely participates in. I did not know, for example, the full scope of “Project Shuttle’s” impact until the public attention and data reporting received in the past two months. I was never given the impression that Rockwool was heavy industry, could have such significant health impacts on compromised populations, or would be building smokestacks. Had such information been provided about Rockwool, Members would have had over a year to conduct their own research and discuss with others. I believe that many JCDA members would have participated in a more robust discussion of this project or whether it was the “right fit” for Jefferson County. I feel extremely uncomfortable voting for something that many in public leadership do not entirely understand even now or fervently oppose as a decision which creates financial obligations for Jefferson County for the next 40 years, has untold public health implications, and great potential to drastically change the character of our community.

 

The planned Rockwool factory is expected to disrupt 15 viewsheds. This rendering shows Rockwool's Byhalia, MS plant superimposed on one such viewshed in Jefferson County, WV. Photocredit: Danny Johnson Love and Sol Photography.

As JCDA president, Lewis had two options. He could ignore Compton's plea, hold the vote and push through the water bond, or he could postpone the vote and allow for further deliberation and input by the JCDA board. He chose a third option.

After canceling the November 7th meeting, Lewis hand-delivered a resignation letter to the JCC two days later accompanied by the resignations of 11 of the other 20 directors. Because the volunteer JCDA board requires at least 12 members to function, the body of public officials accountable to the citizens was rendered ineffective, giving free-reign to Executive Director Nic Diehl who had been recruited by Lewis to the paid position from the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO). Lewis’ wife Joy Lewis continues to receive a salary from WVDO in the position formerly held by Diehl promoting economic development in the Eastern Panhandle.

According to Tabb, the mass resignation was likely orchestrated by William Rohrbaugh, the counsel retained by the JCDA for work on the water bond. “Now that there is no quorum on the board until the County Commission makes its appointments Nic Diehl has no oversight. I know for a fact Diehl is making legal decisions and taking advisement, actions for which the board is supposed to provide oversight,” he said. “The more Eric got frustrated with the bond not passing, the more evident it became that Eric had made a promise and he wasn’t delivering. ‘I’ve been JCDA president for 20 years. I’ll get the votes.’ He tried to do it quickly. Really quick.”

 

When opposition emerged, Lewis dug in. “The first time he got short and annoyed was at the second reading of the water bond when there was a lot of public input,” said Tabb. From that point on Lewis behaved very differently to Tabb. “He wanted to just jam this thing through. If it gets messed up, it would be on him. He told someone he could deliver and he was frustrated by people saying it was a bad deal. He saw the public negativity as just noise. He had already made his mind up and that was his perspective.”

Tabb said that Lewis’ view of his constituency was typical of the majority of the JCDA board. “Public comment didn’t mean s--- to him, and not just in the most recent case. He went to a town hall about the Mountaineer Gas pipeline in 2017 at the Shepherdstown Men’s Club. He was very defiant, defensive and pretty much went away from there saying everyone who was there was an activist and uninformed. I would assume he would consider all opinions and make a decision based on that. From the start of public comment on Rockwool, he and the board majority saw public comment as noise and nuisance that they had to put up with to get the water bond passed. That was disappointing.”

According to a source close to Steve Stolipher, a current Planning Commissioner and former JCDA board member, Nic Diehl suggested the mass resignation to get the board under the 12-member threshold required for oversight and governance. Dan Casto, one of the JCDA board members who resigned along with Stolipher and Lewis, denied there was any coordination that led to 11 members resigning on same day, followed by Lewis 24 hours later. “One person decides to resign, then another person decides,” he stated in an email response to a request for comment.

 

Ray Bruning (far right) and Dan Casto (second to right) listen to public comment at the January 7 Charles Town City Council Meeting. Photocredit: David Levine

The JCC reduced the size of the board to 15 members, solicited applications and announced that interviews and appointments would occur promptly. After receiving 39 applications (including my own) for the 7 remaining open positions, current JCC President and outspoken Rockwool advocate Patsy Nolan added an agenda item seeking the removal of all JCDA board members and requiring their reappointment. The action would further delay the restoration of governance and oversight until at least the end of the month and provide the JCC with an opportunity to re-stack the board with Rockwool supporters.

The January 17, 2019 meeting was packed with citizens urging the JCC to leave the current JCDA members in place and move quickly to appoint new board members. Of the 30 or so citizens providing public comment only a few, including Casto and Planning Commissioner Ray Bruning, spoke in favor of Rockwool. Bruning characterized the Rockwool opposition as anti-growth and Casto admonished the JCC to be the “adults in the room” and ignore the citizens providing public comment against the administrative maneuvers that appeared to favor the development of heavy industry.

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Noland asked every JCDA board candidate the same question, “Do you support Jefferson County Vision in their lawsuit against the Development Authority?” JCV has actually filed several lawsuits against the JCDA. Two are related to the JCDA’s refusal to release records pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and the other concerns the constitutionality of the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rockwool who, according to Amanda Foxx of JCV, “conspired with local government to pay nothing at all for many years. In other years, Rockwool pays at a tiny fraction of the rate every other business and citizen pays.”

 

Tim Ross, an applicant for a seat on the JCDA board, stated that Nolan’s question on the JCV lawsuit “is kind of a chilling question.” Her response, “It is chilling. It’s meant to be.”

Leigh Smith, the Jefferson County Vision President, called Nolan’s question posed of applicants to a public office unconstitutional. “We sought legal advice about the constitutionality of the questions and have confirmed that your questions, and any similar questions of JCDA applicants, or consideration of responses are a violation of their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Litigation is a form of freedom of expression, and is protected under the U.S. Constitution. Thus, your questions seeking their views on the JCV litigation, which you used to intentionally ‘chill’ the applicants was a violation of their constitutional rights. Likewise, all citizens have a right to the freedom of association without harassment by the government – your negative commentary against JCV and those who support it, along with your misuse of your position of authority to harass or intimidate those who express views advocated by JCV, are also a violation of the constitutional rights of your constituents.”

 

State Supreme Court Justices file past Concern Citizens Against Rockwool Rally at the opening of the legislature and State of the State Address in Charleston, WV. Photocredit: Benita Keller

Diehl will be operating the JCDA without governance or oversight until the appointment of a board that meets the organizational requirements. The second round of interviews is currently scheduled for March 7th, meaning it will be at least a month before the governance of the JCDA is established. Lyle Tabb notes that the last time a seat on the JCDA opened, shortly before the water bond vote, the JCC quickly appointed Sandra Bruning, wife of vocal Rockwool advocate and Planning Commissioner Ray Bruning.

Tabb states, “I don't know of a prior instance where they had 2 rounds of interviews. This process has taken so very long. It's getting ridiculous. 5 of the sitting 8 (including me) have terms that expire April 5, 2019.” He suggests the delay is another attempt to purge the JCDA board of those who question the wisdom of the Rockwool deal.

Until the JCDA board is properly composed, Diehl will submit reports to the JCC on finances and general activities. Rather than providing comfort, the idea of Diehl providing information privately to the JCC rather than the JCDA board is seen as a cause for further concern. Lyle Tabb listened to Diehl’s presentation to the Jefferson County Commission and challenged his use of the term “we”. “There’s never been a ‘we’ since I've been on. There hasn’t been a tangible ‘we’ since our last meeting in October... He has deflected every attempt by the remaining members to assemble since. Even had counsel back him up on it. It sounds like he’s implying he would go along with a full board reset when he calls for a 'fresh start.' I really think that's disrespectful and I take it that way.”

Tabb feels Diehl is an expert salesman with a slick spiel, but the board is only “asked to rubber stamp. I have ideas about how that culture can change, and I have support for that and the other members have great ideas too. Doesn't matter if our voices aren't heard on the board. JCDA has been steered by the executive committee for a long time. They hired Nic, and now they are gone. I think he is more comfortable not having a board. That would be more like his old job. He has no oversight, he knows it, and JCC doesn't seem concerned enough to do anything.”

 

When Diehl was hired, Noland stated “I’ve known Nic for a long time and I’m very excited... he was the best candidate for the job. Nic can hit the ground running. He is keenly aware of the economic development in the county. I think he is keenly aware of projects that have been and continue to be in the pipeline. And I think he was a great choice.”

 

Former Commissioner Peter Onoszko chimed in at the time, “Nic was involved, and if you look at his resume, you’ll see that his current position is with the West Virginia Development Office… He was involved in the Roxul (Rockwool) contract and bringing them over here. He was involved in the TEMA, that’s the Italian valve whatever makers, and getting them here. There are several irons in the fire of various degrees of hotness that Nic is involved in from the state Development Office level--in fact representatives of one them had dinner here recently and Nic was an attendee there. His stepping into that position makes it absolutely seamless.”

Working with Reisenweber, Diehl was actively recruiting Rockwool to Jefferson County while employed by the State of West Virginia. Then Lewis recruited Diehl to replace Reisenweber, freeing up a spot with the State for his wife Joy managing business and industrial development for the Eastern Panhandle.

While operating without oversight, Diehl took action in the JCV FOIA lawsuit, attempting to keep records on the Rockwool transaction secret. JCDA’s attorney Carte Goodwin, former Chief Counsel for Manchin who kept a Senate seat warm for him after the death of Robert C. Byrd, filed a motion to dismiss the JCDA’s complaint stating that all documents related to economic development are by their very nature exempt from disclosure, even when the transactions have closed and taxpayers are on the hook for over $37 million in incentives.

The issues of transparency and suppression of the public record came to a head in a special session of the JCC convened last week to discuss the options for reconstituting the JCDA board or appointing new members. During public comment Kai Newkirk, a native of Jefferson County and nationally-recognized progressive organizer, invoked the corruption of civic governance, explained the basis of the opposition to the plant and warned the commissioners how opposition will only increase if they choose to side with corporate interests over their constituents.

He began by stating why he returned to the county to begin organizing, “as I’ve heard from afar about what’s been happening with the Rockwool development I’ve really been outraged to see that this was being pushed forward and was going to put… profits of a multinational corporation before the health of children in our community, before the long-term sustainable economic development of our community, before the land, the air, the water, that is the basis of why so many of us want to be here.”

 

Kai Newkirk leads a meeting of Resist Rockwool in Martinsburg, WV (third from right, hand raised). Photocredit: Susan Pipes

Newkirk defines corruption broadly as the willful manipulation by public officials of civic governance against the majority in favor of corporate interests. “People are outraged in part because this has been a very anti-democratic process that many people feel is corrupt and I feel needs to be investigated further. When we look at the hearings and how things have been rolled out and how it’s moved forward this is a very serious concern. If now, after this most recent election when the results show a very clear mandate against this project. If now this commission moves forward in a way that entrenches the commitment... regardless of that opposition I think that’s only going to deepen the sense that this is being pushed through against the will of a majority of people in this county.”

Finally, Newkirk presents the stakes to the commissioners. “If this project moves forward, and you and others continue to be on the wrong side of that moral question I believe it’s very clear that resistance is going to grow. And this opposition is only going to intensify. And you’re going to be faced more and more with the question of whether it’s courageous and right for this community and back up the clear will of the majority or stand frankly in a shameful position of rejecting that and moving forward something that will be viewed very negatively in history. And so i appeal to you and your conscience to stand with the will of the majority and do what’s right.”

 

After Newkirk’s call for courage and openness, Noland called in the JCC attorney and proposed closing the meeting to the public and conducting their deliberation on the composition of the JCDA board in executive session. According to the WV Ethics website, a governing body may only go into executive session for the reasons set forth in the Open Meetings Act at W.Va. Code § 6-9A-4. Noland’s motion for executive session was predicated on the discussion of “pending litigation,” thought the matters in litigation involving the JCC were not related to the composition of the JCDA board.

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Commissioners Lorenzetti and Compton vocally expressed their preference for conducting the deliberation in the open, and only afterward going into executive session for specific matters that might require attorney-client privilege in ongoing litigation. When Nolan called for a vote, however, Compton voted with Nolan and Hudson in the majority against Lorenzetti and Tabb to turn off the cameras and remove the public.

After sitting for a moment in shock, the public obediently filed out of the room.

A Call for Kindness and Courage

"Yet the actual practice of economic development and its dismal results are poorly understood, in part because its activities are often conduction in secrecy. Were the public really to understand what's being done on its supposed behalf, there might be rioting in the streets."

The Local Economy Solution by Michael Shuman.

The dynamic tension between industry and public policy, known as “economic development,” has long been a driver of the American narrative. The movie Chinatown and the second season of True Detective were set against the backdrop of water rights, utilities and real estate development in Southern California. Kingpin, the villain of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, is, on one hand, a brutal mob boss and on the other a real estate developer who just wants to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen and happens to corrupt senior members of the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of local government along the way. PG&E’s shady real estate deal that endangered public health was exposed by an unemployed single mother in the eponymous Erin Brockovich.

Several sources close to Lewis describe him as a Kingpin figure in Jefferson County. All speaking under condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, they describe him as highly controlling and manipulative. One spoke of a neighbor moving off of Lewis’ residential development to leave his sphere of influence. Another talked of Lewis as the golden boy of Cress Creek, the country club community outside Shepherdstown, continually dropping into conversations the fact that he is an owner of the club. Lewis received an ownership interest in Cress Creek as compensation for accounting services. (Lewis did not respond to a request to comment).

 

Until recently, I was unaware of this view of Lewis. We have had a contentious relationship over the years, and after each falling out we made amends but never re-established a friendship or went out of our way to talk beyond a brief greeting when we found ourselves together in line at the grocery store or at the same bar or restaurant.

On September 5th 2018, early in the cycle of controversy, I texted Lewis to ask “what would be the downside of developing an exit strategy on Rockwool?” In the ensuing dialogue, Lewis stated “If citizens who were not involved now want to get involved, that’s great. I will hand them the keys and wish them luck.”

When it became clear that this offer was disingenuous and that Lewis had no interest in my input or public comment, I started a weekly meetup called “Alt-JCDA” at the Town Run Community Taphouse to talk about how citizens could take economic development initiatives into our own hands, particularly in ways that encouraged entrepreneurship and local small business success. After a few meetings, one of the attendees suggested a more attractive designation for the group, and we agreed on Smart Growth Syndicate. Four of those involved introduced the concept during public comment at the October 16, 2018, JCDA board meeting.

Our group began to attract whistleblowers suggesting that Lewis had motives for triggering the mass resignation of the JCDA board beyond obstructing oversight and reducing transparency to keep the Rockwool project on track. One involves Lewis leveraging his position as President of the Shepherd University Board of Governors, a public institution, to secure a lucrative development deal of his own. The other involves an investment fund to capitalize on the industrialization of Jefferson County.

 

 

Ken and Dolores Blust are Jefferson County residents against Rockwool. Ken was in the Navy in WWII. Photocredit: Diane Blust

Lewis resigned as President of the JCDA on November 9, 2018. One month later he stood before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to request a variance that would allow him to build a WVU urgent care clinic on property he purchased for over $1M at the height of the real estate bubble that burst in 2008. According to a source, Lewis did not want the scrutiny that came with his public role in the Rockwool controversy. He was also hoping the new project proved popular enough to restore his reputation in Jefferson County while pulling himself out of a personal financial crater.

According to a source, Lewis bullied his way into the Chair of the Board of Governors position, at one point pushing another board member to tears. Once there he silenced Dr. Mary Hendrix, the President of Shepherd University and an outspoken scientist with a background in cancer research and children’s health, to prevent her from criticizing the Rockwool plant, a development that could negatively impact applications to Shepherd and admission rates.

Shepherd University had several options for the siting of the WVU clinic, including property owned by Shepherd and property adjacent to Shepherd on the same side of Route 9 owned by the founder of the Bavarian Inn, whose two sons were the current owners and close friends of Lewis. According to the source, one of the sons intervened on behalf of Lewis and pushed his father’s property out of contention for the clinic. Alan Perdue, the Shepherd University General Counsel, sent a letter to Lewis asking him to stay out of the matter and not compete for the clinic due to his position as Chair of the Board of Governors. (Perdue declined to comment).

Lewis had planned to develop 40 townhomes on his parcels and received the requisite approvals, but the more lucrative WVU health clinic was too enticing. The variance application was to change the setbacks from 75 feet to 25 feet to accommodate the clinic and two of other commercial properties as designed.

 

Back on September 19, 2018, shortly after Forbes published my previous article on the Rockwool controversy I received the following Facebook message:

“As a long term resident of Shepherdstown, I want to thank you for wrapping up the Rockwool situation in a way and with a knowledge that only you could, David. You may (or may not) recognize me as the woman from town who is missing her right leg and walks on forearm crutches. I'm typically chasing a small boy on a scooter. (; I sit down here, now relocated to Florida, largely because of Mr. Lewis (coincidentally), and I've felt so completely out of touch with what is actually happening with all of this...”

I sent a brief response and put the message out of mind.

Then, during the executive session of the special JCC meeting, last week, when the public was chatting in small groups in the hallway, the conversation turned to the documentary The Devil We Know about the 50-year cover-up of toxic pollution from DuPont’s Teflon plant in Parkersburg, WV. The people who had seen it said several elements of the backstory were frighteningly similar to the situation with Rockwool in Jefferson County.

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A friend mentioned a Facebook thread in response to Rep. Alex Mooney’s (R-WV) praise of Trump’s the State of the Union. Trump and Mooney advocated the further removal of regulations constraining the emissions of toxic and hazardous pollutants that protected public health. The comments were about the DuPont victims in Parkersburg, and one read, “I’m one of them. A competitive swimmer who spent all of my developmental years in those waters. At 25 I had to amputate a quarter of my body due to an unrecognizable bone cancer of my hip socket. I literally spent my childhood swimming in Teflon. And I've got the scars to prove it. Interesting side note- my childhood dog was diagnosed with the same atypical cancer in the exact same location 5 years earlier. Industry will always put their bottom line above the lives and health of the people. They always have - they always will. What regulations we can force upon them . . . please do. For the sake of God, please do. They will always take so much more than they're allowed, so at least let's bring the starting line way back on them. Please?--”

I clicked on the commenter’s name, Tracy Danzey, to send a direct message asking about her experience in Parkersburg and found that she was the person who had sent the message last September mentioning forearm crutches, scooter-riding son and circumstances relating to “Mr. Lewis.” I asked if I could give her a call to learn more.

 

Tracy Danzey, a competitive swimmer from Parkersburg, WV where DuPont had a Teflon Plant. Left, Danzey competes in the 1991 Great Lake Zone Regional Championships in Kalamazoo, MI. Right, Danzey's medley relay team prepares to compete. Danzey, facing forward adjusting her cap, specialized in backstroke.

Danzey was born in 1979 and spent her youth in the Parkersburg waters where she went to high school and swam competitively from the age of two. “I spent my days and nights in those waters. If it wasn’t in a pool year-round competitive swimming I was on boats with friends or out tubing on the rivers. If you asked anyone who knew me you would think of me as a high-energy swimmer and runner.”

 

DuPont knew they were releasing the highly toxic chemical C8 “for a long time," Danzey said. "Into the water table, in the streams. It was everywhere.”

In 1998 Danzey matriculated at Shepherd University to study nursing and lived in the dorms on West Campus. Two years later she learned her childhood dog developed a rare form of osteosarcoma, a cancer originating in the bone of her left hip socket. It rapidly metastasized throughout her dog’s body and killed her. She sent the acetabulum to pathologists who responded that the curious form of cancer had never been seen before. Danzey was heartbroken but went on with life.

 

Tracy Danzey in 2002, before her cancer, was a self-described "outdoors freak."

In 2001 doctors discovered she had a rare thyroid trapping disorder. Her thyroid was taking in iodine and instead of producing hormones it forms a goiter. They ruled out Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease and genetic disorders. A few years ago scientists conclusively determined that thyroid disease is a common health impact of C8 exposure.

In 2003 she moved into an apartment above the Pharmacy, a favorite restaurant on the main drag of Shepherdstown. The next year she received a graduate degree, married and started work as a nurse in the hospital in Martinsburg that’s now part of the WVU medical system. Her husband managed ground operations at the Frederick Airport.

One evening in the spring of 2005 the 25-year old Danzey was running with her husband during one of his long evenings waiting for a plane. She suddenly collapsed on the runway thinking her hip was broken. As a nurse, she knew it was really bad. “It was pretty dramatic,” she recalls. “The plane that was descending toward the landing strip had to keep circling because they couldn’t move me.” Danzey is grateful she was in Frederick because the emergency room doctors knew to transfer her immediately to the shock trauma center in Baltimore. After many tests and scans, they diagnosed a serious form of cancer and transferred her to Mount Sinai for care. Eventually, they determined that the same atypical osteosarcoma that had killed her dog had metastasized from her hip socket to the surrounding soft tissue.

Instead of a broken hip, it turned out that the tumor had exploded. The doctors described it as “like kicking sand across a shag rug.” They had to cut it all out, otherwise they had to assume that some sand particles would remain. This meant a radical hemipelvectomy where half the pelvis is removed and the gluteus maximus is sewed to abdominal muscles in front to give enough support to hold in her internal organs on that side. She remained in traction in the hospital from April to August, when they finally performed the surgery.

They warned Danzey that when she came out of surgery she might not have any feeling in her pelvic region, she might be incontinent and she might not be able to use her remaining let because before they went in, the doctors didn’t know how far they might need to go up or how much they might need to take out.

 

Tracey Danzey was "Sick...As...S---" during her multiple rounds of chemo in 2005, while still in traction after surgery.

After that, she went through an unusual regimen of chemotherapy at MD Anderson because the doctors didn’t know what would kill these particular cancer cells. Her husband had to stop working and sat by her bedside as she learned to get around on forearm crutches.

 

When Danzy came out of the hospital in August 2005 she was unable to navigate the stairs to her apartment above the Pharmacy with a wheelchair and crutches, so she moved into a tiny brown slate one-floor house owned by Bill and Dixie Knighten, retired farmers living next door beside the Sheetz just outside Shepherdstown.

She cared for the Knightens as a nurse through several illnesses. After a few years, Bill Knighten came to her and said “we want to leave you that home, but we may have to work it a little differently because there’s a development group that would pay a good price for all 16 acres. We’ll make sure you have a home on the property. We may have to purchase you a home or build a new one, but no matter what you’ll have a comparable place to live.”

Before she started treatment, several people suggested she have her eggs frozen, but she figured with so many kids in foster care that needed a home she would adopt if she got to that point. She was told that there was no possibility of her being fertile, and her probability of survival was so low, she didn’t really expect it live long enough to be a mom.

Then at the five year remission mark she went in for a scan and found she was four months pregnant with a son. Her doctors were upset. They had blasted her so hard with chemo they had couldn’t imagine the child would survive. She had constant pain in her pelvic region and they didn’t know what would happen if a baby added to the pressure. The doctors wanted to terminate the pregnancy immediately. She delivered a perfectly healthy baby.

 

Tracy Danzey in the snow in front of her little home owned by the Knightens in Shepherdstown and more recently on the beach with her son, now seven years old.

It turns out that Eric Lewis and his partner Chris Colbert managed the development group that bought the property from Knighten to build a high-density housing project called Rumsey Green. Knighten assured Danzey that they would take care of her and that her rights to a home were in the contract. During that time they talked openly about the situation. Then Dixie Knighten got sick and passed away and not long after, in January 2014, Bill Knighten died.

Danzey went to their son, Billy Knighten who was in his late 40s or early 50s at the time, and offered to move. Billy, who was on the autistic spectrum, told her not to worry. He said that making sure she had a home was “the only they asked me to do. The only thing I promised I would do.”

While telling Danzey everything was fine and not to worry, Lewis and Colbert worked on Billy to cut her out, slowly convincing him that he didn’t need to honor the contract.

"At a certain point, in the middle of negotiation between Billy and Rumsey Green, Eric Lewis took over managing Billy's finances, farm bookwork, doing his taxes, that kind of stuff. Billy told me that he was thinking about it and I told him that he absolutely couldn't because he can't hand over their finances to someone who he is negotiating the sale of a property with. A big sale. I told him that that was unethical for Eric to do professionally and that Eric should never be willing to take that on. But Billy handed over his business to Eric right in the middle of it all," Danzey wrote in a message. "At that time, Chris and Eric were taking Billy out to dinner for 'meetings' a lot and having women flirt with him, etc. Billy, now in his late 40s, had never had a girlfriend. He was ripe for the picking. Very easy to manipulate. His mother and father worried a lot about what would happen to him when they were gone. I promised Dixie I would help him, and I did until he pushed me away. I was his medical power of attorney last I knew. He asked me to be. I signed papers agreeing. He asked me to do what was best for him should the moment ever occur."

Danzey provided screen captures of text messages with Colbert that began on September 27, 2015 and that tell the story, as Danzey puts it, of “such a strange situation. Lewis and Colbert were open and generous until they felt they could get away with manipulating an autistic guy and then pushed a handicapped women out of her house.”

 

Some text messages concern a meeting between Danzey and Colbert at her kitchen table where, according to Danzey, Colbert suddenly claims that there “was never a plan to provide a home for us, even though I have had open conversations with him about it in the past, repeatedly. He says they are trying to ‘do the right thing’ and offer us a down payment on a home. $40K. Chris is calling Eric asking him questions that I’m asking him. I am emotional. Very. I’m devastated because I know what’s coming. He leaves with me crying saying, ‘I don’t know what we're going to do.’ I told him we'd think about it. I asked him why Bill Knighten, Sr. would lie to me. Why Dixie would lie? He shrugged his shoulders.”

In the text thread Colbert finally states they’re “not budging on anymore than $50K.”

Danzey reports by text to Colbert that “Mark (her husband, a service-connected disabled veteran) has been in and out of the hospital for a few days with cardiac issues and seizures. We are drowning just trying to keep the basics together here. I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it is the reality that stands before me.”

On Oct 18, Danzey writes, "Chris, I really do want to thank you for helping me with all of this, and caring about where we end up in the end. It means a lot to me and I appreciate it so much. I’ve been lamenting upon this fact all weekend, and I just wanted to make sure that you knew that."

 

Tracy Danzey's awards from her competitive swimming days in Parkersburg, WV and more recently Danzey walks on the beach.

The next day Colbert responds, "Good morning Tracy. We are currently working out the details on our end and will likely have specific terms drafted in the near future."

On November 1st Danzey writes "Hi Chris. Sorry to bother you. Just wanted to check in and see if you guys are still on the same timetable as when we spoke before (in terms of when you need us to leave the property). Just trying to plan and pack at the correct pace here. Hope you don't mind me asking. Packing is a slow process for me, even though we don’t have a lot. I just want to make sure that we are progressing quickly enough Thanks Chris! Hope you and yours are well."

Three days later Danzey hasn’t received an answer. "Ya there?” she writes. “Did you get my last message? Just wanted to make sure we are on track with packing. Johnny's teacher has been asking if we will be here in the spring semester because there are kids who need his spot if we will be out then, And on that note, if we will be leaving midstream spring semester, we need to decide if we would rather do that or start him in a different pre-k at spring semesters start. I know - all of it not your problem, but if you wouldn't mind updating me a tad, it would really help me in this process.”

Colbert responds, " Hey Tracy. We are currently working on a timeline and will let you know as soon as it is nailed down."

 

On December 12th, Tracy writes, “Feeling pretty nervous these days. Haven’t heard from you in quite some time. Can you give me some idea of what we are looking at here Chris, and how that pertains to my life? Pretty nerve shattering living in a state of limbo. Hope that you and yours are happy and well as we enter the Christmas season. I wish you the best Chris.”

There is no more communication from Colbert or Lewis until an eviction letter arrives demanding that she vacate the property.

"Over and over again the investors for the Rumsey Green project kept dropping out. I feel like it was 2-3 times the deals fell apart with different potential investors each time. I remember mumblings about it not being enough population for the profit margin the investors were looking for. I don't really know David, but I do find it very suspicious that suddenly Eric developed solid investors for Rumsey Green just as he was putting this Rockwool deal together under the sheets in this corrupt secretive way. Everyone kept asking 'Why would Eric do this in his own backyard?'" Tracy continued, "A few old farmers went out to talk to Billy Jr. when he 'evicted' us. They begged him to change his mind. They begged him for the name and contact info of the person or group that purchased the land. They wanted to ask the buyers if they would allow us to stay in the home long enough to pack and to not be displaced. Billy refused to tell them who the buyers were. Refused."

“Bill would be rolling in his grave if he knew,” said Danzey. “I was like a daughter to him... It was so sad and unnecessary. If they hadn’t come to me and said they would take care of it, I could have found a way to manage. It was an awkward, strange and manipulative situation. I couldn’t find accessible handicapped housing in time and had to move back in with my mother in Parkersburg. It was a sad situation that didn’t need to be sad, even if they changed their mind” about taking care of her. “It’s a small town,” she thought. “They would have to see her every day” if she stayed.

Her husband and son developed respiratory conditions in Parkersburg, so they moved to an island off the coast of Florida with clean air and ocean breezes. Danzey says her son, now seven, is mischievous but she doesn’t get too upset about anything. Her challenges have made her a very tolerant, if exhausted, mom.

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Danzey has remained close with many people in Shepherdstown and remembers distinctly being confused when people started arguing online about Rockwool and heavy industry. It seemed to be “the complete opposite of what Jefferson County has ever been. It’s such a safe place. For 20 years, all of my adult years, it raised me. In this beautiful place, I always felt safe. They care, they will make good decisions,” she thought.

“Through a horrific illness, they carried me. They carried me, David. I don’t expect that in a community. Now I feel an impending doom. When one heavy industry comes it opens the door to every heavy industry.”

 

“That of all places Jefferson county with its beautiful farmland and old people, not old in age, but people who do it in an old way, where so much has been preserved. It’s just completely devastating. Devastating, that someone can come and take take take. I’m tired of industries just taking. They’ve taken too much from me.”

It makes Danzey sad that people like Eric Lewis “who represent Jefferson County don’t understand that. They’re not seeing what the majority are seeing, what we’re valuing, what we’re preserving. It’s so sad that there are people in public positions that don’t see anything of what we’re seeing. They’re not experiencing anything.”

 

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia viewed from Maryland Heights, a popular hiking trail. Photocredit: Rebecca Heinlein

Last December, a couple months before I heard Danzey’s story, I submitted a letter to the BZA from Smart Growth Syndicate and provided public comment objecting to Eric Lewis’ application to change the setbacks from 75 to 25 feet to accommodate the WVU clinic. My primary objection was simple; the justification for the variance did not meet the requirements in the West Virginia State Code §8A-7-11. I knew that Shepherd University and WVU had other, better options for the medical clinic and the original approved plan for the Lewis property, affordable and workforce housing, better fulfilled the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

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Jennilee Hartman, the Zoning Clerk, agreed with the Smart Growth Syndicate objection. “The residential growth district was specifically called out in this section, I believe, it was intended for high-density residential development… I agree the variance can’t be granted on what’s currently proposed.” Yes, the land could be used for other purposes such as commercial or light industrial, but the rational Lewis provided for the variance on the setback was not sufficient or compliant.

While the BZA went into executive session to deliberate I chatted with Lewis’ banker. He told me his boss, Henry Kayes, the Chief Operating Officer and Regional President of United Bank, sent him to make sure the project stayed on track. Kayes was also on the Shepherd University Board of Governors and stood to make a good bit of money for his bank in the transaction.

When I first went to Charleston in 2005 to work in the West Virginia Development Office as a political appointee I was told to “wait my turn.” The advice I received was that I was on the right track. All I had to do was help other people push through their projects for a few years, serve on boards, rubber stamp applications of older, wealthier, more powerful people and I would cash in when it was “my turn.”

 

Here’s the thing. If you’re a public servant it’s never your turn. You’re always supposed to put what’s right for the general public, what’s best for other people, for your constituents, in front of your own interests. Always.

While Nolan asked every applicant to the JCDA board if they supported the JCV’s lawsuit, Lorenzetti asked each one if they were familiar with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan was a guide for the future. A way to preserve the character of the county and protect the commonweal while supporting development. Because Lewis invoked the Comprehensive Plan to support his project, which was not aligned with the comprehensive plan, and because he did not have proper justification the variance should not have been granted.

When the BZA returned from their deliberation in executive session they unanimously granted Lewis’ variance. Apparently the public officials decided it was in fact his turn.

Your Sacrifice Zone Is My Opportunity Zone

As Naomi Klein stated in the introductory watch-party video, “That is the promise of the Green New Deal. Not just would it allow us to avoid the apocalyptic future that we’re all so afraid of, but that it opens up the chance to build a beautiful present and we all can do that together.”

In Jefferson County, the apocalyptic future and beautiful present are like two parallel universes occupying the same space. We’re in a Twilight Zone episode where the self-interested actions of a few individuals have sent us on a trajectory that, because of a few more actions based on self-interest, accelerates the velocity of destruction. At the same time, the solution that appears so simple and evident to the audience is unachievable because of the compulsive repetition of the key players, unwilling or unable to stop change course.

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The drama began on Ranson’s centennial, October 18, 2010, when Ranson landed a unique triple play putting it well on its way toward a “beautiful present.” The US Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development announced Ranson as the only small city to receive “Partnership for Sustainable Communities” planning grants from all three agencies.

Before the HUD grant, Ranson had 1920s-style “euclidean” zoning that had separate uses for different areas. It was auto-dependent, not walkable and unsustainable. Because Ranson was built without any stormwater drainage plan, all the runoff made its way to the Chesapeake Bay. The grant funding was secured by Sustainable Solutions, a consultancy that serves municipalities across the country founded by Matt Ward of Charles Town, WV.

 

“Part of the grant was to switch to form-based, or ‘smart,’ codes that were mixed-use. Instead of putting a store way back from the street, put it up on the street with a wide sidewalk,” Ward said of the concept. “HUD gave out about 500 of these grants until Congress killed the program in 2012. $350,000 was awarded to Ranson to fix their zoning, fix the comprehensive plan and make it more sustainable.”

Ranson hired Placemakers from New Mexico to set up three model plans that are typical of what you would address in and around Ranson. They selected an eight-acre former brownfield site of the defunct Kidde Brass Foundry, now Powaton Place, that broke ground in 2013. The second model plan was a zone for a downtown infill project for which they created a whole site plan.

Then they decided to show “how you can do development on a farm that concentrates on an agricultural village but leaves a big green reserve,” as Ward put it, instead of putting the development all over the farm. This model site they selected was the 400 acre Jefferson Orchards.

In 2005, after 40 years in the apple business, the owner David Ralston and manager Ronnie Slonacker were ready to sell. This was pre-recession and Dan Ryan was building vinyl-sided cul-de-sac subdivisions across the county. Since 1999 Ranson had been annexing everything it could and handing it to residential developers like Dan Ryan, but they had reached a saturation point. Ranson knew they didn’t want more residential development that “didn’t make anything better. They’re not revenue positive. They’re not walkable, they’re not good,” as Ward explained it, Ralston agreed. “We’ll take commercial.”

Placemakers noted that the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) commuter train line to Washington, DC from Martinsburg, WV went right through Jefferson Orchards. The older Duffields station was nothing more than a platform, shelter and gravel parking lot off the smaller Flowing Springs Road in the middle of nowhere. Placemakers suggested moving the MARC station which put it right by Route 9, a highway that Senator Byrd had expanded, and a bike path. The Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (EPTA) wanted a transfer station and bus warehouse which Placemakers accommodated through a multi-modal design surrounded by a transit-oriented village.

 

Young woman with backpack takes the train. photocredit: Getty

The western section of the development featured a freight railroad, so Placemakers integrated light manufacturing, “Special District Industrial,” into the landscape in such a way as to be compatible with commercial and residential units clustered in the nearby village. The final design for the multi-use, transit-oriented development had the train station and village at the northernmost point of the City of Ranson, fully-annexed, so the project was named “Northport Station.”

Over 400 people participated in the planning, according to Ranson City Manager Andy Blake’s October 24, 2013 memo. “It was a record turnout for such a process in the region,” Blake wrote. “Yet what made this a model process was not the participation numbers. Rather it was how the participation made for better informed, better-tested outcomes, outcomes likely to overcome all the usual challenges confronting even the best ideas when it comes to adoption, implementation and enforcement. That’s because people with the power to advance or undercut the Plan’s effectiveness were partners in the process.”

 

While the mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) plan would have created a windfall of for the Ralstons, it required a sophisticated marketing plan that could attract regional or national developers. A search of the Urban Land Institute database available to members shows a hot market for mixed-use TODs and limited available property for development in the greater Washington DC metro area. Rather than actively market the plan produced by Placemakers under the federal grants, the Ralstons hired Jeffrey Haymaker who put up a few signs but didn’t have the sophistication required to secure a project developer according to a source familiar with the effort.

When Rockwool and Deloitte, their site selection consultant, visited Jefferson County for the first time in January 2017 they looked at two sites, Jefferson Orchards and a property near the Berkeley County/Jefferson County line owned by the Rockville, MD paving and construction firm F. O. Day.

According to a source familiar with the site visit, the nature of the project was not disclosed to owners and agents of sites under consideration but was portrayed as low-impact manufacturing of a green product. For a low-impact project, Rockwool representatives asked unusual questions that raised eyebrows. They asked the distance to the nearest cluster of homes, which was about a half mile. Then they asked the distance to the Hospice of the Panhandle, which was closer.

The site selection team was asked why they didn’t consider Berkeley County, which had more remote industrial sites. The answer was clear. Only Jefferson County was under consideration because it was the only county in West Virginia with zoning. If the site was zoned for industrial, and it received the requisite permits, it could not be stopped.

 

Stop Toxic Rockwool signs cover the landscape in rural Jefferson County, WV. photocredit: David Levine

While the F. O. Day site appeared to have the better water and sewer capacity available for the project, it was in Jefferson County proper and would need to go through the county’s permitting and planning process. In order to avoid going through a countywide process, Rockwool selected the Jefferson Orchard’s site, which had been annexed by the City of Ranson. Rather than negotiating with the five-member Jefferson County Commission and the eight-person Jefferson County Planning Commission, Rockwool just needed the Ranson City Council and Planning Commission to make a couple changes to the zoning ordinances and speed through the paperwork.

“At this point, nobody in Ranson city government knows much about Rockwool,” says Ward. They had seen slick brochures with “‘LEED certified,’ ‘Paris climate accords,’ ‘saving the world,’ ‘committed to sustainability’ printed on them. (Jefferson County Commissioner Jane) Tabb, (JCDA Executive Director John) Reisenweber, Blake, etc. went down (to tour the Byhalia, MS facility that) makes something that saves the world. Air permits, check. Nobody knew how polluting it was going to be. In May 2018 nobody thought it was like the pictures with all the smoke, the smokestacks, nobody thought it was like that.”

According to Ward, Reisenweber had seen major projects going to neighboring Berkeley County and he felt he had to put points on the board. Billed as a $150 million “investment,” Reisenweber wasn’t going to lose Rockwool. He had strong allies in Mark Ralston, a Dallas bankruptcy attorney who had inherited Jefferson Orchards with his brother when his father, David Ralston, died a couple years earlier, and Todd Hooker, a WV Department of Commerce industrial development executive.

The Commerce Department was willing to load infrastructure into Jefferson Orchards for Rockwool as part of a thousand-acre manufacturing zone, and Ralston said “‘Amen brother! Someone with money!’ Manufacturing would build out more manufacturing (so Ralston could unload the property). Ranson said we’d like to get the train station too, and at this time there still a genuine belief (that we were talking about light manufacturing compatible with the mixed-use plans),” according to Ward.

 

“Reisenweber called the Mayor of Ranson, the City Manager and Assistant City Manager with Deloitte, Rockwool’s site selection consultant and said, ‘we need everything waived,’” Ward said. Blake responded, “‘Go f*** yourself we’re not waving anything… all we can do is live by our code, we’re not waiving the code.’”

Ward said they went back and forth with variations on “‘You’re gonna f*** up these jobs, drop the restriction’ and ‘we’re following the code.’” According to Ward, when previous projects were brought to Ranson, Blake had responded with “we don’t want a polluting source,” which frustrated both Ralston and Reisenweber. So they didn’t tell him it was a polluting source, just that they needed more latitude and they didn’t want to come back for permission again. Instead of adjusting certain limits, they got rid of them.

Because Ward was the only one who would have known what questions to ask and would have seen the scale of the pollution, he was kept out of the process by Reisenweber (in a Facebook message, Reisenweber declined to comment). Ward had lobbied him back when Reisenweber worked for then-Representative Capito, and the two rarely saw eye-to-eye. Ward claims Reisenweber refused to put Ward under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that would have given him access to information about the company or industry that was sniffing around under the “Project Shuttle” alias. Ward did some digging and guessed it was a Volvo plant that was coming, because he knew Ranson and Jefferson County officials has toured a manufacturing plant in Mississippi, where Volvo had a factory.

Reisenweber collected signatures on the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement using the constant refrain of “jobs!” in order to lock-in the Jefferson County Council (JCC), Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA), the City of Ranson, the City of Charles Town and the Board of Education.

 

Matt Ward stops by the Town Run Community Tap House in Shepherdstown on Sundays after church. photocredit: David Levine

The PILOT agreement was approved by the City of Ranson on July 18, 2017. The PSD Application for Permit to Construct wasn’t filed with the DEP until November 20, 2017 with the notice going into the local paper of record two days later. This means the municipal and county public officials were locked into an agreement with Rockwool four months before anyone would have reasonably known that Rockwool was a major emitter, defined as a source of over 100 tons of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) per year according to Ward.

When Blake originally received the 65-page permit to construct, he assumed it would protect public health because “on the cover of it said ‘Clean Act Air Permit Approved.’ They didn’t open it up to see 92 tons of PM 2.5, they didn’t see 300 tons of phenols and formaldehyde, they didn’t see a thousand tons of criteria air pollutants... they didn’t look at that. And they certainly didn’t look at when the Mineral Wool National Emissions Standards Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) Act that was updated in 2015 to check if it was strong enough. They didn’t do any of that. They just saw the boxes were checked. Fire Marshall, check. DEP, check,” said Ward.

The better part of a year went by without anyone paying much attention to the progress of Rockwool. Then suddenly, “the week after July 4th, 2018 the Sierra Club’s letter to the DEP went public and July 7th to 9th boom! I read the air permit,” recounts Ward. His role shifted to, “How do I keep everyone calm. I was a crisis manager. I thought, maybe we made a mistake.”

According to Ward, “Andy Blake assumed a Clean Air Act permit meant it was safe for public health. I know that is not what the Clean Air Act does.” Both Blake and Ward read the 684 page PSD and were horrified. The DEP issues “a technology-based permit,” Ward continued, “which says that industry can or will consent to afford the limits of this permit. This permit will take on a smokestack and if you extrapolate out what will come out of it, guess what it’s 1500 tons of pollutants. That’s the permit we’re willing to put on in an industry-led, technology-based standard. If you did a health-based standard, you might go down to 100 pounds, not 1000 tons.”

 

The week of July 9th, 2018 after the Sierra Club letter, the Facebook group CCAR was growing “from a thousand to three thousand to five thousand to seven thousand. And people were upset, clearly,” reports Ward. “And I didn’t have to tell Duke Pierson and Andy Blake people were upset. People were really upset.”

“I represented Flint Michigan after they were poisoned. And got ‘em $300 million out of Congress which is about a third of what they needed just to fix their media problems, let alone the long-term damage. I know what angry citizens are about. I’ve helped manage angry citizens over environmental issues many times. And with the exception of Flint, as I told (Charles Town) Mayor Scott Rogers and Mayor Duke Pierson, this was the worst I’d seen.”

Locally, “there was a tempest over Huntfield, I was in the middle of that. The white supremacy plaque, I was in the middle. Gay non-discrimination ordinance… people were asking me about Rockwool, is this just the controversy of the year? This one is different. So I said to Ranson you gotta figure out how to get your way through this,” said Ward. “So I was writing a memo to the city. There are 7,000 people in the Facebook group, and I put the computer down to get dinner and I went back and there were 9,000 people in the group.”

 

Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool-Ranson pose with State Senator John Unger in Charleston. His district covers Jefferson County and part of neighboring Berkeley County. Photocredit: Benita Keller

The substance of the memo is crisis management, with coaching for the Mayor, City Manager and Assistant City Manager on how to address the issues and communicate with the public. In a footnote to the memo, which was released by the City of Ranson as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Jefferson County Vision (JCV), (). Ward provides this warning:

“For what it is worth, from my own personal perspective, the community controversy, anger, and level of organizing is very high and does not seem likely to subside any time soon. I have been an elected official in Jefferson County, been the subject of many protests, and also organized many protests, including on behalf of “smart growth” and environmental organizations. I have provided professional representation to municipalities dealing with environmental issues (including challenges from, among other groups, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council), and have been retained by environmental and community groups to organize protests, opposition, litigation, legislative/regulatory, and political action against polluting entities and projects. I have never seen an issue get so hot and so viral as this Rockwool reaction thus far.”

Blake and Erfurt, the Assistant City Manager, had been too clever by half. In their accommodations to Reisenweber and Rockwool when removing protections they’d painted himself into a corner. The zoning changes were made in such a way that Ranson’s ability to deny a permit was limited. The Rockwool project was on auto-pilot. As Deloitte had predicted, once the Air Permit was issued by the DEP, little could be done to stop the project, no matter how damaging or destructive it turned out to be.

“Everybody’s Gonna Die”

Rockwool, the DEP and the West Virginia Development Office quickly convened a private meeting at the Bavarian Inn to tamp down the outrage. Former Jefferson County Commissioner and State Senator Dale Manuel called DEP Secretary Austin Caperton to find out why they were holding the Bavarian meeting in private rather than seeking public comment.

 

According to Manuel, Secretary Caperton responded, “I don’t want to come all the way out there just to get my ass whupped.” A coal executive appointed to the post in 2017 by Governor Jim Justice, a coal company CEO, Secretary Caperton was charged with “getting rid of needless red tape that hurts job creation.”

Manuel wasn’t the only one concerned with the closed-door nature of the meeting. In an email send on August 6th, two days before the meeting, and made public by the Ranson FOIA, the EPA’s Mark Ferrell noted “a closed door meeting with ‘stakeholders,’ organized by a PR firm? Doesn’t sound kosher.”

According to an attendee of the Bavarian Inn meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, Secretary Caperton was challenged by Blake immediately on entering the room. “People are really upset,” said Blake. “People think that they’re gonna die.”

 

A Jefferson County resident wears a Toxic Rockwool hat for the DEP wastewater discharge hearing at the Ranson Civic Center. photocredit: David Levine

Secretary Caperton responded, “well everybody’s gonna die. Everybody dies. I guarantee that. Talk to an actuarial, 100% of us will die.”

Another attendee standing nearby chimed in, “are you f***ing serious? Is that what you’re going to respond with? I understand people are upset, well, everybody’s going to die. Your kids are going to die, too.”

When JCV submitted a FOIA request to the JCDA for information “requesting all documents about the meeting, created at the meeting or created after the meeting,” the JCDA refused, citing an exemption for “records associated with the JCDA’s effort to furnish assistance to a new business in West Virginia, which are not agreements signed or entered into by the JCDA that obligates public finds.”

 

The meeting attendee who spoke under condition of anonymity stated that Ranson Mayor Pierson and City Manager Blake used the meeting to challenge the DEP and Rockwool, looking for “which permit they could rip up without being told by the court we’re putting it back in. How do we get rid of them? Ranson couldn’t figure it out. Permits become vested rights, and you can’t take them back.”

By annexing Jefferson Orchards, changing zoning ordinances and accommodating heavy industry Ranson had unleashed a monster that was turning on its master. The Ranson city officials had no way to stop it.

I spoke with Mayor Pierson outside Charles Town’s City Hall after the December 12, 2018 meeting of the Charles Town Utility Board (CTUB). The City of Ranson and the adjacent City of Charles Town, the county seat, were in the process of merging their sewer systems and putting them under the control of Charles Town. The impact of wastewater from Rockwool and funding for the sewer was dominating the meetings.

 

Children cover their mouths with Toxic Rockwool stickers at a rally in Jefferson County. The factory is planned for construction across the road from an elementary school and within 2 miles of 30% of the public school population of Jefferson County. photocredit: Jenn Walker

Mayor Pierson had built his career at an Alcoa aluminum plant in nearby Frederick, MD. He considered the Rockwool emissions to be minor “compared to what we did.” He believed it was “the job of the DEP” to determine the acceptable level of emissions and enforce the limits that are set, not the municipality or county. He thought it was a mistake to reject Rockwool and feared it would be hard to recruit “any industry at all” to the area if we did.

He was front and center when the plant was first announced on July 6th 2017, proclaiming “I really am truly awful proud of what we have done” in one local paper and providing the more polished quote, “this investment will provide many high-quality jobs, expand infrastructure for future development and broaden our tax base” in another.

 

A year later, in July of 2018, shortly after the scale of the emissions, environmental impact and risk to public health became clear and the citizens of Jefferson County mounted an oppositional campaign, Mayor Pierson remained defiant, posting a statement ghost-written by Ward reiterating his endorsement of the project. The statement described a public process from March 2012 through 2017 that led to the siting of the Rockwool plant and described the introduction of manufacturing in Jefferson Orchards as an integral part of the plan for Ranson Renewed.

But as an elected official, Mayor Pierson had become clear that it was the overwhelming will of the people to make sure the Rockwool factory is never commissioned in Ranson. “The people don’t want it,” he said. It went against his instincts and better judgment, but if the citizens are against it, he wasn’t going to continue siding with the factory against the people. As an elected official, he believed he had no choice but to end his support of the project. He just isn’t sure there’s anything he can do.

Michael Tolbert, a City Council Member of nearby Charles Town, the County Seat, and Game of Thrones fan suggested in a text message that county residents shouldn’t give up on Ranson. “I ask that you sometimes think of Hodor,” he wrote. “It would help if maybe you folks would spend some quality time at the municipality that started this mess and pass out your checklist, call them names and more importantly build a political infrastructure to plan some changes to their political DNA by the time the next election comes along. If you want to weld shut the back door to heavy industry at Jefferson Orchards, start with the municipality that annexed it.”

 

Protesters outside a Charles Town City Council meeting. photocredit David Levine

Tolbert continued his appeal, “they have shorter meetings and softer seats in their chamber. I think Charles Town is The Vale. Yes, we own the problem but the conflict's real origin lies in a secret deal that House Tyrell (Ranson) started - always playing puppet master. Part of the problem is that all the County’s cities, the BOE and the JCC, with all its appointed entities that keep getting themselves in trouble, are simply little stovetop kingdoms that have yet to form a single union. Get us all together to build Kings Landing. I guarantee the fights will be twice as interesting. :)”

He also asked for patience. “Charles Town needs downtime,” Tolbert continued. “Winter is coming and we have an uptick in County homeless downtown and in the neighborhoods. We may also have a brewing opioid problem now that Martinsburg is closing down its drug house. We need some time to get our own house in order. City governments are nothing more, nothing less than public service providers on a budget.”

I responded to expect our participation in Charles Town affairs to continue, relentlessly, until the problem was solved. “Rockwool must be stopped,” I wrote. “That’s the beginning. Everything else comes next.”

“That I must say is a concise statement of your position. We have all the problems at the same time. I think we are Bear Island.”

The Power of Public Comment

Ranson broke away from the neighboring city of Charles Town in 1910 to pursue its destiny “as the industrial hub of Jefferson County anchored by a booming manufacturing economy.” A year ago, in January 2018, Ranson and Charles Town proposed merging their sewer systems and then completed the deal late last year giving the city of Charles Town control of the wastewater treatment services required by Rockwool.

Rockwool was a non-issue over the spring and summer of 2017. Charles Town City Council Member Mike Brittingham remembers the development being presented as a side note in a May meeting of the Ordinance Committee he chaired. It was presented as “by the way, Ranson is opening up development on Route 9 with an amazing financing package from the state,” he said. “We were 100% on board. There was no controversy. It was not on our radar.”

On August 6th, 2018 all that changed. Charles Town city government held a Building Commission meeting at 4pm, then a City Council meeting at 7pm. There was a major protest at the Building Commission meeting that went down the block and extensive public comment against the Rockwool sewer bond. Before the City Council meeting, Brittingham was standing in the vestibule of the Charles Town City Hall chatting with other council and staff members. They were aware of the protests, but the general consensus was that the Ranson development had “not much to do with us.”

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Walking into the August 6th meeting Brittingham was sold on the sewer project. “I was prepared to vote yes on the sewer bond and I still didn’t know much about the user. I just knew we were considering the end project of the sewer line,” he said.

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“The people who showed up are not who you would expect,” said Brittingham. “They were not your typical protestors. They were the kind of people who would see protest as a negative connotation. They were clearly not a special interest but representative of the population as a whole.”

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Brittingham was impressed with the fact that they all had different perspectives and information. There wasn’t an organized message, but they all “cared about stopping the industrialization of Jefferson County.” They saw “Rockwool as just step one. Not the worst polluter on the planet, no worse than other heavy industry, but it was clear that the state wants to industrialize Jefferson County because it’s the easiest to bring in. Advanced manufacturing, tech, clean high-paying jobs for people without a college education or maybe didn’t finish high school that will boost the economy” would be off the table he said. This was “all that West Virginia could accomplish,” and they were expecting Jefferson County to settle for what the State wanted to bring in.

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At the conclusion of the meeting, Brittingham summarized his position. “Sometimes in life you all the sudden have a moment and change your mind. Every time that public hearing comes up I always have my own opinion before it begins but I always try to keep in mind that public hearings are an extremely vital process in forming all of our opinions, as they should be. We can’t be dead set in our opinion before we hear them. And from what I’ve heard tonight, these people are coming here and they’re from Ranson, and they’re from Kearneysville and they’re from Shepherdstown, and you’re right. It’s not our problem. It’s not our problem.

“This is not in Charles Town. We might not have the right to stop it, but I’m a former Marine, I’m a former State Trooper, I’ve been in my volunteer fire department back home since I was 15 years old, although I no longer live there I’m still a member of it. I’ve devoted my life to helping out other people who need help, and these people have been wronged by their representatives that are supposed to be helping them, by the Ranson City Council, by the Jefferson County Commission...

“I watch videos all the time. We’ve all seen one where there’s a fight, or someone’s being assaulted and we ask ourselves ‘why are the four guys standing on the side, who could be intervening and stopping somebody, why aren’t they jumping in. Well damn it, I’ll jump in.”

After the meeting, Brittingham realized that the state of West Virginia “needed a user to start the water, sewer and gas lines, to push the infrastructure. Rockwool was a bad deal financially with all the tax breaks, but that wasn’t the point. The state had the power to do it.” Ranson received over $37 million in direct and indirect incentives according to JCV, including a $2.2M cash grant, an amount about equal to the cost of the real estate purchased from Mark Ralston, to Rockwool in the form of a loan that would be forgiven when the factory employed 120 people. The sewer capacity proposed for state financing was eight times what was needed for Rockwool.

By the end of the August 6th meeting, Brittingham “was feeling like I was taken advantage of” and had been “left in the dark. After hearing the public comment and starting to piece together how we got to here, I moved to reverse course.” Brittingham realized that certain county and municipal staff members and appointed officials were working their own plan in the background and pressuring elected officials by scheduling meetings as quickly as possible and disclosing as little as possible.

“When I got home that night I sat in my garage until the early hours of the morning and watched over the recordings from various meetings and I started to piece together my feelings about the meetings in the months prior. I wondered at the unusual pace and frequency, and I started to remember back to uneasy feelings in those meetings, information that was omitted, comments at committee and other council meetings. I saw how the same individuals that had pushed for frequent meetings seemed visibly upset by the prospect that project could be delayed and the company could change course.” That night Brittingham placed calls into the early morning to colleagues that were still up “to see if others had the same feelings, to see if mine matched up with theirs, to see if we may been taken advantage of or persuaded to do the wrong thing.”

 

Over the next month, Brittingham dug into the details and asked questions. After bearing the brunt of Brittingham’s grilling at the the September 4th, 2018 Charles Town City Council meeting, Bjoern Andersen, the Senior Vice President for Operations visiting from Denmark, stated that “If you actually got to know us, you would see we are not the devil in disguise.”

Brittenham replies, “I would disagree with you on that. When I said 18 tons of pollutants in this county prior to you coming here I was corrected. It was 18 pounds, less than my cat weighs. To be honest, 550 tons is a three million percent increase in pollutants. And so while I agree you have met the qualification, it’s just simply an industry we have never had to rely upon, that has never helped us in this county at any point, and we’ve watched it help deteriorate the rest of West Virginia and we don’t want it here. That’s all I’m simply saying.”

Brittingham concluded by stating, “while you’ll do everything in your power to get that plant here, I’ll do everything in my power to oppose it.” For about five seconds, Brittingham locked eyes with Andersen. He told me later it felt like 20 minutes, and in almost any other context would have escalated into physical violence.

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Meanwhile, Rockwool went on a charm offensive, taking one council member on a tour of Jefferson County to see the areas of poverty and promising to provide charity. The council member, Michael Tolbert, described the conversation to a local paper as “quiet,” “civil” and “respectful.” Tolbert then extended the satanic metaphor system initiated by Andersen in his confrontation with Brittingham. “I did check,” he added, “but I detected no wings, no fangs, no sulphur smell… They are humans.”

Shaun Amos, a nurse who lives in Harpers Ferry, responded to Tolbert in his public comment at the November 5th, 2018 meeting of the Charles Town City Council. “Well, I would tell you if Satan really had horns and a tail and a pitchfork precious few people would end up in the fiery pit. Satan himself is a liar and these people are liars.” He then went through a litany of untruths and false statements by Rockwool about health concerns, complaints and irregularities at their factories across the globe.

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According to Nicky Heim, a resident of Charles Town, the lies from Rockwool have become so prolific her documentation now stretches to over 40 pages. After she mentions a few in her public comment, Mike Brittingham conducts a master class in exposing misinformation. Rockwool Vice President USA Operations Peter Regenberg has provided information for the water consumption and discharge at the Byhalia, MS plant to give Charles Town a sense of what to expect.

During the questioning, Regenberg admits that the Mississippi plant doesn’t have it’s own flow meter, so it’s possible that the information he has provided is incorrect. He makes claims about the use of rainwater, which Brittingham reveals is prohibited in Rockwool’s contract with Jefferson Utilities, Inc. (JUI). From the numbers provided by Regenberg, Brittingham points out that it is likely Rockwool is violating their discharge permit during any month when the discharge is above average.

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Brittingham summarizes the the frustration of the Charles Town City Council by stating, “to my fellow council members, the reason I’m so upset is because every time we see a fact, every time we see something documented, every single time we see something written on paper, and we ask a question about it because it doesn’t add up we’re told we’re not supposed to believe what we’re reading, that the words don’t mean what they mean, that the numbers don’t mean what they are. How many times are we going to let this company tell us something that is absolutely not true. And we sit here and we prove it in these meetings, at least I attempt to, and we don’t vote on this, we don’t talk about it, we do talk about it, we have to talk about the elephant in the room, why are we still dealing with this issue. I truly don’t understand it. Just in this short presentation alone, yes of course I’m prepared I’m prepared to show that every time he throws something out there oh we disagree with these numbers we disagree with that i’m not prepared to talk about that its right here, it’s right here. I’m sorry. I’m upset. This conversation needs to take place.

“The constantly changing (and increasing) numbers for Rockwool's wastewater discharge are a clear case of why the people of Jefferson County cannot trust Rockwool,” wrote citizen researcher Addison Reece in a Facebook post by way of introduction to the reference materials.

The NPDES permit application from October 2 said 'a maximum of 14,900 Gallons Per Day' (GPD) will be discharged as non-domestic wastewater.

The public notice and modification from October 31 has a letter from the DEP stating, 'The non-domestic wastewater approved for acceptance consists of Reverse Osmosis (RO) reject wastewater and water softener wastewater...The maximum daily volume accepted shall not exceed 17,000 gallons per day.

Rockwool sent a letter to the Charles Town Utility Board, dated January 24, 2019, which said, 'Rockwool's anticipated sanitary sewer discharge is 27,550 gallons per day.' When questioned by CTUB, Rockwool said they would send a correction letter. The correction, dated February 5, 2019, states that 'Rockwool's anticipated sanitary sewer discharge is 46,800 GPD, consisting of 14,000 GPD domestic sewage and 32,800 industrial sewage.

They've been evasive and inconsistent about their wastewater discharge," Reece concludes, “but the more disturbing question is, what's actually going to be in this water and how can we trust them to disclose the facts?”

 

When Brittenham tries to bring forward a vote to pull back the sewer permit application from the DEP, the parliamentarian determines they can’t do that now, but Brittenham can put it on the calendar for the next meeting. At issue is the authority of the Charles Town Council to act directly on an application submitted by the Charles Town Utility Board (CTUB), a separate organization, to the DEP. CTUB was responsible for the engineering, the Building Commission for the approval of the sewer line and the City Council for the financing. At their next meeting, the Charles Town City Council voted to postpone consideration of the sewer bond until after the new year.

At the next Charles Town City Council meeting, December 3rd, Brittingham’s instincts prove accurate. John Stump, the utility bond attorney from Steptoe & Johnson who represents many of the parties to the PILOT agreement and appears to have orchestrated some of the legal maneuvers at the municipal, county and state level, Hoy Shingleton, CTUB counsel and Kristen Stolipher, CTUB assistant utility manager and longtime former CTUB board member, revealed under questioning that Ranson had already spent $1 million on the project which, with $42,000 in interest, $25,000 spent by an engineering firm and $9,000 for the work performed by Hatch Chester in pursuit of a 1,000 to 1,400 acre industrial zone, had secretly become obligations of the City of Charleston with the consolidation of their water districts, not disclosed in the due diligence materials provided over the course of the merger. Members of the unwitting Charles Town City Council were visibly upset.

An observer of the exchange posted on Facebook “LMAO when Kristen Stolipher started to talk I was sitting behind John Stump OMG the dude about upset the chair and kicked over 2 of his water bottles to get to the podium to shut her up. And he had this giant boot on his foot falling over people getting there. Stump then states ‘I accept full responsibility for you all not knowing about that $1 million.’”

 

Left to Right, Hoy Shingleton, CTUB attorney, Kristin Stolipher, CTUB Assistant Utility Manager, and John Stump, bond counsel from Steptoe and Johnson respond to questions from the Charles Town City Council. photocredit Billie Garde

When the DEP came to town the next month (https://youtu.be/-6B4PIIJYes DEP CTUB) for public comment on CTUB’s application for a wastewater National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permit at the Ranson Civic Center to serve Rockwool, Jefferson County turned up in force. Over three dozen individuals provided testimony asked the DEP to reject the permit, and many called on CTUB to withdraw the permit application at their meeting a couple days later on December 12th.

During the DEP hearing David Yaussy, an attorney with Spilman Thomas testified on behalf of Rockwool that “Rockwool has requested sewer service from the utility board, which is required by state law to provide service to any customer in its territory.... For CTUB, the utility board to comply with the law and provide service to Rockwool, it must modify its national pollutant discharge elimination system, or NPDES, permit… The sewer line that will be constructed between Rockwool and the CTUB sewer plant will either be constructed cost free to CTUB customers with the aid of state financing, or CTUB customers will pay for it in future years in accordance with the rules of the public service commission.”

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Mr. Patel of the DEP stated to a member of CCAR "'I know the rule Rockwool is referring to about having to provide services. It's a PSC rule and it doesn't apply in this case. Charles Town applied for the permit. Charles Town has the upper hand in this situation. No one can force Charles Town to take Rockwool wastewater.' I followed up by asking, 'Do they know that? Rockwool is constantly threatening to sue them.' He smiled and reiterated, 'No one can force them to take the wastewater. We're here because Charles Town submitted the permit.'"

Hoy Shingleton, CTUB’s lawyer, stated that the requirement to serve Rockwool with wastewater treatment is in the PSC rules 5.5. “A sewer utility whether public or privately-owned is under a public service obligation to extend its mains and it’s plant and facilities to serve new customers within its service area who may apply for service.”

Shingleton then editorializes on the benefits of the state bond financing, such as downside protection if ratepayers decrease and industry moves out of town, as well as why the state financing will probably have to be accepted. Then Shingleton states that everyone needs to defer to the DEP on environmental issues.

 

“We’re not experts and you’re not experts on environmental issues. That’s what the DEP is supposed to do. You’re not the first group of people who say ‘will they sell us short,’ and so forth and so on. The coal companies say the same thing. That’s the daggone system we have, unfortunately. That’s it.” Then he states that we can’t pull the application and refuse to build extend service for lack of a permit.

As several people mentioned in the hearing, the DEP has never refused a wastewater discharge permit, and many many rivers and streams in the state are impaired. Shingleton’s claim that the coal companies have similar complaints about the DEP selling them short is revealing. Shingleton doesn’t want CTUB to pull the application.

Board member Michael Slover summarizes the issue, “Yes we have to take the wastewater that is bathroom waste and stuff like that, but we don’t have to request a modification to accept the industrial waste, correct?” Shingleton disagrees. He says that might be correct from the DEP’s standpoint, but not the PSC. Shingleton states that the PSC would demand a DEP application, and suggests that CTUB wait for the results. Slover also notes that the DEP permit will be based on information provided by Rockwool, which Charles Town has seen is not very complete. “If the data is not great, then the results will not be very accurate.”

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Then Shingleton suggests that the best way to deal with Rockwool is on enforcement. “Let’s say Roxul (Rockwool) is built and they go into pretty consistent non-compliance with their discharge permit. I believe there is going to be daily monitoring of their discharges out there. If that were the case what is eventually going to happen is they’re going to be shut down. They’re not going to shut down the treatment plant, you shut them down by turning their water off. You do that now in an extreme case, at a much smaller scale. You have a restaurant in town and have their grease traps cleaned and they’re putting too much stuff in the sewer system you cut the water off and that shuts the restaurant down.”

This is essentially the same argument being made on the air permit. In both cases, it is a technical discharge limit that was negotiated with industry, not based on an environmental or health standard. Any pollution is unacceptable, and unnecessary, to the Jefferson County citizens. The clear message is that there is nothing that can be done to stop it, and enforcement through the same DEP would be a nightmare of bureaucracy. Where Shingleton presents the system as what we have, and what everyone has to work within, the citizens present recognized the futility of worrying about non-compliance when the permitted discharge is already way too much.

 

Meanwhile, that same day of the CTUB meeting, Tim Ross drove to Charleston to speak to the IJDC and let them know that things aren’t going well in Jefferson County. John Reisenweber, the former JCDA executive director who recruited Rockwool to Jefferson County, is a board member of the IJDC and sits facing Ross.

Ross begins by stating that he’s here “to give some information and ask for your help” about what’s going on with the development over in Charles Town… it was just a little over a year ago that the words were spoken in this office that “Madam Chairman the West Virginia Development Office has received the commission has received and approved an application from the Jefferson County Development Authority for infrastructure for $4.52 million... The richest county in the state got over $13M at zero percent for economic development, that includes the sewer from Ranson. After the approval, there were seven members of this board that expressed their enthusiasm for the entire project. It wasn’t only for Rockwool, which is a Danish company, but that there were hundreds of acres that were primed for development in Jefferson County. So for the next few minutes, I’m going to give you an update on how things are going with the West Virginia Development Office’s plan for Jefferson County. And in a nutshell, it’s not good.”

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Ross makes it clear that the industrialization is not wanted by the citizens of Jefferson County, and that the project is being driven by the state of West Virginia. He reads into the record correspondence between municipal, county and state participants that were provided to JCV as part of the Ranson FOIA request. In these documents, Ranson notes that Mark Ralston, as the owner of Jefferson Orchards, is the primary beneficiary and that it will be important that the land be priced to encourage further industrialization.

Ross also lets them know that Charles Town was recently surprised to learn that the “debt-free” project actually came with an obligation of over $1 million incurred by Ranson. Over the course of about 15 minutes, Ross presents an unwanted project in complete disarray.

At the next IJDC meeting, Reisenweber had Ross’ testimony stricken from the record and then the IJDC simply increases the funding to cover the Ranson obligation totaling over a million dollars.

Rockwool was the subject of two separate items on the January 22nd, 2019 Charles Town City Council Agenda. The first is the sewer bond.

Kristen Stolipher of CTUB affirms that the industrial sewer system will have eight times the capacity necessary for Rockwool. Council Member Michael Tolbert draws out the conclusion that the main line extension is less for Rockwool and more for the owners and developers of Jefferson Orchards, who can benefit from future industrial growth.

 

The initial Ranson sewer extension was to cost $7 million. CTUB increased the capacity and the IJDC raised the bond to $10.5 million for the industrial development. There is a suggestion from Council Member Ann Paonessa that the county lacks wastewater treatment capacity, but this project and bond financing is not going to serve the communities that are growing.

Mike Brittingham adds that CTUB would perform better without state financing. His argument is that the 30-year loan is revenue neutral, whereas if Rockwool is forced to build the capacity CTUB would receive $400,000 in annual revenue after the first 14 years, which it can use to reduce costs for other ratepayers.

Since Ranson already spent $1 million on the engineering and design, it’s likely Rockwool would invest in the larger capacity, rather than a sewer just for itself. The way the PSC rules work, Rockwool would make money when others connect to the line.

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The agenda item concluded with the Charles Town City Council agreeing to vote on the sewer bond at the first meeting in March. The City Council has come a long way since the August 6th meeting when the sewer bond was expected to breeze through. Brittingham credits the progress to a functioning council that genuinely “gets along and works toward a common goal.” He realizes that a cohesive municipal governing body is a threat to the state and industrial interests in the current climate. “God forbid,” he says “we do this through the lens of factual information.”

Led by Morgan Sell, a CCAR organizer, Jefferson County citizens have been canvassing in Charles Town collecting signatures on a sewer bond petition. If 30% of the property owners within the city limits sign the petition then a supermajority of 4 out of 5 Charles Town councilmembers, rather than a simple majority, would be required to pass the sewer bond.

Fearing the bond will fail, Rockwool has asked for an estimate from CTUB for the cost of a sewer line that would only handle Rockwool’s capacity, and that they would finance, rather than the full industrial zone plan.

Next, the City of Charles Town joined several towns in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland publicly proclaiming their opposition to the Rockwool factory by passing Paonessa’s resolution. Council Member Nick Zaglifa opposed the resolution as ineffective, divisive and unlikely to “relieve the immense pressure brought to us by the state of West Virginia as far as this project goes.” Tolbert pointed to the fact that the Jefferson County Comprehensive Plan did not include heavy industry. He felt that the plan is important and should have been followed.

Brittingham again mentioned the importance of public comment since August. “We get dozens of people here every single meeting talking. Tonight was literally the first time we’ve ever had anyone in favor of this project show up to speak with us. I take offense when people call this a dividing topic. It’s not. It’s not a dividing topic. It’s controversial, for sure. But it’s not dividing. 'Dividing' means you have two equal sides that disagree about something. In this scenario, when the dozen or so people on the internet want to scream as loud as they can about it, it doesn’t change the numbers. The numbers are something like 95 to 5 or a 90/10 issue. The overwhelming majority of our community is against this thing. And we owe it to them. We can’t just sit here day in day out and listen to these people come up here and speak and act like we have no position on this whatsoever.”

 

Mayor Scott Rogers characterized the issue as central to the values of the community. “I for one think the whole Rockwool thing is immoral. I think building a factory next to an elementary school is about the most immoral thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I think this whole project has lacked transparency, accountability and it all borders on something that no people should ever have to go through. People never had a choice. This was foisted in our lap, I still don’t have all the info on this project shuttle and how it came here and where it’s going. I think Rockwool will fundamentally damage our local economy for a generation to come. It’s going to decimate home values in the region around where it’s going to be built and I for one think we should go on the record and say we don’t want something that’s going to be located next to Charles Town that’s going to fundamentally damage our economy, damage our way of life and fundamentally damage the lives of people throughout this county. While my son doesn’t go to that elementary school, the children of people I know do. Those are our children. We have a responsibility to those children and we shouldn’t leave them hanging. By making this statement people know where we stand. And we have to stand with what is moral and what is right.”

Mayor Rogers told me after the meeting that was duped by Rockwool. “Admittedly I had met with their reps, but they said ‘we’re a sustainable company, we’re a green company.’ They greenwashed what their production was all about.” It wasn’t until “someone had posted the air quality permit as well as other information on the production process” on Facebook that he thought “my god what are we doing here. Once I information on the true nature of what they would be emitting I was horrified.”

Rogers was also shocked at how fast grassroots opposition to the plant materialized “out of thin air.”

“We had protesters up and down the street,” he said. “that was a game changer how the opposition to the plant was united. You have every political viewpoint expressed in the opposition and everyone was willing to work together. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

 

This photo taken June 26, 2014 shows Linda Losey, co-founder and co-owner of Bloomery Plantation Distillery posing for a photograph on the distillery's property in Charles Town, W.Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The tragedy is that “some peoples rights had been trampled by state government and the JCDA. There was no transparency and a lack of care for the individuals who live in the county, for their rights and their lives.”

Rogers sees the Rockwool issue as illustrative of “how far Ranson has pulled away” from the norms of municipal behavior. “It’s not what I had talked about with Ranson and what they had planned.”

Rogers doesn’t understand why they don’t cooperate more “It’s in their hands. They can stop it. The threats of lawsuits are just to intimidate elected officials. Ranson should do more to pull out. They could do it tomorrow.”

Since the JCDA “didn’t provide the information to any of the parties to the PILOT agreement necessary to make an informed decision, they should all withdraw from the PILOT,” including the JCC, Board of Education and Ranson.

 

The very basis of the agreement, “with the JCDA owning the plant and leasing it back, is not an appropriate action. It’s troubling.”

Rogers is also “troubled that there is now a litmus test on new appointments to the JCDA, which is not appropriate. We could have it up to 12 board members and have functioning governance, but some commissioners are trying to ensure there is a pro-Rockwool majority” instead of leaving it up to qualified people to make informed decisions.

Rogers would like to see Senator Manchin more involved, with the goal of any meetings to find a more suitable location out of the Eastern Panhandle. Rogers tweeted that the West Virginia legislature and federal government need to look into all aspects of the project, review the lack of transparency and why the community was blindsided. “I still don’t have all the information I need as Mayor, I can only imagine how members of the public feel.”

 

The state capitol building in Charleston, the capital city of the US state of West Virginia. photocredit: Getty

At some point, he believes there will be a full account that cuts through the “lack of transparency and secrecy.” He concludes it’s a moral issue. “These are our kids, these are our schools. It would be wrong for me as Mayor to leave people behind.”

Doing the Math

Bill McKibben stated in 2013 that “global warming is a big math problem, and the bottom line is now clearly in focus.” He called the idea “obvious” that “we have to leave most of the carbon we’ve found underground.”

Anthropogenic climate change is accepted in the scientific community, but new data and new models are constantly updating our understanding of the velocity and trajectory of impacts to our planetary ecosystem. The necessity of rapid decarbonization was brought into even greater focus with the October 2018 release of a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailing grim scenarios for the warming of 1.5-degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to avoid these scenarios the world needs needs a massive mobilization within a dozen years that rapidly cuts fossil fuel use in half and eliminates it entirely in within 30 years.

While the Green New Deal is even more aggressive, committing to decarbonize our energy generation in a decade, even that might not be fast enough.

“For example, a study published in Nature magazine, also released in October, showed that over the last quarter-century, the oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 IPCC report. The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought, and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped."

To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: If that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed... seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?”

The month after the IPCC report, on Black Friday, the Trump administration released its own Fourth National Climate Assessment painting a bleak picture of the future without aggressive action to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes. The attempt to bury the report on a day when many Americans were shopping, watching football and eating leftovers only served to bring it more attention.

Climate change is “transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” reads the report, bringing “substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment and human health and well-being over the coming decades” without a major national effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Science is never certain. It’s all about probabilities and risks. We know from decades of research that the predicted outcomes of a warming planet, including droughts, floods, disease, famine and war, are severe. Scientific models can’t forecast the precise timing or location of any event, and scientists are generally reserved in their statements, so the public passion of climate scientists and the strong language in recent reports should be alarming.

We also know that fossil fuel consumption is the primary cause of climate change, which is why fossil fuel interests use the uncertainty that forms the foundation of science to create skepticism. It is possible to rapidly shift to a post-carbon civilization with economic gains and greater prosperity for everyone, except the oil, gas and coal companies. For fossil fuel interests, decarbonization is an existential threat.

As Bill McKibben put it in a groundbreaking 2012 Rolling Stone article “…we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.” McKibben’s answer was divestment from fossil fuel companies and he created 350.org to pursue that end.

 

Coal powered electicity power plant with supply in foreground, photocredit: Getty

A study by scholars at Michigan’s Ross School of Business showed that McKibbens economic impact on the fossil fuel industry to date has been minimal, but his effect on the public debate has been significant. “McKibben and 350.org presented an extreme position in comparison to others in the climate change debate. Namely, where others argued for industry-wide controls on carbon (through a carbon price) without demonizing any particular industry, McKibben’s radical flank employed an extreme discursive strategy of portraying the fossil-fuel industry as a public enemy and calling for it to be exterminated. In short, the campaign expanded the spectrum of the climate change debate and shifted its central focus.” Rather than focusing on limited solutions, such as cap and trade or a carbon tax, McKibben suggested that the fossil fuel industry itself must perish. This had the effect of bringing the concept of pricing carbon emissions toward the mainstream and set the stage for the Green New Deal, a more comprehensive, systemic solutions that includes the elimination of fossil fuels but also addresses the potential social impacts.

The Rockwool controversy in Jefferson County presents a similar dynamic. Hazardous and toxic chemicals are by definition unsafe. The release of thousands of tons into the atmosphere is concerning to residents and primarily benefits the emitter, the local water utility and the fossil fuel industry that would supply fracked gas and about 84 tons of coal a day. The only solution to avoiding the emissions is to stop the construction of the plant, which is as threatening to a manufacturer as the “keep it in the ground” movement is to fossil fuel interests.

 

In each case, activist citizens pose an existential threat to a corporate interest, which in turn poses an existential threat to the citizenry. It appears to be a standoff.

Earlier this week, State Senator John Unger, whose district includes Jefferson County, introduced a bill that will require public meetings in the areas impacted by any air or water permits, which should help for future issues, but is too late to impact Rockwool. The Rockwool air permit hearing was held in Charleston, WV, a five and a half hour drive from Jefferson County and emails were distributed to only the standard email list that received all notices.

An analysis of the the email distribution group shows why there was little public comment on Rockwool’s air permit application. The notification to the Sierra Club went to a legal assistant whose primary job was soliciting interns for an Oakland, CA environmental law program. She is no longer with the Sierra Club and emails to the address listed bounce. The Nature Conservancy emails went to a generic account at headquarters (tnc@tnc.org), Appalachian Mountain Advocates focuses on mountain top removal and pipelines, so they would not be interested in a stationary source manufacturer in the eastern panhandles, West Virginia Rivers is also based in Charleston and Appalachian Voices advocates against pipeline compressors from it’s headquarters in Boone, NC. The remaining non-profits are pro-business, such as the WV Municipal League, WV Surface Owners Group for oil and gas rights and the state building rights council. Most of the email recipients were service providers looking for opportunities to contract with developers.

Because heavy industry wasn’t planned for the county or any municipality, and the public officials promoting the project were not even aware that Rockwool was a heavy emitter, Jefferson County citizens and watchdog groups were not alerted. It wasn’t for a chance encounter between a former asbestos lobbyist and an environmental activist, the nature of the development might not have been revealed until after the factory was operational.

It’s hard to imagine stranger bedfellows than Chris Kinnan and Mary Anne Hitt. Kinnan, now a developer of cloud applications for Amazon Web Services, had served over a decade ago as an executive for FreedomWorks, a right-wing think tank and advocacy organization promoting “free markets and individual liberty” through “less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom” and on the staff of Dan Miller, a conservative Republican congressman representing Florida’s 13th district.

Hitt is the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign where she works “to eliminate the pollution caused by coal throughout its life cycle and repower the nation with clean energy.” The two were chatting in passing at the pick-up/drop-off area of the daycare attended by their young children. Chris asked Mary Anne if she’d seen the article in the Martinsburg Journal about the groundbreaking for the Rockwool factory. After the article was published, Chris and some others had gone online and looked up the PSD permit and realized there was a big, serious list of pollutants.

 

“This has a PSD permit?” Hitt responded in surprise. She knew those were only issued for major sources of pollutants. She contacted Al Armendariz, Deputy Regional Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, who used to work for the EPA leading the Dallas-based Region 6, and asked, “is this really bad or does it just look bad?” Armendariz’ response was, “it might not be the most polluting factory in the world, but you definitely don’t want it right across the street from an elementary school. The formaldehyde, in particular, is of concern. The closer to the source, the worse the impact on health.” The volume of PM 2.5 was also concerning, given the long-term impact on the cardiovascular system. With four schools within 2 miles of the site, housing 30% of Jefferson County’s public school population, the risk of potentially chronic and debilitating or even fatal illness was likely to be unacceptably high.

Armendariz, in turn, contacted Regina Hendrix, the Eastern Panhandle coordinator for the West Virginia Sierra Club and helped her draft the July 2, 2018 letter to the DEP that got Matt Ward’s attention and activated the flood of members joining the CCARR Facebook group.

I asked Hendrix how the Sierra Club missed the initial PSD application and public comment period. Her answer was revealing.

“I came from Charleston ten years ago because I didn’t want anything to do with mountaintop removal anymore. I was tired of fighting. I just never thought they would try to put something so awful in our midst.” Even though mountaintop removal was destroying people’s communities and poisoning the water, it was hard to get 50 people to turn up for a hearing, public comment or protest. People were just too beaten down.

 

Shepherdstown, WV holds an annual May Day parade and May Pole Dance. photocredit: David Levine

Hendrix never imagined the state kill their golden goose. “We pay more than any other county as far as taxes. Why would they want to pollute us when they need our taxes to treat the abandoned mine sites, and to pay for medical clinics in the cancer clusters? I never thought they would do that.”

“It always amazed me the 2014 water crisis in Charleston,” she continued. “300,000 people on one water intake into on the Elk River. The reason is that wells in Southern West Virginia became polluted with coal waste injected underground and travelled underground.” She would drive past the Freedom Industries site that contaminated the Charleston water supply, see the tanks grown over and rusted out and know it was only a matter of time before a catastrophe occurred. The site was only a mile and a half above the intake for the Charleston water supply.

According to Hendrix, in Jefferson County a leak or spill would be worse. There’s no point source of water to clean up. Eighty percent of the county is on well water tapping into underground aquifers.

A few months ago, Hendrix received an anonymous letter with two pictures from the Rockwool Mississippi plant and one from Rockwool’s plant in Milton Ontario claiming to show illegal storage. She hadn’t published them because they weren’t verified, but if accurate they were disturbing. Chemicals are not allowed to be stored on the ground, and one showed runoff.

 

Hendrix was particularly annoyed that Rockwool continually cited the Sierra Club as an organization that “approved” the mineral wool standard. She called that an outright lie. The Sierra Club provides input to negotiate the strictest limits possible, but she doesn’t believe they adequately protect human health, and each project needs to be judged and challenged individually.

Hendrix believes that over time the Eastern Panhandle will have more influence in Charleston as people continue leaving the coalfields and travel out here. She regrets not being aware of the application and acting faster. She mentioned that the West Virginia Sierra Club doesn’t have the resources of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which monitor filings more closely. She also doesn’t know if it would have made a difference. The Sierra Club could have sued earlier to try to stop the air permit, but the application itself was clearly a rushed job designed to meet a “technical standard” that had no bearing on the environment or health, so there wasn’t necessarily a basis for challenge.

At 82 years old, she didn’t think she would have another major fight, but feels energized by the community support. Hendrix not surprised to become a direct target of Rockwool, who characterized her as a threat in a widely mocked Facebook post and is working with Justin Raines, the Sierra Club’s WV Chapter Director, to combat what Raines characterizes as a “deliberate misinformation campaign.”

On Rockwool’s website it states, “In the United States, stone wool manufacturing is strictly regulated by federal standards set by the EPA. These standards, known as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards, were most recently updated in 2015, based on a robust scientific process, with direct input from the Sierra Club.” Michael Zarin, a spokesman for Rockwool, often takes this a step further by stating, as he does in this tweet “Ranson emissions will be way below limits even the Sierra Club agreed were safe” and in the following statement addressing the concerns of Maryland residents, “our emissions will be well below levels even the Sierra Club in its 2015 lawsuit against the EPA accepted as being safe for sensitive populations such as children, the elderly, and asthmatics.”

 

When Rockwool claimed in a Facebook post that “the Sierra Club was party to the EPA rulemaking process that led to additional emissions limits being placed on mineral wool manufacturing,” Raines responded with the following:

"I'm the Chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and I'd like to repeat my request that you stop using the Club's name in your deliberate misinformation campaign.

As both the Rockwool Corporation and its many (but ever-declining) surrogate politicians have been repeatedly informed, the Sierra Club makes comments on and tries to improve every single major environmental regulation which goes before the US government. Our participation in the comment period for wool mineral standards in no way means the Sierra Club controlled those standards, approved those standards, or endorses those standards. Your continued abuse of our name is akin to saying the citizens of Jefferson County were a party to Rockwool because they spoke against it at a County Commission hearing.

The WV Chapter of the Sierra Club stands firmly opposed to your toxic facility, doubly so for its endangerment of nearby schoolchildren, and in no way considers Rockwools emissions to be anything even resembling safe or acceptable! Thanks for your cooperation in ending the abuse of our good name!"

 

A blog post from Mary Ann Hitt at the time of the EPA hearings shows that the Sierra Club was not pleased with the outcome.

At the outset of his “damage control” memo, Ward framed the critical topic for his client the Ranson city government: “The only really significant issue is – will public health be protected by the Rockwool Clean Air Act permit?” Based on the DEP’s response to the Sierra Club letter, the answer appears to be that there is no way to know.

Dr. Michael McCawley, the foremost expert on environmental health sciences in West Virginia, agrees.

“In toxicology we are fully aware that it is the dose that truly makes the poison. In this case we do not know the dose yet,” McCawley said. “Therefore, we cannot say with any certainty what the level of alarm should be.” The exact health effects of the pollutants are affected by interaction between the emissions, the weather and the terrain. “The air permit does a poor job of answering the issue,” he said. “So there is no wonder that citizens are in an uproar.”

Tim Ross, a native West Virginian, 20-year resident of Jefferson County and retired National Weather Service meteorologist with over 38 years of federal service, has revealed critical flaws in the Rockwool air dispersion model referenced by DEP. According to Ross, the EPA requires one year of onsite measurements or the application of historical data from remote monitoring stations in a model that produces results equivalent to a year of monitoring. The most significant issue in Rockwool’s dispersion model is that little evidence was provided of any correlation between the monitoring sites used and the planned Ranson factory site. The local conditions were simply disregarded.

 

Zarin noted to the Frederick Post that it’s important to distinguish between the volume of emissions that come out of the chimney stacks and the concentration of those emissions at ground level. “The two are related but it’s the latter that determines the health and environmental impacts,” Zarin said. (Zarin, on behalf of Rockwool, declined to comment for this article).

Ross states that, given the local atmospheric effects, the Rockwool smokestacks will be “like a hose shooting straight up in the air and raining the toxic and hazardous pollutants directly down on the local communities.”

The air is calm a greater percentage of the time in Jefferson County than in the monitoring locations used in the Rockwool model submitted to the DEP, and the Potomac Highlands Valley that would house the proposed site features “temperature inversions” that trap pollutants near the ground. Based on peer-reviewed meteorological studies, Ross estimates that temperature inversions occur about 30% of the time in the greater region of the site, increasing to 50% in the winter.

 

A stag stands in an inversion fog with its antlers visible above the vegetation during the rutting season, when they breed, in Richmond Park, south west London, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Great Smog of 1952 that settled on London caused 4,000 deaths in three days and sickened over 100,000 people was caused by a temperature inversion. About 6,000 more died in the following months according to recent research.

The common sight of tight, thick carpets of cloud stretching across the fields of Jefferson County that have long been considered a beautiful feature of our landscape now appear ominous and foreboding to many residents.

Closer to home, the 1948 Donora Smog was an air inversion that killed 20 people and sickened 6,000 of the 14,000 residents of Denora, a town in Pennsylvania on the Monongahela River that borders West Virginia. Mortality rates remained significantly higher for a decade than those in surrounding communities.

 

Dr. Michael Glenn, the retired director of the USDA-ARS-Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Jefferson County, WV with over three decades of experience in weather measurement and interpretation also argues against the frequent claim that there is a correlation between the environmental and public health impact in Jefferson County and the communities surrounding the Rockwool plants in Byhalia, Mississippi and Milton, Ontario. Those plants are subject to consistently strong steady winds that blow pollutants away from population centers. Byhalia benefits the Gulf of Mexico generating air currents from the south and Milton from the Lake Erie effect blowing wind to the west.

The permit was granted by the DEP based on the determination that the pollutants are likely to be dispersed over large areas rather than concentrated in close proximity to the source. This determination is not borne out by the model.

Jay Mansfield, a retired clinical and research support systems engineer who lives in Jefferson County, says that “diseases are not caused by tons of pollutants, they’re caused by molecules.” With a background in chemistry, human physiology and information management, Mansfield has developed infectious disease models for the Department of Defense, including an early notification system for community-based epidemics deployed worldwide in response to 9/11, and served as an assistant plant chemist for Roadmaster early in his career. He studies bus routes, dispersion models and toxicology tables, applying his skills to understand the probable dosage of toxins and hazardous pollutants from the plant received by vulnerable populations and the general public.

 

North Jefferson Elementary School is directly across Route 9 from the planned Rockwool factory. photocredit: Getty

With 3,356 children in the five schools in close proximity to the planned Rockwool site, Mansfield estimates 2.4 million exposure days in the 12 years it takes to matriculate through the system. The 8.3% of the population will suffer a mandatory 200,000 days of exposure. Children are more sensitive to pollution than adults, and asthmatic kids can be triggered into a full-blown asthma attack with only a small dose of airborne pollutants. Mansfield estimates that Rockwool will increase pollution levels by 20,000 to 30,000 times the 2017 values. Mansfield provided a list of the major pollutants and the associated health impact.

McCawley explained to the Martinsburg Journal that the response the human body has to these regulated chemicals can come in the form of inflammation and the severity varies based on exposure levels,

“The body produces chemicals in response to irritations, like a bug bite, and in doing so can cause inflammation to occur,” he said. “The problem with inflammation is that it is the basis of almost all chronic diseases like heart and lung disease, but it can also greatly affect those that suffer from asthma and other problems.”

 

In addition to diseases caused by inflammation, McCawley says the permitted volume of VOCs and particulate matter support the public’s concern. “The VOCs are one of the primary sources of cancer risk, especially benzene,” he said. “The VOCs, however, are not usually counted among the National Ambient Air Quality Standard criteria air pollutants. Among the NAAQS pollutants, the particulate matter would pose the highest cancer risk, all things being equal, though possibly not have as high a potential as VOCs for potency as a carcinogen.”

Jefferson County family physician David Didden agreed that the risks associated with the operation of the Rockwool plant far outweighed any possible benefits. “When you step back if you’re really paying attention and you look at the net effects of a plant like a mineral wool production facility i can’t imagine you being in favor of it when you consider the overall effects.”

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Health concerns are not limited to air pollution, and the water infrastructure plans appear similarly opaque. When the DEP held a public hearing last month in Ranson on the application filed by the Charles Town Utility Board (CTUB) for sewer service several speakers, including John Maxey of the Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition (BRWC) expressed confusion and skepticism about the discharge plans. The BRWC has been performing independent water quality monitoring for six years on nine different tributaries with a focus on stormwater management and implementing a septic tank program. Rather than reporting violations to the health department, the BRWD arranges 0% interest loans for septic systems and works closely with agriculture and industry on solutions.

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In 2009 the EPA put goals in place for water contributions of nutrients such as phosphates, nitrites and e-coli to the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Shenandoah River is a major contributor to the TMDL (total maximum daily load) due to generally poor stormwater management. Rockwool is permitted to draw 500,000 gallons a day from the Jefferson County aquifer but anticipates discharging 135,000 gallons a day into the treatment, which is about enough for toilets and other use, not industrial wastewater, through Ebbits Run into the Shenandoah. According to the BRWC, an influx of water from Rockwool, even if it’s clean, could stir up more sediment and cause the EPA to put expensive mandates in place that would restrict growth and decimate county budgets.

 

The planned Rockwool factory site is in the vicinity of the densest sinkhole area in the region.

While releases into the Chesapeake Bay watershed through surface water is a concern, a more pressing issue for Jefferson County residents is the risk of well-water contamination. Jim Cummins, a resident of Jefferson County and the retired Director of Living Systems at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, an organization chartered to protect the drinking water of Washington, DC, characterizes the development in stark terms. “Rockwool could not have selected a more vulnerable site,” he writes.

 

The area was called the Arabian Plain by settlers due to the lack of surface water. Underground aquifers rapidly distribute water throughout the county’s karst geology. Sinkholes are prevalent in the vicinity of the planned Rockwool site, and the company has been admonished by the DEP for failing to report them before beginning remediation. The unstable geology caused a 2008 sewer trunk line failure that could have been catastrophic if it had not been rapidly detected.

 

Stream map shows how Jefferson County includes the "Arabian Plain," an area where most water flows in underground aquifers making remediation in the event of contamination impossible.

In 2014 Freedom Industries spilled chemicals into the Elk River threatening the Charleston, WV water supply that served 300,000 people for a week. Because the municipal water system was served by surface streams and rivers, the spill could be cleaned and service restored. If something similar occurred in Jefferson County, decontamination of the groundwater would take hundreds of years. With 80% of the county on well water, Cummins writes, “the public health risks from such events are hard to overstate for they can easily and rapidly spread pathogens underground over a broad landscape in Jefferson County that is dense with drinking water wells. This can cause widespread illnesses which could be fatal, especially to infants, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems. It would be an emergency response nightmare. Remediation measures at best would be long term and expensive.”

 

In this Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, file photo, workers inspect an area outside a retaining wall around storage tanks where a chemical leaked into the Elk River at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, W.Va. A federal judge is expected to hear details, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, of a potential tentative settlement between a water company and plaintiffs who sued over the company's handling of a 2014 chemical leak in southern West Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a recent public Facebook post, Hendrix shared a piece written by Alex Cole, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. He wrote, “other people know where I live as Chemical Valley, and I see it that way, too. Many of the people in that cemetery ended up there with cancer after years of working for Carbide, Dow, FMC, Monsanto, Ambrosia, DuPont, Bayer, ClearOn, or Chemours… pick your poison, any one of the ever-changing names upriver in Charleston is likely to kill you.

 

Those names poisoned the river and no one alive remembers a time when it was clean. We can’t eat the fish, the poison has seeped into the groundwater in the bottoms, and now city water is piped in 40 miles, all the way from the Elk—if you can even trust that.”

In response, Hendrix asks, “Do we really want to be in a place where you can’t swim in the Shenandoah and you can’t eat the fish you catch?”

Manchin: Stooge, Hero or GOAT?

Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives expressed concern (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/30/ocasio-cortez-manchin-energy-committee-1002853) when West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat, was elevated to Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources after winning re-election in the 2018 midterms. The move was understandably controversial among Democrats putting climate change at the top of the legislative agenda and 2020 campaign platform after Manchin literally shot cap and trade legislation in a 2010 campaign ad. Manchin responded by voting against Bernard McNamee based on the FERC nominee’s climate denial, signaling an accommodation to the surging progressive wing of the party and a recognition that times had changed.

As the Green New Deal recognizes, the dichotomy between the environment and the economy is a false one. I first became cognizant of the emerging issues with DuPont’s Teflon Plant in Parkersburg in 2005 when working for then-Governor Manchin in the WVDO. The state was sued by Luigino’s, a frozen food company we’d recruited to Parkersburg, for failing to disclose the presence of DuPont’s carcinogen, C8, in the Ohio River water supply. Senator Manchin pressured the EPA to act, and even after DuPont settled for $670 million, was still pushing the EPA to make their report public.

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When Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred in 2010 Manchin appointed the toughest, most uncompromising investigator whose report ultimately put the CEO Don Blankenship behind bars, at least for a short time. According to a former Jefferson County official, “Manchin grew up in Farmington where 78 miners were killed with no prosecutions. He has a place in himself that hates that kind of willful neglect. Another case in point, when the chemical spill featured in “What Lies Upstream” occurred it shows that Manchin again finds the toughest investigator, a professor i believe from Purdue, who really got to the bottom of it all, including fudged data from the chemical's creator Eastman Kodak. I confronted him when he came to Shepherdstown with protestors opposing PATH (a massive electricity transmission line that was to cut through our community). I put them together, they took a drive and looked at things and by noon he made a phone call and had the route of PATH moved to not impact this area. With joe there is a good Joe and a bad Joe - so we'll see.”

 

The “bad Joe” was on display when Marsh Fork Elementary School in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia insisted on moving away from a coal processing plant and a massive toxic waste storage facility (sludge dam) operated by Massey Energy subsidiary Goals Coal. According to Coal River Mountain Watch, “This seeping dam sits 400 yards from the school, and a coal silo ominously looms 150 feet from school grounds... This silo loads powdered coal onto trains and sprays it with a chemical binding agent. Another Massey subsidiary, Independence Coal, operates a 1849-acre surface strip mining operation above and around the school and dam.”

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According to Regina Hendrix, when Marsh Fork Elementary staged a non-violent civil action at Governor Manchin’s office in the State Capitol demanding a new, safe school State Troopers used “abusive force” in arresting and removing 13 people.

 

Regina Hendrix says State Troopers used "excessive force" in removing citizens protesting the coal slurry damn that was impacting the health of school children at Marsh Fork Elementary School. photocredit: Paul Corbit Brown, http://www.paulcorbitbrown.com/

On September 18th, 2018 I sent a letter to Senator Manchin challenging him to “make a full-throated, whole-hearted defense of Jefferson County, WV against the Rockwool project.” The day before he had published a letter to the EPA that I characterized as “tone deaf and disheartening.” I took particular exception to his statement that “our economy and environment can be balanced,” as if they were oppositional forces and not complementary. I noted he would be in Shepherdstown, where I lived, two days later and asked for a half hour to present my case. That morning the phone rang.

 

“Hey buddy, this is Joe Manchin,” said the rough country voice from the other end of the line.

“Hello Senator Manchin, thank you so much for calling.” I’ve been careful about protocol since calling him Joe instead of Governor Manchin at our first public meeting together with the Council on Community and Economic Development at the West Virginia State Capital in 2005 and being chastised immediately afterward by the Secretary of Commerce.

“Well, David I got your letter and read your article in Forbes and I wanted you to know that I didn’t agree with something you said. I didn’t hire you for any political reasons. I hired you because you’re the smartest technical guy I know,” he said. He was referring to my claim in the piece that my appointment to state government was due to my donation of space for the Eastern Panhandle Democratic Party Campaign Headquarters in the 2004 election. We were probably both right. My political work might have led to the interview, but he made the decision for his own reasons.

“I’m very sorry for the mischaracterization, I hope you found the rest of it accurate and informative,” I replied.

“You don’t have to apologize for anything,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of all the political BS you went through and I was sorry to learn about that.” Here he was alluding to my description of the attacks by Verizon for championing fiber-to-the-home public-private partnerships that led to my resignation.

“So, on Rockwool,” he continued, “I want you to know I don’t have a position on that right now. I was at the groundbreaking but that was just because I was told it was a big project coming in and it was a green company with a lot of jobs. I don’t have any connection to the company or opinion right now, but I’m not sure there is anything I can do to help. Why aren’t you talking to Jim Justice? It’s really his deal, not mine.”

 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.va., calls out to his supporters after he was re-elected Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Governor Justice, a coal company CEO, had recently publicly declared his support of Rockwool, following a statement by DEP Secretary Caperton, also a long-time coal industry executive. Rockwool was expected to burn up to 84 tons of coal a day to melt basalt rock and steel slag which they would then spin into wool-like fibers for insulation material.

“C’mon you know that would be a waste of time,” I said. “He’s all in on this. I know you. I’ve seen you bring people together and tackle hard problems. I know you have a big heart and actually care about the health and wellbeing of your constituents. You’d do anything for us. Wouldn’t it be great to prevent a tragedy for a change instead of consoling the victims and holding the perpetrators accountable? All we’re asking is that you sit down with us. Hold a public meeting. Hear our side. Right now, all you’re getting is theirs.”

 

Manchin, though, wasn’t convinced. “There are people on both sides, David. We need to get everyone, all the stakeholders, including the JCDA, Jefferson County Commission, the Development Office, the DEP, EPA, Ranson and Charles Town to sit down and make sure we have all the facts. I’m hearing different things from different people. We need to get everything out on the table. And we need this to be civil.”

I expressed my skepticism about the prospects for a stakeholder summit. On one side you had industry and government staffed by professionals who made a career of minimizing the concerns of citizens, countering objections and pushing through projects that met technical standards negotiated with industry rather than public health and safety. On the other, Manchin wanted “teachers, nurses and parents” of Jefferson County.

Based on the track record of the West Virginia DEP, the outcome was inevitable. According to the DEP’s own 2012 report, over 40% of West Virginia rivers and streams were too polluted for drinking water, recreation or aquatic life.

 

Arrow, an English Shepherd, drinks in the flooded Potomac River upstream from Shepherdstown, WV. photocredit David Levine

Watchdog groups claim the DEP is consistently putting its finger on the scale for industrial polluters by testing to prove there are no problems, rather than to find problems. If there is a source of probable contamination, the DEP test upstream of the polluter. Where the fossil fuel extraction and heavy manufacturing industry are prominent, West Virginia residents have some of the worst water quality in the country. Solving the problem could run into the trillions of dollars.

Manchin viewed the challenge of bringing together Rockwool and the citizens of Jefferson County as similar to others he faced in the past such as resolving chemical safety reform legislation that had been deadlocked for years. In 2015 he accomplished the feat by refusing to back either the liberal Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and conservative Senator David Vitter (R-LA) as co-sponsors of chemical safety reform legislation. He accomplished the legislative feat by refusing to back either Lautenberg and Vitter and forcing them to reach their own resolution before he would sign on to the bill.

Before the call ended, Manchin stated he was counting on me to come up with a “technical solution,” promised me a seat at the table and agreed that we could record the meeting on video to share with the citizens of the county. For the next few weeks the Kavanaugh confirmation dominated Manchin’s schedule, then he flew to his campaign headquarters in Charleston, WV as soon as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the Senate on October 11th. Then with the election, holidays and then the government shutdown, the stakeholder summit never happened.

 

Jefferson County Delegation with Senator Manchin's Staff. Left to Right Wes Kungel (Manchin), Catherine Feaga, Sarah Venuto, Seth Gainer, David Levine, Karen Glennon, Pat Hayes, Billie Garde, Catherine Jozwik, Shaun Amos, Jim Cummins. photocredit David Levine

To make sure Senator Manchin understood that our concerns were legitimate, I organized a delegation of Jefferson County citizens that included a biologist, physician and attorney to visit his staff on Capitol Hill.

 

Three members of the Jefferson County delegation to Senator Manchin's Office in the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building. From left to right Catherine Jozwik, Karen Glennon and Billie Garde. photocredit: David Levine

As a result, Manchin sent a letter to the EPA characterizing our concerns as “serious, genuine and worthy of thoughtful engagement from all stakeholders, particularly due to the close proximity of the Rockwool facility to four schools.” He concluded the letter with a call for the EPA’s participation in the public stakeholder summit. “I believe it is important that all parties sit down in a face to face meeting in order to address ongoing concerns, particularly because I continue to hear from parents expressing genuine fear for their children’s health and well-being. Therefore, I also ask that you designate a member of your staff to attend an upcoming meeting which I will convene to ensure a constructive fact-based dialogue amongst representatives of all interested stakeholders.”

After circulating Manchin’s DEP letter, Jefferson County turned out for the Senator casting 51.32% of our 20,782 votes his way, with only 9,360 (45.05%) supporting Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

After months of silence, Manchin’s Chief of Staff wrote on February 1st, “Thank you for reaching out and for your engagement on this issue. As we've said before, the Senator is committed to making sure everyone has a voice in this discussion, both opponents and supporters of the plan. In light of the pending litigation, the Ethics Committee won't allow us to do a roundtable as we had previously proposed since it would be considered mediating an on-going matter before the courts. However, we would like to do a lunchtime town hall meeting in Jefferson County instead on Friday, February 25th. This will be an open, general issues town hall, but will also provide an opportunity for the Senator and the broader community to hear your concerns. I am copying our State Director, Mara Boggs, who will work with our State Team to organize the event. I hope this works for you, and apologize that the rules prevent us from doing the roundtable.”

 

While many in Jefferson County plan to attend the Town Hall, we will be insisting that Manchin uses it as a forum to clearly and unequivocally state his opposition to the project. Since our meeting with his staff in October, we have continued to update him with materials covering the economic, environment and health consequences of Rockwool’s factory, as well as the questionable governance practices and catastrophic risk.

I will be contacting Senator Manchin this week, as a constituent, to urge him to express his outrage over the manner in which he was misled. Like Mayor Rogers, he was lied to. He was promised a “green” facility when a shovel was placed in his hand for the groundbreaking. He was duped about the nature of the project with the emissions intentionally concealed for 4 months until the air permit application was filed at the DEP, then kept quiet until challenged by the Sierra Club and 10,000 concerned citizens.

Opponents and supporters have a voice. Senator Manchin, you have heard them. Get off the fence.

The Meme Wars

While President Trump renews his commitment to the “old man yells at clouds” model of climate denial with each cold snap, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and sixteen-year-old Greta Thunber are breaking through on social media with a direct, authentic approach. Though her precise wording that the “world will end in twelve years if we don’t address climate change” was taken out of context and broadly criticized, she brought to the forefront a specific timeline for action and an urgency that had been lacking in the public discourse. As right-wing Twitter replicated her words in an effort to put her down, her audience recognized the contrast in values at the heart of her statement. Ocasio-Cortez was identifying a major gap between millennials, who feared the destruction of our way of life, and the older generation clinging to power who were concerned about “how we are gonna pay for it.”

 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, waits for the beginning of a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

At Davos, Thunberg was bravely addressing that the older generation more concerned with wealth preservation than planetary deterioration. “According to the IPCC we are less than 12 years away from being able to undo our mistakes,” she said. “At places like Davos people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge that we have failed.”

The citizens of Jefferson County, West Virginia can relate to these sentiments. When the WVDO, JCDA and City of Ranson crow about a “$150 million project,” Rockwool executive Bjoern Andersen admitted on Facebook that $140 million of that is highly specialized equipment, and only $10 million will go into the local economy during the construction phase, with significant beneficiaries being JUI, Thrasher Engineering and other well-connected companies and their executives. Mayor Rogers questioning the morality of the construction of a heavily emitting factory across the road from an elementary school resonates with Ocasio-Cortez’ and Thunberg’s statements questioning the morality of a society that enables, protects, defends and even idolizes billionaires, who are identified as the leading cause of climate change. "Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we will have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame," Thunberg said flatly. "Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people."

Meanwhile, fossil fuel and manufacturing interests are promoting a new, more extreme method of protecting their financial interests. Instead of arguing against the scientific consensus on climate change, they are declaring it a positive development for humanity.

Manchin told a reporter at the West Virginia winter meeting of the Independent Oil and Gas Association that “We’re going to surprise a lot of people because climate change has to be on the front burner. Everything we do has to be done with climate change in consideration.”

 

In 2005 while working for then-Governor Manchin in the WVDO, I mentioned to him a proposal that came in from Navy engineer for a nuclear energy initiative. Manchin’s response was “if I so much as say the word ‘nuclear’ in public I would have to wear a Kevlar vest for the rest of my term in office.” This year, Manchin said the world in public. “During his speech at the winter meeting,” reports Kate Mishkin of the Gazette-Mail, “Manchin said he intended to call on Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who’s pushed for nuclear energy.”

 

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, center, speaks to John Heron and Connie Hill about his recent vote in the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at an IHOP restaurant in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the same article, Mishkin reports that the winter meeting “included a session called ‘Inconvenient Facts: How Rising Temperature and Increasing CO2 are Benefiting the Earth and Humanity’ on its schedule.”

While Manchin was planning to contact Bill Gates, Ocasio-Cortez criticized Microsoft, the company he founded, as well as Facebook and Google for sponsoring LibertyCon, a libertarian conference that featured the CO2 Coalition, “which handed out brochures in the exhibit hall that said its goal is to ‘explain how our lives and our planet Earth will be improved by additional atmospheric carbon dioxide.’ One brochure claimed that ‘more carbon dioxide will help everyone, including future generations of our families’ and that the ‘recent increase in CO2 levels has had a measurable, positive effect on plant life,’ apparently because the greenhouse gas will make plants grow faster. The group also sponsored the conference and a talk titled ‘Let’s Talk About Not Talking: Should There Be “No Debate” that Industrial Carbon Dioxide is Causing Climate Catastrophe?’

When President Trump said in his State of the Union address, "We have unleashed a revolution in American energy. The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world" Senator Manchin stood, applauded and offered a conspiratorial wink. The image, set against the backdrop of Ocasio-Cortez shooting a death-ray glare amidst a sea of women in white, launched a flood of memes. One labeled Ocasio-Cortez “meteor” and Manchin “dinosaur.” Another with Ocasio-Cortex as the “Millennials Thinking About Climate Change” and Manchin the “Baby Boomers Thinking About Cashing Out.”

 

Ocasio-Cortez glares at Manchin when he claps for fossil fuel extraction in America and winks at President Trump during the State of the Union

The power and information dynamics in the global climate crisis are remarkably similar to the Rockwool situation in Jefferson County, WV. Science is being repressed and distorted to benefit industrial and commercial interests at the expense of the broader community with potentially catastrophic results. In both cases, the voices that are most effective at cutting through the establishment noise are young women standing up to the older patriarchy.

In Jefferson County, Emma Huevos is one such figure. In a January 20th Facebook post, she exposed Gradient, the firm selected by the Board of Education (BOE) to conduct a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA), as an industry shill. According to the Center for Public Integrity Gradient “belongs to a breed of scientific consulting firms that defends the products of its corporate clients beyond credulity.” Those clients include Phillip Morris tobacco and the American Petroleum Institute.

 

Four days later the BOE announced that Gradient was withdrawing from consideration in a statement that read, “"The Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) selection committee recently completed the process of vetting the application of Gradient to ensure that it met all the criteria established in the selection rubric. Following that determination, the next step identified in the process was the completion of due diligence and subsequent contract negotiation.

During this due diligence process, the chair received information raising concerns regarding the neutrality and performance of Gradient. Subsequently, the chair provided the information to Gradient and requested that they prepare a thorough written response/rebuttal in order to remain under consideration. Gradient responded, informing the chair that they were not interested in making a rebuttal and instead withdrew from consideration."

Soon after, Rockwool announced they were simply going to select their own assessment firm without input from the community. Zarin told MetroNews that the difficulty in recruiting a firm was “because of the scrutiny that they’re under and the challenges to their integrity. The concern that we have is that in this environment there is a very high risk of essentially preemptive attacks on the consultancy’s professional integrity on their independence.”

 

Editorial cartoon by Stilson Greene used by permission, published by Loudoun Now 1/31/19

This week, JCV posted correspondence from Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP

Pediatric Consultant to the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (MACCHE) and Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and of Environmental & Occupational Health George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. MACCHE is an organization with unquestionable professional and independence. Dr. Paulson writes in part, “I certainly agree that the increase in the pollutants in the local atmosphere will present health threats not only to the children in the elementary school, but to the community as a whole. That said, it is important to recognize that given the physiologic, anatomic and behavioral differences between children and adults, children are often at greater risk of adverse health impacts of pollutants than are adults.” After listing some of the specific adverse health effects associated with hazardous and toxic emissions, Paulson concludes “I agree with you that it is not prudent to build this plant so close to an elementary school.” Dr. Paulson has been invited to participate in a JCV-sponsored scientific symposium, and the community members of the BOE selection committee are suggesting that MACCHE be engaged for the health assessment rather than a firm selected by Rockwool

On February 7th, the Board of Education Released a letter stating “the final ethical requirement of every Board member is to ‘Remember that the first and greatest concern must be to the educational welfare of the students attending the public schools.’ Given the failure to provide independent verification of the safety of Rockwool as it pertains to children’s health and welfare, the JCBOE will thereby pursue, any and all legal and ethical courses of action to oppose the enactment of the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes Agreement.

That evening the JCV board gathered at Town Run to celebrate the BOE’s vocal opposition to the Rockwool with CCAR supporters. One of the people most responsible for the win was Amanda Foxx, a co-founder and board member of JCV. Toward the end of July 2018 she saw in passing a post with a link to ToxicRockwool.com in an eastern panhandle yard sale group. She thought it looked awful, aesthetically, and put it out of her mind.

 

A Stop Toxic Rockwool sign on Route 230, Flowing Springs Road, in Jefferson County, WV photocredit: David Levine

Later she saw that her neighbor, Leigh Smith, posted the same link in a private group for the Shenandoah Springs community where they lived. This started a dialogue that led to Smith adding Foxx as an admin for her private Facebook group that eventually became CCAR. Their first protest was July 26, 2018, in front of the Rockwool sign where the factory was to be built. Fox met Kinnan there for the first time and figured he was an environmentalist rather than a conservative more concerned with corporate welfare and unfair taxation.

Within two days CCAR had 2,000 members, things started getting crazy and “I just got sucked in,” Foxx says. Krista Guido, her son’s teacher, started messaging that she had non-profit experience so they brought her in. Then Foxx suggested Kinnan join, still thinking he was in the Sierra Club. Megan Hartlove joined as fundraising chair, and Lori Moloney, who was in a mom’s club with Smith, rounded out the board. By the end of August, they had a non-profit formed.

Foxx credits the fact that they’re all, except for Kinnan, stay-at-home moms. Their main challenge is incorporating and organizing all the talented people in the Facebook group. “When someone has expertise or is actively posting and knowledgeable, we give them things to do,” said Foxx.

 

The next stage for JCV is to create a more formal set of systems and processes so the board of directors isn’t a gating factor. The board is working with a leadership development professional who is volunteering her time to strengthen JCV as an organization.

Some important initiatives for the spring are a Town Hall where community members can ask questions and organize, a symposium that includes environmental scientists, health professionals and economists and a fundraising gala at a Loudoun County vineyard.

Foxx says the directors are in “constant contact with each other all day every day. We don’t have much time for anything else. Our whole day is dominated by Rockwool, and nobody is being paid but retained attorneys.” By expanding the all-volunteer organization, Foxx hopes to have greater coverage at meetings, including all commission, council and board meetings throughout the county and its municipalities so the watchdog group doesn’t miss any important developments in the future.

JCV has had several important recent victories, including the Charles Town City Council resolution, a recommendation from the PSC staff that waterline construction by JUI be halted and a decision by the State of Maryland to deny a permit for a gas pipeline extension under the Potomac River intended to provide fracked gas for Rockwool. Foxx believes it’s “going to be death by a thousand cuts. There’s no specific effective way to stop Rockwool. We have to get them at every angle.”

Foxx had assumed that after the midterms, where JCV “blew it out of the park,” that public officials “would stop doubling down on bad decisions. But they figured it was better to double down and then call those who disagree liars,” said Foxx, referring a new advocacy group formed by political operatives and business interests to support Rockwool and the industrialization of Jefferson County.

[youtubevid id="TwzgBIV0wbc"]

The pro-industrialization group, Jefferson County Prosperity (JCP) was founded by Casto, a political operative who had formerly worked as Senator Capito’s policy director when Capito was in the House of Representatives. Casto, who had been engaged as outside counsel for my solar energy platform Geostellar and served as a senior executive and advisor with my security token platform Indeco Union, once said to me, “Being Capito’s policy director was a hard job because her only policy was coal.”

 

President Donald Trump and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., walk down the steps of Air Force One at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W.Va., Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. Trump was in West Virginia for a campaign-style rally in Huntington, W.Va., where West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Democrat at the time, announced at the rally with Trump that he switched affiliation to the Republican party. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

According to The Hill, Casto came to Capito’s office from Sullivan & Cromwell a law firm with a lobbying practice, whose employees were Capito’s largest donors, contributing over three times more to Capito than any other candidate in the 2012 House cycle. Two months after Casto joined her staff, Capito introduced credit swipe legislation that favored big banks and Wall Street over consumers.

Foxx described JCP as “a knock-off” of Jefferson County Vision. Several of the people Casto recruited for his board of directors were “people we kicked out of our Facebook group in July or August of 2018 for being awful. They openly mocked people and wouldn’t change their behavior so we booted them,” according to Foxx. They “can’t be in our club so they needed to make their own.”

Foxx says that behavior has continued on a public Facebook group where Casto and other JCP directors openly attack, harass and denigrate people who oppose the plant. Foxx points out that Rockwool “relied on the secrecy of government to push it through” and that some of those public officials and business interests complicit in bringing a heavy emitter to Jefferson County are now part of an effort to silence concerned citizens through online intimidation.

In an email response to questions about JCP and his reasons for resigning from the JCDA board, “an advocacy organization for big business. As you know,” Casto wrote, “JCP is focused on economic prosperity in the Eastern Panhandle. JCP's vision of economic prosperity is much different than yours.” He complained that “no serious industries will look at Jefferson County in the near-term,” and stated that he would not “stop fighting extremists like you, CCAR, and JCV.”

As an example of its “vision of economic prosperity,” JCP posted a link to a news article with the statement, “Amazon plans on building a new fulfillment center in Cayce, MS. right near the current Rockwool facility there. This is the type of smart-growth Jefferson County Prosperity encourages.”

Amazon has been widely criticized for its treatment of workers in its warehouses.

 

Directors of JCP include such outspoken advocates for Rockwool and heavy industry as Ray Bruning, a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission, Stephen Stolipher, a former JCDA board member and current member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission, Peter Onoszko, a former Jefferson County Commissioner, Lee Snyder, the CEO of Jefferson Utilities, Inc. (JUI), who is contracted to provide water service to Rockwool and the planned industrial zone and several active participants in the public Facebook group defending Rockwool.

 

Ray Bruning and Steve Stolipher of Jefferson County Prosperity have a drink at Town Run Community Tap House in Shepherdstown, WV. photocredit: David Levine

In a series of text messages, Casto stated “These people are professional politicals. They do their own research. They know their stuff.” When asked why he participated in the attacks, Casto responded, “Oh come on…..you know I like political action. ;)” and characterized “most” public officials as “balless.”

“I see a machine gun and I run towards it. Not smart. But still entertaining. JCV used national level tactics and did it well. Very well organized. Caught everyone flat footed (I warned people in July about them…. No one organized until too late for GOP candidates).” At the January meeting of the Jefferson County West Virginia GOP (JCWVGOP) attendees praised Casto and Bruning for founding JCP, discussed financial contributions and donors to JCP, shared tactics for countering JCV including ways to personally attack individual Rockwool opponents and talked about methods for placing pro-Rockwool content into local newspapers by “dumbing down” the issues. In an email, Casto denied that JCP was “associated with any political party or candidate.” When asked about the attacks on Rockwool opponents, Casto responded by text message, stating “they haven’t seen anything yet.”

Foxx states that when the opposition to Rockwool started she “thought it would be a community effort. I never thought people would be slandering myself and my friends. I wish it would not be made into such an 'us versus them.'” Foxx claims that CCAR and JCV had never been divisive and include a diverse community across the political and social spectrum. The organization had to “moderate certain activities and polarizing individuals had to be removed,” she said. Those individuals then chose to exploit the controversy for political ends.

Lacking broad grassroots support, JCP has turned to more traditional political action tactics such as robocalling to put pressure on public officials. A recent campaign told Charles Town residents to call Charles Town City Council member Michael Tolbert and “tell him he must vote yes on the sewer bond.” The robocall blamed “out of town interests” for “pushing a radical far left environmental agenda” and “attempting to bully Charles Town into rejecting the state’s financing,” which “may result in substantial mandatory increases in your water and sewer rates.” The robocall further claims that “these increases will especially impact the elderly and those on fixed income and the inability to pay these increases may result in a loss of water and sewer service.”

Tolbert says doesn’t feel bothered or pressured by the attention. “I’ve gotten four or five calls,” he said. “One was from a former neighbor. We had a great conversation.” Tolbert says the people who’ve called register surprise that he voted in favor of the resolution opposing Rockwool. “Because of a prior newspaper article, they assumed I was for Rockwool and was going to carry their water. I don’t think they bothered to read the entire article. It threw them for a loop because they thought they were going to get someone who was pro-Rockwool.”

Tolbert pointed to list of nine requirements he included in the article that Rockwool would have to address to gain public support. The list begins with “operate with a clear understanding that in Jefferson County, to whom much is given and tolerated, more is expected.” The most important point to Tolbert is that Rockwool “conform it’s facility’s air pollution numbers so they are consistent with existing industries in the county, and by utilizing some of the tax-abated funds it received, add additional particulate scrubbers to create a zero-air emissions facility, and then adjust their smokestack’s heights to reflect that zero-air emissions program.” Tolbert believes that zero-emissions is achievable and that Rockwool should bear the expense, otherwise they are accepting corporate welfare, freeloading on the citizens and endangering health.

Last fall Tolbert led Rockwool executives on a tour of Jefferson County that included impoverished areas. Shortly afterwards, one of the executives visiting from Denmark told the JCDA that their opposition “doesn’t think there are poor people in Jefferson County” and that Rockwool would provide charity.

 

Known as an advocate for the poor, Tolbert included in his list the requirement that Rockwool “finance free health exams and establish medical monitoring programs for Fox Glen residents forever. Fox Glen is directly across from the facility.” Fox Glen is an economically distressed community in Jefferson County with severe substance misuse and other health and wellbeing challenges. Toxic and hazardous emissions would outsized effect on this community, overwhelming any possible economic benefits. The nearby P&G facility has hundreds of open positions that they have had trouble filling, partially due to the difficulty many applicants have passing a drug test.

In addition to the list of Rockwool expectations, Tolbert put forth a challenge to “some of your 10,000 folks” opposing Rockwool. He described a “Gordian knot” with “four levels, Jefferson County’s 1) low unemployment rate, 2) its high underemployment rate, 3) its high employment rate and 4) its high poverty (10%) rate. Put the County on a trajectory to solving that issue and the door to future heavy industry will be permanently welded shut. By the way, unravel that knot and many of the problems of this nation (and world) will be solved and you folks will be in contention for a Nobel Prize in economics” by ending the false dichotomy of environment or jobs and “creating many more living wage jobs.”

According to Todd Khozein, a partner at SecondMuse, solving Tolbert’s “Gordian knot” requires a rethinking of economic development which is still “stuck in the ‘80s.” The “miserable model debunked by recent research” Khozein describes is eerily similar to that facing Jefferson County.

Economic development programs attempt to “save us from outside” by recruiting “polluting, dirty old projects” that “might create a few jobs” through incentives that deprive the community of a corporate tax base. Khozein has found success with “locally home-grown economic development with new forms of manufacturing.”

 

Todd Khozein of Second Muse

Over the past ten years, Khozein has accelerated over 300 impact businesses, raised over $400M and generated over $11B in market value by applying systems theory to develop economics that create social and environmental justice. Over the last five years, SecondMuse partnered with New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) and NYSERDA to create an advanced manufacturing economy in Brooklyn with “less negative externalities.” Khozein says “collaboration is incredibly tricky, and not a lot of people understand how to create relationships and get senior executives in the public and private sector to help entrepreneurs get to market.”

SecondMuse is now focusing on Opportunity Zones and rolling out programs in “heartland economies” across the country. If they can overcome an entrenched, “antiquated economic development strategy” then the “magical elements of building communities on the ground opens up areas of possibility” that derisk investment and allows the "nascent nature of that economy to flourish with happer alignment and substantial positive impact.”

In a presentation to the Jefferson County Commission last week, Nick Diehl described the dearth of programs at the State level for entrepreneurship and the expansion or retention of local small businesses and the typical incentives for recruiting large out-of-state concerns. He started his presentation by stating “after the last meeting, I sat through and listened to the interviews from all the folks that wanted to be on the board and I became concerned that some people might not exactly understand what we do. It is a little...sometimes it can be...I say complicated, it’s not really complicated, it’s just West Virginia and county code determine what we do.”

In his presentation, Diehl also promoted Opportunity Zones, stating that “We are the, I think we’re the only county in the state with five opportunity zones. And we, I was given everything I asked for which I was surprised about.” Alluding to Rockwool, he added “and now, the next part of that is attracting new investment into the county. And, and honestly, right now, regardless of what anybody’s opinion is on what’s going on, it’s difficult to attract new investors into the county right now because they’re a little nervous about what’s happening. So I think that ultimately though, it will be a win for Jefferson County.”

 

Diehl also said to me in a January 15th phone call, “Personally I think so much of the discourse in Jefferson County is going to make attracting companies difficult. I’m trying to nurture my relationships and hope in the next several months and years we can get them to consider coming to Jefferson County. With a new new board coming in at the end of the month, we should start to make progress.”

Lyle Tabb, a current member of the JCDA Board of Directors, was not pleased with Diehl’s report to the JCC or his use of the word “we.” “He says ‘we.’ There’s never been a ‘we’ since I've been on. There hasn’t been a tangible ‘we’ since our last meeting in October,” referring to the last meeting before a majority of the JCDA board resigned. “He has deflected every attempt by the remaining members to assemble since. Even had counsel back him up on it. It sounds like he’s implying he would go along with a full board reset when he says ‘fresh start.’ I really think that's disrespectful and I take it that way. And honestly, his spiel is good. But it's not carried out. We as a board don't get the chance to consult on shit. We are asked to rubber stamp. I have ideas about how that culture can change, and I have support for that and the other members have great ideas too. Doesn't matter if our voices aren't heard on the board. JCDA has been steered by exec committee for a long time, they hired Nic, and now they are gone. I think he is more comfortable not having a board. That would be more like his old job. He has no oversight, he knows it, and JCC doesn't seem concerned enough to do anything.”

Evidence suggests that Tabb is correct, and Diehl is using the lack of governance and board oversight to further the interests of the State in creating a large industrial zone, JUI in building a water line to Jefferson Orchards and Rockwool in constructing their factory against the wishes of all most of the municipalities in the “high impact zone” and the guidance of the Jefferson County comprehensive plan. By delaying the constitution of functioning board, the JCC is enabling Diehl’s pursuit of the “entrenched, antiquated economic development strategy” that Khozein has demonstrated stymies the growth of high-wage, advanced manufacturing and prevents the flourishing of a local economy. Diehl has repeatedly blamed those who oppose the Rockwool factory for making his job more difficult and keeping away development prospects when a shift in approach is more likely to bear fruit.

In the debate over JCDA board representation, Tolbert suggests the JCC consider a policy document adopted by the Charles Town City Council on November 19, 2018 to guide the selection of the City’s JCDA representative.The document is intended to assist the City’s representative in understanding the City’s priorities, relying heavily on “Charles Town’s Comprehensive Plan for its baseline and also for trigger for action.” According to Tolbert, “the City sent a copy of this unanimously passed document to all of the elected bodies in the County” in order to align the municipalities and county in a comprehensive, enlightened approach to economic development.

Tolbert believes “that all of these items are middle of the road and reasonable. They reflect the values and wishes of the residents of Charles Town. I suspect they are not far off from the values and wishes of most of the residents of Jefferson County.”

 

This photo taken June 26, 2014 shows Linda Losey, Bloomery Plantation Distillery co-founder and co-owner, right, talking with visitors Glen Price, 44, left, his wife Tara Price, 44, and their daughter Emma Price, 4, outside of the distillery's green house in Charles Town, W.Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

On the sewer bond controversy, Tolbert takes a similar view. “It’s basic democracy,” he says. As elected officials “we have a fiduciary responsibility and we have to do our due diligence. Charles Town is in the midst of consolidation effort disconnected from Rockwool. The issues were here before Rockwool, and I keep raising questions on rate process after consolidation goes through,” but CTUB isn’t forthcoming with data and “their data keeps changing.”

Tolbert is “not pleased at all with how the Ranson situation has gone down and how they failed to disclose the million dollars they racked up” that became Charles Town’s obligation after the consolidation. Tolbert has deeply questioned the mechanics of consolidation and the possible impact on rates and is “not happy with what CTUB has given us so far, and they know that.”

 

Tolbert sees three equal parts to the equation, the Flowing Springs project, the Route 9 project (to serve the planned Rockwool factory and surrounding industrial zone). Before the City Council agrees to anything, Tolbert is demanding to know “how it is going to affect rates for those now using water and sewer services in Charles Town and the broader utility district and what the rate process is going to be.” He credits Brittingham with asking the right questions and doesn’t agree with JCP that rejecting the state financing will negatively impact rights. It’s possible that Rockwool, industrialization and 30-year state financing will cause rates to rise, but Charles Town needs accurate data from CTUB before they can model and forecast the rate impact under various scenarios.

The Charles Town City Council, Tolbert believes, is “looking at it from a perspective that scares some people because there is an entire logic behind it with the three issues merged together.” He hopes that citizens will keep examining the data, providing input to the City Council and not get whipped up into “the fear of some of the people doing the robocalls, etc.” Tolbert suggests we examine the possible agendas, special interests and relationships among the players exerting pressure on public officials and wait for accurate data on the systems rather than jumping to the conclusion that either scenario will put a burden on current ratepayers.

Looking at the JCP board of directors the clearest special interest is Lee Snyder, the CEO of JUI. He stands to gain a great deal of money from residential, commercial and industrial ratepayers through the expansion of his service territory and the introduction of major industrial water consumers. Not only is his utility earning long-term revenue by providing water services to Rockwool, but his company Snyder Environmental is also the general contractor constructing the water line to Jefferson Orchards.

 

Snyder Environmental, contracting to Jefferson Untilities, Inc., cut a fiber line and disrupted phone and internet service in Jefferson County while provisioning a water line to planned Rockwool site. (this photo is in San Francisco, not Jefferson County.) (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

When the dissolution of the JCDA board caused a delay in the water bond, Rockwool committed to paying for the line and Snyder Environmental started digging. In their rush, Snyder Environmental cut through a fiber communications line that took down phone and internet service to a large swath of Jefferson County for over a week. In addition to a large number of homes, several schools, Jefferson Memorial Hospital and emergency 911 services were impacted.

With the oversight of the JCDA scuttled and the JCC abdicating their responsibility to constitute a governing board, JUI appears to be working outside the law. According to the July 12, 2018, PCS approval & agreements, the JCDA owns the water project and the easements, not JUI or Snyder Environmental didn't pay for all the easements. According to the Environment Health Services Permit, JUI will acquire the North Jefferson Elementary School well water for $1 and put the school, located directly across Route 9 from Rockwool, on its water utility.

While on one hand, JCP is arguing that rejecting state financing for the sewer bond will negatively impact ratepayers, on the other hand, they are arguing that the private construction and financing of the water lines without state financing will have no impact on ratepayers. JCV and Mike Brittingham (as a private citizen) are questioning those assumptions, claiming in complaints filed with the PSC that the JUI’s Rockwool waterline project is unlawful and demanding an immediate stop to work until impacts on ratepayers can be determined.

On January 24th the PSC Staff responded by petitioning the PSC to reopen the case, stating that “These changes are so significant that JUI should have sought the Commission’s approval of the changes before proceeding with the project. Staff’s understanding is that ROXUL (Rockwool) is currently constructing the project. Staff notes that ROXUL does so at its own risk until the Commission approves the changes."

The Power Is With The People

 

Somewhat shockingly, 16 year old Greta Thunberg has been subject to “enormous amounts of hate” for her role in bringing attention to the climate crisis. In a Facebook post, she describes the rumors and innuendo surrounding her rise to prominence in the climate community, including the claims that she is a paid agitator or a front for more powerful interests.

In her post, she states that a major complaint is that she oversimplifies things. She writes, “for example when I say that ‘the climate crisis is a black and white issue’, ‘we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases’ and ‘I want you to panic’. But that I only say because it’s true. Yes, the climate crisis is the most complex issue that we have ever faced and it’s going to take everything from our part to ‘stop it’. But the solution is black and white; we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.” She continues, “either we limit the warming to 1,5 degrees C over pre-industrial levels, or we don’t. Either we reach a tipping point where we start a chain reaction with events way beyond human control, or we don’t. Either we go on as a civilization, or we don’t. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.” Her TED talk elaborates on these themes.

 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg walks over the street outside the congress center where the World Economic Forum take place in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The poster reads: 'School strike for the climate'. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

That a young girl who has been open about her Aspergers diagnosis and related social anxiety can be attacked and harassed for openly declaring the urgency of climate change reveals the desperation of the forces aligned against her, and the conviction that keeps her in the fight. Thunberg’s ultimate advantage, though, is the truth. For her and humanity, the threat is genuinely existential, and young people around the world are creating a massive movement to counter entrenched interests.

For the industrial and commercial interests, the 12-year deadline will require a shift in strategy. While in the past denial and delay has allowed greenhouse gas emitters to extract a bit more value before a change is required, it has become clear that business risk is rapidly accelerating and only change can create value. The companies and investors that succeed over the course of the next few decades are the ones that align their interests with rapid, global-scale transformation. As Richard Bach wrote, “what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

Similarly, in Jefferson County, there will ultimately be an outcome where Rockwool builds a heavily emitting factory and degrades the economy, environment and public health, or the factory is stopped and a clean, high-growth economy aligned with the global transformation will emerge. In the case where the factory is built both Rockwool and Jefferson County will suffer. Without local government support, the company will be under intense scrutiny, the subject of boycotts and under constant threat of having production stopped for minor violations.

The primary strength of the commercial and industrial interests such as Rockwool, fossil fuels and utilities is their claim that the law is on their side. Slavery was legal in the United States 175 years ago, the holocaust was legal in Germany 75 years ago and the state-sponsored genocide of 56 million indigenous inhabitants of the Americas was so extensive it affected the global climate.

Currently, accelerating climate change through the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels is legal throughout the world and enveloping school children in toxic and hazardous pollutants is legal in West Virginia today. Rockwool’s primary claim is that they have done everything according to the rules and regulations and shouldn’t be penalized.

The response of JCV is essentially that it’s up to the courts to determine if it’s all legal, not the company or its advocates. The moral argument being made by Mayor Rogers and many of the citizens testifying before the DEP is that morality and ethics needs to drive public servants, not strict, mechanical adherence to checking the boxes. The judgement of humans is meant to be a check against potentially harmful abuses of the system.

 

The view of both anti-Rockwool and climate activists is that arguments don’t matter, power does. To the extent that the machinery of state (judicial, legislative and administrative branches) from the local to the federal level can be harnessed for the cause, it will be. Media in all its forms must be leveraged. And if necessary, the conflict escalates to civil disobedience, protest and direct action, this primary purpose is to move the public which will then, in a democracy, moves the people who hold power.

It is clear from public statements that Rockwool view their right to build their factory as unassailable. While the campaign for the hearts and minds of locals is designed to make the development effort easier, they believe that they will prevail based on the rights that vest to the company in the zoning and permitting process. They are also receiving assurances from public officials behind the scenes that the factory will be constructed in spite of the opposition.

With the permit a “vested right,” Ranson feels an abdication of duty. The Mayor and City Council have declared themselves powerless. Yet the City of Ranson could join JCV in a suit challenging their own zoning changes, which were made under the false premise that Rockwool was compatible with their comprehensive plan and intended use developed with the participation of over 400 people. In the lawsuit filed last December, JCV alleged the city failed to provide adequate public notice when it modified its zoning ordinance and its zoning map to allow for heavy industrial use at Jefferson Orchards. Ranson could add claims against Rockwool and fight alongside the citizens.

 

This photo taken June 26, 2014 shows Harry Bryant, 67, of Hampton, Va., leaving Bloomery Plantation Distillery with a box full of their SweetShine, in Charles Town, W.Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

At the time Blake and Erfurt led the 2017 zoning changes, they were unaware of the magnitude of Rockwool’s pollution because the air permit application wouldn’t be filed with the DEP until several months later, and because Reisenweber and Deloitte were not forthcoming. Rather than Ranson, Rockwool responded to the JCV lawsuit by claiming that Ranson “followed the necessary procedures” and asking the Court to dismiss the claims. “More than a year after the City of Ranson amended it’s zoning code, and long after Rockwool began investing millions of dollars in anticipation of those changes” JCV asked the Court to disrupt the process, Rockwool wrote.

If there had been more transparency and explicit acceptance of Rockwool by the public, rather than a secretive process that hid from both the public and elected officials the true nature of the project, there would be no controversy and the permit wouldn’t be under contention. While Rockwool and their advocates complain that nobody objected at the time the project was announced, it has become clear that the nature of the emissions not known and the project was marketed as green. If the zoning and permitting processes had been truly public, the project would have been contested earlier, but it’s still unclear whether that would have made a difference.

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The situation in Istria, Croatia appears to be similar to that in Jefferson County. “Politicians who are responsible for bringing Rockwool to Potpićan and destroying the most fertile agriculture land in Istria, not to mention threatening the very lives of the people in the surrounding area, have been saying from the very beginning that protests came ‘too late,’” an activist group reports. “Even if that was the case, the fact remains that the factory was built with permits based not only on insufficient study of the impact on the environment but also on outright lies in the Study, as shown above where the Study magnifies the distance to the inhabited towns 8 times. But regardless of irregularities and known and unknown manipulations, the complaints and call for saving this precious land and people's health did start on time, even before any of those, often secret and phony contracts and agreements were signed by Općina, Županija, and Rockwool.”

 

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Residents and public officials near the Rockwool factory in Wales have posted their experiences on Facebook. Alex Williams, County Borough Councillor for Penprysg posted last November that “there have been recent complaints about the dust and smell to the west of Rockwool” I’m told that Rockwool have a stockpile of pit waste and two operations are leading to the issues of dust and odour; adding to the stockpile and/or processing (and therefor reducing) the stockpile.” Last month Williams posted that “I’ve just had reports that a number of construction lorries heading for Rockwool ares till comong through Heol-y-Cyw at school pick up times when I’ve had assurances on two separate occaisions that all lorries working on the new expansion of Rockwool would come from the Pencoed direction along the B4280 at all times.”

A resident near the factory in Wales wrote, “I’ve complained about the same issues repeatedly.

  • - Emissions – what is coming out of the chimneys?;

  • - Tuft falls – tufts of Rockwool floating down on us;

  • - Dust / ash (always the grey colour of the stone they use)

  • - Foul odours – really nasty stuff that ‘catches you’ at the back of your nose and throat – ruins appetite and can make you feel sick/give you a headache.

  • - Factory noise;

  • - The pall of smoke / emissions ‘grounding’.

  • - Behaviour of drivers of their (enormous) trucks.

Conversations (over the years) with people living up to 15 miles away have told me they experience some of these problems.

One important point – more often than not, Rockwool are unaware they have a problem until a resident phones over to tell them (or they say this)! Also – disturbingly – they frequently cannot identify the source of – say – a tuft fall.

They do have some warning systems – but they rarely seem to work.

 

The usual style of management is very slick – they’ve all done the training courses. There are certain tactics common to all of them :–

  • - They always get on first name terms with you (and public officials) if they can;

  • - They always develop the personal relationship thing.

  • - They always claim they use the ‘very best technology’.

  • - They always express surprise that you have any issues with them.

  • - They always use euphemisms – eg they’ll describe the stuff that comes out of their chimneys as ‘a plume’ (making it sound fluffy and organic) when, in fact, it is a ‘pall’ of poisonous chemicals.

  • They avoid using the actual names of the most damaging chemicals in the emissions wherever possible.

  • They usually deliver a fancy Powerpoint presentation with pretty pictures of wildlife etc (no pics of the chimneys / pall etc).

  • Their emissions graphs / charts can be difficult to interpret and are passed over quickly. They used to give me copies – but that stopped v quickly.

  • They lie! They lie about their record, about the number of complaints they get, and rarely admit there are any problems (unless confronted by actual evidence – eg the Rockwool tufts picked up from our gardens etc.)

  • They try to blame other factors if they can.

  • They always say they are concerned etc and they are addressing the problems.

  • They change round their senior management frequently – so just when you think you are getting somewhere – you have to begin all over again.

  • They employ very expensive experts/lawyers etc.

If fact, they’d make very good politicians!

Nowadays, I don’t just complain directly to the factory, I also phone Natural Resources Wales (our environment agency) and get them to log the complaint. I also keep my own record – because if I don’t – a month or so later they pretend it hasn’t happened!

The trouble is, while plenty of local people here hate the factory, most believe nothing we do will make any difference. So it is sometimes a bit depressing. And because jobs are so scarce here, councils fawn all over such organisations.

Things have improved to a certain extent over the last twenty years, and Rockwool employees are rather more polite to complainants than they used to be. But one thing I’ve learned – the minute we stop complaining, things go downhill fast.

They monitor their own emissions, and this is overseen by an officer from Natural Resources Wales. However, the NRW officers are all overstretched with workload."

 

Residents near a Rockwool plant in Wales see tufts of insulation fall to the ground from the factory.

The author describes a “tuft” as “a lump of Rockwool - usually about half an inch/ just over a centimetre square(ish).... Wales is a very wet place - lots of rain. So for about half the year (at least) the tufts fall onto wet surfaces and 'disappear'! (rather like tissue or cotton wool). You can usually spot them on cars, children's garden toys etc, but not usually on the soil. Also, our houses cover a very small area - they probably blow somewhere else a lot of the time!

Barely a week goes by when my neighbour - who is home more than I am - doesn't collect some tufts - eg when she's walking the dog. But the last 'biggish' fall we had this year was in April - when I spotted them all over the cars when I went out in the morning.

 

Tufts that fall from a Rockwool plant smokestack in Wales.

These tufts escape if a filter breaks, or simply if they haven't been keeping areas of the factory clean - it just blows around. Once they discovered there were large quantities collecting on their roof, blowing off when it got breezy!

When we report this to the factory, they sometimes send someone over to take a look - they want to track down where it's come from by checking whether it has been 'cured' - that's when they add the phenol formaldehyde binder at high temperature. Sometimes they can tell, but usually they just shrug.

 

However, I am told that it is the 'ones you can't see - ie the 'particulates' which are the most damaging.”

The Rockwool factory in Wales is expanding in spite of the fact that “a number of residents have objected to the plans with concerns about wildlife, including dormice, bats and badgers, traffic and air pollution.” According to the BBC, Councillor Alex Williams “raised residents' concerns, but said he supported the company's commitment to use local contractors and create new jobs.”

In British Columbia, locals complained about “odorous and visible gases” in the form of “smoke and blue haze.”

In Byhalia, MS, “75 households in the immediate vicinity of Rockwool's Byhalia plant petitioned their local government to buy out their homes and properties. Their lives had been irrevocably changed by Rockwool and it's unceasing truck traffic.”

20 years ago resident complaints about the “terrible, terrible odors” were worthy of a feature in the Milton paper. More recently, community discussion boards feature threads characterizing a “rotten egg” smell and locals write letters to the editor complaining about the expansion. The industrialization of Milton, which was once a small rural agricultural town, has made the presence of Rockwool less controversial. The steady wind from Lake Eerie also provides more protection for local residents.

 

In France, opposition to a planned Rockwool factory is intensifying.

Last summer, a Charles Town resident with small children attending pre-school near the planned Rockwool site was visiting the West Virginia State Capitol for a professional development workshop. She was wearing her "Stop Rockwool" shirt and Delegate Zelezato from Weirton, WV asked about it. He had heard of the project but was surprised to learn it was in Jefferson County near Ranson, Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry, which didn’t seem like an appropriate location.

Delegate Zelezato mentioned he would have liked to have his jurisdiction considered for Rockwool, but felt it was too late.

Zelezato lost his seat in the 2018 midterms so a couple weeks later I called Patrick Ford, the Executive Director of the Business Development Council (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle. He was very enthusiastic, stating that Hancock County had the perfect site with utilities available and they could match the PILOT offered by the JCDA. Ford said the site wasn’t available previously when the initial search was conducted, but now it was ready. The “BDC” he said “loved factories.” They even had smokestacks on their logo.

 

The blast furnaces at ArcellorMittal remain shut down as the company concentrates on its tin plating operation in Weirton, W.Va., Friday, Aug. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles P. Saus) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

I called and left a voicemail for Todd Hooker at the WVDO and then reached Nic Diehl on his cell. Diehl said he’d run it by Rockwool. The next day I received the following email from Diehl, “I spoke with all parties involved today. Pat Ford said he does have property that may work for them, but it is in remediation and won’t be ready for at least a year. Rockwool’s construction is currently underway and they anticipate their building will be done next year. Additionally, Rockwool’s customers are in the DC area and the northern panhandle is too far away. Ultimately Rockwool said they are too far along and have no desire to move.”

Diehl’s email exposed a major vulnerability of Rockwool. The Washington, DC region is very protective of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. By constructing a heavily polluting factory that is the anchor-tenant for an industrial zone spanning over 1,000 acres within the DC metro area opens Rockwool to demand-suppression tactics such as boycotts and online media campaigns directed to architects, contractors and property owners. The US Green Building Council which determines LEED certification, the Urban Land Institute, the oldest and largest network of real estate and land use experts, and the Federal Government, which could increase investigate Rockwool’s development practices as well increase regulation, scrutiny and oversight of the company, are all likely to have employees within the EPA-defined “high impact zone.”

The proximity benefits for LEED credits based on shipping could be rapidly overshadowed by a deeper analysis of the comparative benefits of competing building materials. Rockwool is considered a high-end solution, selected primarily for fire-retardant and sound abatement features. Insulation is rated on an “R-value” that is based on thickness. To get the same insulation performance between two materials, you can always add or subtract material and fiberglass and foam are generally more economical. Hemp is considered a very promising insulation source.

Rockwool investors are starting to take notice of the controversy. On the Q3 2018 conference call, Yves Brian Felix Bromehead, a building materials analyst with Exane BNP Paribas’ Research Division asked, “Okay. And maybe one last question on the U.S. plants. There's question on opposition that you're facing on the new project. Can you comment on that? Because I just wanted to get a feel…”

 

Jens Birgersson, Rockwool International’s President & CEO, in the Q3 2018 conference call responded, “So what we have is that we are moving into a county with 56,000 people. There are more than 5,000 people there that really, really needs jobs in our factory. They really need it. Those people don't have Facebook. They are not vocal, yes. Then we have a group of people and we are coming in here with a chimney. We are not killing anyone but it's in the backyard. People don't want, in all places, a factory in their backyard, in their county, and that's what we see. And so our approach to it is that if you look at Facebook, we cannot -- there are a lot of statements that are not true there. We have answered all of that with facts. But our main focus is to build the plants. And we have done the groundworks, now we are starting to pile. Soon, we start to pour concrete and we build it. And then over time, when we start to hire people, we'll start to pay taxes and we'll start to contribute to this community. And I think a lot of that opposition, the dangers of the plant and all the rest is just not true. It's just not true. But it is very noisy. We live with that. We answer all questions we get. But most of all, we focus on getting the factory built. Because the U.S. needs our factory. We need it to keep up with demand, another quarter of double-digit growth in the U.S. And the world needs it to fight CO2 and climate change. So we just keep on building it and there is a lot of noise.”

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Bergersson is clearly not getting correct information. He is wrong about 5,000 people needing jobs. Proctor and Gamble and Quad Graphics are both having difficulty filling open positions. With under 3% unemployment, Jefferson County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state of West Virginia.

He is also incorrect that he has answered all with facts.

Deloitte’s economic impact study looked at West Virginia as a whole, not Jefferson County, rendering it useless. The WVU Economic Outlook for the Eastern Panhandle tells a different story.

The same analyst asked a follow-up question, “But you don't think that there's a risk on the delivery of that plant?”

 

Birgersson answered, “No, no. I mean, we have no delay or anything on the plant. But as with all our projects, wherein equipment deliveries, you have all of that. They're normal. But we don't have a delay because of that. And we have the first building permits and we are progressing, I'll say. But it's, of course, be -- it will be nicer if we didn't have the opposition, take it very seriously. But in Norway, we're stepping away from that plant.”

Again Birgensson is incorrect. There are many delays, and the entire project is at risk. In business, this “sunk cost fallacy” can cause CEOs to make poor decisions because the more you invest in a project the harder it becomes to abandon.

 

In his annual report call this week, Birgensson doubled down on his claims. “Things are on track in West Virginia. We have continued protests to the plant but they have reduced in power locally. It was stronger and worse months back.” He also stated while talking about capital expenditures, "And then in West Virginia, with a 2% to 3% stone wool share and the fact that we keep clocking very good growth in the insulation segment of building, we have -- we just need a plant; we're going to build it. So -- but yes. If it turns really, really would turn sour, we can stop things."

Investment analysts disagree. Research reports have stated that Rockwool uses old, fossil-fuel heavy technology. They produce too much that only sits in warehouses. There are cleaner, more competitive options. Investors are particularly concerned about “rigid management,” driving their stock price to a one-year low.

 

Stewart Acuff, an area resident, is working with Kai Newkirk to organize Jefferson County citizens. Acuff was a leading labor organizer with AFL-CIO before retiring to the Eastern Panhandle.

Standing up to powerful corporate interests is scary. Several of the participants in Acuff and Newkirk’s workshops refused to speak on the record, fearing retaliation from JCP and county officials. Residents of economically distressed communities such as Fox Glen, while vocal during public comment, were particularly reticent about being quoted for publication.

One person who isn’t afraid is Kearneysville resident and beekeeper Jennifer King. With all that we’ve uncovered, she says, “People don’t even know how bad this is.”

 

She’s concerned about a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP lawsuit) that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. King says these SLAPP lawsuits have been filed in Croatia. “I’ve been worried it’s coming but it’s still not going to keep me quiet,” she says.

“Casto, whatever. Screw him. I have nothing to hide. I know i’m going to be messing with people’s money and they’re not going to be happy. Are there any skeletons in my closet? Ok lets go!”

Her advice to others is “You better be ready to fight. We don’t someone who’s going to be a player and gets taken out of the game” by mudslinging from the opposition. Just “be honest,” she counsels.

“You can twist and pervert anything. I filed bankruptcy so what? Who hasn’t? So i owe some taxes? So what? What else you go? Some people they just don’t want to be put in the spotlight.”

Those that don’t want to be outfront can do research, online communications and support in other ways. King says she has to be deeply involved. “All my bees are within three miles of the damn plant. I have enough problems without Rockwool. Nobody asked for it, nobody wanted it, nobody knew about it. It was concealed. I don’t like pollution, coverup, corruption. Take your pick. I have no choice but to get involved.”

 

Kai Newkirk has returned to his home town of Shepherdstown to help organize the resistance to the Rockwool plant.

The Rockwool fight has “consumed my life,” she says. “So many documents to go over so much research. Reading minutes board minutes, go back two years, look again at all the meetings, it’s like putting together a really ugly puzzle. And some people are still hiding your puzzle piece.”

King doesn’t like politics, “never has, but I find myself getting pulled in more and more. I voted for Trump. Not real proud of it now,” she says.

The registered independent says this was only the second time she ever voted. The first time was for Bill Clinton, and only because she was in college and earned extra credit for her Poli Sci class. She was attending Shepherd, studying computer science, and dropped out when she got pregnant.

 

King has three kids ranging in age from 16 to 26. The oldest she when she was a student at Jefferson High School. Her “Ancestry goes way back around here. My 7th great grandfather was Nicholas Lehman, one of few people that Lord Fairfax granted land to. 570 acres in 1756 that’s now Kearneysville. My mother’s line goes back even farther.”

Born in Martinsburg, she’s been back and forth between Kearneysville and Elkins over the last ten years. King had bees over at the orchard and knows Ronnie Slonaker, the former manager and co-owner of Jefferson Orchards. “I can’t believe he would do this. He grew up with my dad too. I can’t believe this would happen. I’m feeling betrayed these people. What were they thinking? I had to get these answers. I can’t believe they sold us out like this.”

She doesn’t believe it’s the fault of the individuals. “I still don’t think Ronnie knew as much as his partner’s son, Mark Ralston. Mayor Hamill passed away and Ranson goes to crap. Then Dave Ralston passed away and Jefferson Orchards goes to crap.”

 

Jennifer King at Eversweet Apiaries, her business in Jefferson County, WV. photocredit: David Levine

According to King, Mark Ralston thought “I just wanted to unload this as fast as I can and I don’t care.”

Reached by phone Mark Ralston expressed surprised at the outcry. “Rockwool is a good user to tell you the truth. As a commercial bankruptcy attorney, they appear solid. The state and county are firmly behind them. Everyone has internet, and we can look at the plants in Mississippi and Ontario. They’re responsible and will create infrastructure in Jefferson County that is lacking.”

King points to her research on “Project Wedge,” an industrial-scale greenhouse operation to grow lettuce as part of the broader industrialization plan for the region. The deal was “just mind-boggling. They were run out of Clarke County. None of these people know how to use the Internet.” What Ranson and the JCDA missed, CCAR “found how that guy was a scam artist in 5 minutes.”

King spends “40 hours a week absolutely probably more” on Rockwool. “I have my own business and it’s downtime right now. That’s going to have to change soon. April may busiest month. My husband is understanding. Not like I am. I usually come to him and just vent. I’m already not spending time with him and the family and the time I do I’m just bitching about everything. I can’t imagine what other peoples households are like. It s turned everyone’s life upside down... I look like I’ve aged in the last 6 months. That presidential aging thing where you get gray hair. I keep it highlighted, but this has taken a toll physically.”

King says the hard part is that Rockwool and their cronies “are miles ahead of us. They’ve had time to cover their tracks. It’s going to be hard to catch them in the bad stuff. The higher you go up the harder it’s going to be to catch people.” She feels “Reisenweber was absolutely one of the masterminds behind all this. He was a true salesman he knew what everyone wanted and knew how to work a room. He knew just what everyone wants to hear.”

 

“It’s a strong strong civics lesson,” she says. In a common refrain, King adds “We thought our government was taking care of us.” Now she sees for the first time “why people go radical and chain themselves to trees and stuff.”

She calls the pro-Rockwool group JCP “leftover Trump voters” who “just want to argue over everything.” They defend the “property rights” of a foreign corporation not paying taxes. “Casto calling us white elitists are you kidding me? That’s crazy! My cousins black, what does that make me? The transplant argument is xenophobic talk. They want a wall through West Virginia. Casto is from the Parkersburg area and he works in Leesburg. How is that not being a hypocrite? “

While King has little confidence that the government will do the right thing, she believes Rockwool will pull out. “The longer they stay around and marinate the more we’re finding out on them. If they were smart they would have backed out long ago. They haven’t really put that much in. Cut your losses. They’re committing suicide right now.”

A Moment of Reflection and Concern

Before he died last week at the age of 92 Rep. John Dingell, who was the longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress, dictated a letter to his wife in the hours before his death. In this letter, he commented on power.

In my life and career I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.” It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

 

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., stands at the casket of her husband and former Rep. John Dingell, lying in repose in Dearborn, Mich., Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, was first elected in 1955 and retired in 2014. The Democrat was 92. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In his resignation letter from the presidency of the JCDA on November 9th, Eric Lewis wrote:

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that there are serious differences of opinion regarding the future of economic development in Jefferson County. A segment of the citizenry objects to certain types of manufacturing that we as a board believed to be a positive to the community. While reasonable people should be able to disagree on such things, it seems our leadership of JCDA has been called into question. Our decisions have been challenged and our integrity has been questioned. This is quite unfortunate. The members of the Board of Directors and both the current and past Executive Director are good people. We are your neighbors and your friends. We did what we thought was best for Jefferson County and had no ill intent and no ulterior motives. It is quite unfortunate that these good people, and I include myself in that group, have been attacked so viciously.

 

“Good people” is an expression that has always grated on me. There are several troubling constructs in this letter, but that one is the most problematic. Lewis was a public official who took an oath of office. He should not be defensive about challenged decisions or questions about integrity. He should not minimize the issue as an objectionable “type of manufacturing” or a disagreement or a difference of opinion.

Lewis’ resignation letter shows a public servant who failed because he felt entitled, not humble. He felt powerful instead of honored. He was compromised rather than impeccable.

Lewis had many opportunities to engage, to listen, to understand and to change. He chose not to. In fact, he did the opposite. The JCDA is supposed to serve the people of the county. Instead of turning over the reigns to the people, he ensured that his cronies retained control and the people had as little power as possible.

Lewis thought his job was to railroad through the locals a project sponsored in Charleston. Instead of working for the people in Jefferson County, he was working for the fossil fuel and corporate interests that had taken control of the Governor’s Mansion, legislature and every aspect of the administration.

 

Shepherdstown resident holds a sign at the WV Public Service Commission hearing on the Rockwool gas pipeline extension in the Shepherd University Storer Ballroom. photocredit: David Levine

One time at a meeting at the State Capitol I participated in a conversation between an executive in the development office, a labor leader and a coal lobbyist. The development office executive stated that the problem with West Virginia was too many mountains. This meant not enough places to put amenities like Wal-marts and industrial parks.

The labor leader disagreed. “The problem with West Virginia is not enough infrastructure. Our competitors in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland have land all ready go with sewer, water and gas.”

The coal company lobbyist said, “No, the problem is not enough rich people.”

Charleston seems to have discovered that Jefferson County has thousands of acres of flat land and they want to load it with infrastructure to create more rich people. Lewis, Reisenweber and Diehl were simply their tools of choice.

 

The term “good people” is used all the time on pro-Rockwool Facebook pages and in their groups. It means simply someone who is in on the grift. They could be a lawyer, accountant, government official, businessman, banker or lacky. They support the status quo and recognize other “good people” as similarly entitled to a major share in the rewards.

Here are a few clear examples of how this works.

On May 24, 2018 the Jefferson County Development Authority announced the designation of six Opportunity Zones, including Jefferson Orchards, the most of any county in the state. West Virginia designated a total of 55 Opportunity Zones over their 55 counties for an average of one east.

According to real estate investors and project developers, the process for gaining designations was highly opaque, and the state was unresponsive to comments and questions. The Opportunity Zone designation can be highly lucrative to property owners in the designated census tracts. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, for example, have properties in 13 Opportunity Zones that could benefit from the breaks.

 

President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, as Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Lara Trump, and Eric Trump, look on. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The tax break comes from the Investing in Opportunity Act, a provision of President Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which designated over 8,700 economically distressed and environmentally impaired census tracts in frontline communities across the country as Opportunity Zones. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesdigitalcovers/2018/07/17/an-unlikely-group-of-billionaires-and-politicians-has-created-the-most-unbelievable-tax-break-ever/) Co-sponsored by Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the measure is designed to attract investment capital through the deferment and cancellation of capital gains taxes.

According to the Economic Innovation Group, over $6 trillion dollars in taxable profits sit on the balance sheets of American corporations and individuals that could be put to work in Opportunity Zones earning an additional 44% over a comparable investment with a 7% annual return that does not provide favorable tax treatment. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin estimates that at least $100 billion will be invested in Qualified Opportunity Funds, the investment vehicle created by the law.

According to a prospective investor who received the pitch, Lewis is putting together what he bills as “the first third party opporty zone managed fund in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties.”

 

“Eric has ambitions,” the investor said. “Until it’s in motion I couldn’t say if it’s a conflict of interest. He’s used his position to potentially increase the value of Jefferson Orchards and beyond. Consider the enormity of the water and sewer and projects as ordered, which had way more capacity than were needed by any projects in even the distant future.”

The investor speculated that Lewis was working with Reisenweber to “secure Rockwool and ... finally pick up that customer we need to get gas now. He was really proud of that. Before Rockwool, Mountaineer Gas didn’t have the customers to justify a line.”

The investor noted that Lewis is in a perfect position as a CPA to know who has capital gains exposure that could be sheltered in an opportunity fund. In 2017, Lewis founded Advisor Alliance LLC, a registered investment advisor company that works with CPAs and attorneys for wealth management referrals.

“This is a good thing to get into if you’re a CPA and in with the State Commerce Department. You could be motivated to do some things on on the JCDA to make that geographic area more conducive to investors in new businesses. Then having a Qualified Opportunity Fund you have an advantage as an advisor to wealthy people bringing private capital to the table.”

An example of a “ready made client” the investor mentioned is the Ralston brothers. Lewis could “provide a turn-key operation converting farms to an industrial campus and re-invest the capital gains.” Opportunity Zones need to invest funds in real estate and “business assets” such as industrial equipment and machinery. The property needs to be developed, with at least 50% invested of the funds going to improvements such as buildings and infrastructure.

Jefferson Orchards, Inc is a West Virginia corporation that recently added a DBA, JOI Development Corp., suggesting the Ralstons plan to have a greater involvement in project development.

There is nothing wrong with using a public board position to enrich yourself if it doesn’t violate ethics rules. It’s the way the system is designed. Do enough favors for others over time and they’ll pave the way for your projects and investments. It’s pretty literally the “old boys club.”

 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., acknowledges cheers as she takes the stage during an event to formally launch her presidential campaign, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Lawrence, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The only objection this potential investor had was that Lewis pretended he was working for the public good when he refused to take public input or recognize that he was enriching himself at the expense of the public. Lewis either couldn’t see that it was a very bad deal for the county in every way, or he didn’t care. As Elizabeth Warren said last week in her 2020 presidential campaign kick-off speech, “When government only works for the wealthy and well-connected, that is corruption -- plain and simple.”

 

A second example is more problematic for Eric and Joy Lewis. According to a source with direct knowledge of the transaction, Joy Lewis acted as the buyer’s agent for a Rockwool executive relocating to Jefferson County from Milton Ontario. Since Joy Lewis was also receiving compensation from the West Virginia Department of Commerce for her work recruiting Rockwool, acting as the buyer’s agent is a clear ethics violation.

According to a source, Eric Lewis’ mother Jackie Lewis listed herself as the buyer’s agent on the multiple listing service MRIS to protect Joy from scrutiny. Listing the incorrect agent is a violation of realtor rules.

The source stated that Greentree Realty, owned by Jackie Lewis, was working with Rockwool on a relocation package and service for all executives. With so many realtors in town, the source felt that if Eric Lewis did not his integrity questioned, the JCDA should have directed Rockwool to other realtors.

 

Joy Lewis was allegedly the buyer's agent for the purchase by a Rockwool executive of this home in Jefferson County. At the same time, Lewis is employed by the West Virginia Department of Commerce, which recruited Rockwool.

One of the more blatant examples of questionable practices concerns the transfer of the Rockwool waterline engineering contract from Ranson to the JCD and subsequent award to Thrasher Engineering.

On July 19, 2018 William Rohrbaugh, the JCDA attorney, informed Ranson that the “lending agencies” insisted on the JCDA “taking a more active role” in the water project. The JCDA, which had no experience in managing such a project, directed Ranson and their contractor Toole to “immediately cease activities.” According to JCV, the only lenders at the time were the WVDO and the IJDC, which was headed by former Thrasher Engineering Vice President Wayne Morgan. The rational Rohrbaugh gave the JCDA was that the State’s funders of the waterline (presumably the IJDC) had expressed concern that West Virginia Code 5G governing the selection of contractors for projects over $250,000 had not been followed by Ranson.

Five minutes later Andy Blake forwarded the email to Todd Hooker at the WVDO with the message that “this is less work for us, less pressure for us and obviously we will cease.” Then after 45 minutes, still fuming, Blake wrote to the Ranson team “total crap, inefficient and wrong. But, it’s their decision and less pressure on us.”

Once the JCDA had control, they selected Thrasher Engineering, the firm owned by the Woody Thrasher, the West Virginia Secretary of Commerce at the time Rockwool was recruited to Jefferson County. JCV published a white paper describing questionable practices and possible improprieties in the termination of Toole Design and selection of Thrasher Engineering for construction management of the $4.8 million project.

 

JCDA Board members Stolipher, Shepp, and Casto comprised the selection committee for the water line contractor, with the mandate to follow the “5G” process in the awarding of a contract to design and construct the waterline. The process was not followed, but this time the IJDC accepted the selection of Thrasher as the outcome.

On December 9th I received a text message from Casto that stated “the 5G stuff is what happened. If it was wrong then it is on legal counsel. No one did anything wrong intentionally if it was wrong. That is why I wrote the column at Rob’s request. (Referring to Rob Snyder, the publisher of a local Jefferson County newspaper.) It is what happened. Nothing nefarious. The other bidder just did not make a good proposal. Thrasher was far and away the best of the two. I wish more was had proposed.”

According to JCV, more contractors had not proposed because the JCDA did not adequately advertise the opportunity or solicit responses. The outcome was preordained.

Casto is a lawyer who had previously advised the board of directors for my company Geostellar on corporate governance. He would know as a board member of the JCDA and a member of the committee that he was responsible.

When Casto states “nothing nefarious” it is reminiscent of Eric Lewis’ claim that the JCDA board had no “ill intent or ulterior motives.” The problem is that they couldn’t see that they were an integral part of a corrupt system, minor functionaries in the long con that has razed mountains, polluted water sources, poisoned children and enriched the few at the top. They were playing the role of “good people” and upstanding citizens doing their civic duty.

 

Branches hanging over the Potomac River above Shepherdstown in Jefferson County, WV. photocredit David Levine

Several sources also questioned Steve Stolipher’s role in the Rockwool controversy. The husband of Kristen Stolipher, assistant utility manager for CTUB, Steve Stolipher was “sitting on land in Rippon and starting to parcel it out.” According to one source Stolipher was paranoid of zoning ordinances that could restrict his ability to develop his land any way he pleased.

Doug Stolipher, Steve’s father “owns everything, churches, land, houses, from Kabletown Road to Route 340,” said the source. “Every house you see he rents it out. He has a s--- ton of land between the Shenandoah and 340. Land-rich farms, most of it. All the kids have parcels.” Other sources have described Steve Stolipher as a willy-nilly, dense developer without sense for the land or the market.

In Stolipher’s case, his motivation appears to be extensive land holdings about ten miles from the planned Rockwool site that would benefit from both industrialization and infrastructure. Where the primary rationale given for the Rockwool project was jobs, the price tag seems suspect. New York residents are battling Amazon over huge taxpayer subsidies of $60,000 per job. The Rockwool subsidies are a rate of about $250,000 per job.

 

One of the most interesting documents released by Ranson in the JCV FOIA request is the notes from a July 19, 2017 JCDA Strategic Planning Meeting. They show a productive session with moderator Dan McGinn leading the group through an exercise on the importance of Jefferson County “telling our story.” The minutes show freewheeling dialogue, with board members crowing about the county’s advantages such as train access, the vibrancy of newcomers, bride in WV roots, the George Washington family heritage and the diverse identity of the five distinct municipalities.

Board member Lyle Tabb recalls the workshop as being “great. No normal business. Just sit down and bounce ideas. Dan McGinn was a wonderful moderator. He gave a nice bright perspective on what the JCDA could be focused on. I left energized, thinking we were on track. Enough were on the same page as board members to say we’re focusing on tech, education and renewable energy to attract low-impact industries that add value. We all felt that was going to be the future of Jefferson County. It was disappointing to learn that a lot of Rockwool steps had already happened by then.”

Reisenweber’s view according to the strategy session notes was that the “JCDA doesn’t get calls looking for communities, only site requirements.” Lewis clarified that “JCDA has proactive and reactive activity, reactive to the State looking for a large site requirement; and proactive by promoting the county through site consultants.”

Tabb says, “knowing John (Reisenweber), he was aggressive about what he did. If there were details that got in his way, he wanted to get through them. He wasn’t trying to discourage the discussion, he was just looking at the real world terms from his angle. The companies that want to come here so far, he felt they don’t care about community. We needed to adjust our marketing strategy, which is one thing we got started on in the strategy session, but it wasn’t followed through on” because Reisenweber and Lewis were focused on delivering industrial users for the state.

 

This photo taken June 26, 2014 shows Bloomery Plantation Distillery employee Jim Donoghue-Rick, 63, removing weeds from the raspberry fields at Charles Town, W.Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

After Jefferson County residents learned the Rockwool factory would preclude Northport Station as a mixed-use transit-oriented development, Reisenweber and Lewis claimed that there was no developer interest. We now know that it was never marketed and that Reisenweber from the county and Diehl and Hooker at the WVDO were using the old-school tactics of attracting foreign manufacturers and plotting infrastructure capacity to support them.

While employed as Executive Director of the JCDA, Reisenweber was also on the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development ‘Council (IJDC), which was “seeking to bring a 1,000-acre industrial park to the Eastern Panhandle region,” according to a memo from Hatch Chester, a global company focused on industrialization and resource management written a few months after the strategy summit. “In support of this goal, the City of Ranson and JCDA have successfully negotiated an agreement to bring ROXUL, Inc. (Rockwool), a manufacturer of cement-based insulation materials to a 150-acre site on the west side of the 390-acre Jefferson Orchard (JO) property, annexed into the City in 2004.”

While Ralston had failed to find a buyer between 2005 and 2012, with a major recession in the middle, and both the JCDA and Haymaker were unsuccessful at finding a developer for the mixed-use TOD designed by Placemakers under the 2012 grant, Mark Ralston “saw an opportunity for future development” in the promise of industrial-scale infrastructure. He purchased the adjoining Miller property with plans to “alleviate Rockwool Blvd and connect directly to Rt. 480,” Ralston said.

Ranson and the JCDA continued to recruit industry to the site. The next user, under the codename “Project Wedge” appears on the surface to be more benign. The lettuce company intended to use steam from the Rockwool factory in their process, according to a statement by Casto.

 

On further investigation, it became clear that the firm Water Garden Organics (WGO) had already been rejected by neighboring Clarke County, VA for a variety of reasons. WGO is industry, not agriculture. It is a heavy user of water and producer of waste, it creates light pollution and would initially only employ 2 people initially and 25 at full capacity, with salaries averaging $40,000 year.

Even more concerning was the management team and board. The company had never grown a head of lettuce, was engaged in constant litigation and one of the directors had been convicted of tax evasion, securities fraud and perjury.

 

Intense hydroponic farming is an industrial, not agricultural, process that consumes enourmous amounts of water. photocredit: Getty

Emails between Blake and Susan Henderson, a principal at Placemakers, show Ranson recognizing that they are going to actively encourage industrial development and that they need to put together a plan. Blake initiates the dialogue by crediting Henderson with the Rockwool win:

Hello Susan:

Hope you are well. So the $150 million Rockwool is now under construction at Jefferson Orchards- largely because your plan from 2012 allowed industrial. Now we have a large industrial greenhouse investor interested in the remaining acreage north of Rockwool which is also zoned SD1 to build a 400,000 sq. feet green house (lettuce – not weed). The owner of Jefferson Orchards has 265 acres remaining; just bought 300 additional acres to the north he wants to annex and there is an additional 400 acres of land across Route 9 (former Tackley Mill). The State, Rockwool and its site selector (Deloitte) have all stated that this is perfect flat area for future industrial uses.

Whether it is or isn’t, I’m not sure. Today, at lunch, Rockwool’s executive stated that it got its air permit in 6 months with very little questions and that the biggest advantage is it’s the absolute closest place you can get to DC in an non-attainment zone.

Here is the issue – this whole area needs some type of master plan. Is it industrial; is it commercial; is it office; is it form-based zoning?

 

Henderson responds:

Hi Andy,

This is fascinating and great news! In many ways it’s returning to Ranson’s roots in manufacturing, but hopefully with cleaner technology this time.

And you’re right - as you saw with Jefferson Orchards, the value of a master plan, and existing entitlements, is huge in attracting more industry. The issue is how to do it in a way the City wants to see it done, and not a hodgepodge process by individual landowners.

Email threads between Blake, Mark Dyck, a principal at the Gordon engineering firm and former JCDA president and Henderson, Edward Erfurt IV, the assistant City Manager of Ranson, Todd Hooker, Deputy Director, Business and Industrial Development at the WVDO, RJ Brot, CEO of WGO and Mark Ralston reveals a sense of urgency to embark on planning for the industrial zone and recharacterization of the property away from mixed-use TOD. One of the key moments in the correspondence is Hooker identifying the dilemma of state funding that primarily benefits Ralston. He feels that it is important that the site be used for industry to the extent possible.

 

Industrial zone in a rural area. photocredit: Getty

Here is the dilemma: the entire tract is owned by the Ralston’s. I have no problem with this, but we must be sensitive to the fact that they are the primary beneficiaries going forward and the State is investing heavily in the site with public funds… We understand that 100% of the property may have not be industrial, and we are ok with that. We just need a little help justifying the extra spend.

Blake is also trying to fit all of this new industrial development into a “master plan” that works with the Smart Code system. He writes to Ralston, “Good afternoon. I spoke to City Council on Tuesday about Jefferson Orchards, Tackley Mill, Blackford Village and your newly acquired land to the north. Rockwool’s investment has already led to another potential user as you know and it will probably continue – and it’s great. Council is very interested in the City leading an effort to look at all the property (almost 1,400 acres) as a holistic approach and start setting a master plan with the proposed road network, infrastructure, identifying the best parcels for large-scale industrial, etc. The Planning Firm that did your original plan has also done large scale

 

industrial sites. They have planned Butterfield Industrial Park in El Paso and CentrePoint in Winnipeg. Frankly, I have started a very preliminary conversation with them about bringing all parties to the table and developing a master plan. I have also have had preliminary conversations with the Development Authority Director about this. The key is to get everyone to the table. As you saw with Jefferson Orchards, the value of a master plan, and existing entitlements, is huge in attracting more industry. The issue is how to do it in a way that meets the Community’s vision, meets individual landowner’s requirements and does not a hodgepodge process by individual landowners. Some of the property is primed for industry and some is not. As Susan told me, in many ways it’s returning to Ranson’s roots in manufacturing, but hopefully with cleaner technology this time.

While I appreciate the zoning ordinance you sent to us, it is Euclidean zoning which we don’t really have anymore and doesn’t really set out any holistic view, vision or master plan.”

The picture painted by the Ranson emails is a frenetic rush to pursue the initial industrial development that would allow the state to load a 1,400-acre zone with infrastructure, which would, in turn, attract more industrial development. Because it didn’t fit into the original master plan for Ranson or the site plan for Jefferson Orchards, Blake and Erfurt sought to create a new one on the fly, trying to get out ahead of the rapid industrialization driven by the State of West Virginia.

A lawsuit filed by JCV against Ranson claims Blake and Erfurt cut corners in their rush to accommodate the state and load a section of Ranson with industrial-scale infrastructure. By failing to provide adequate public notice, as required by statute, when it modified both its zoning ordinance and zoning map. JCV asserts that the zoning changes should be voided by law.

Amanda Foxx, a JCV board member, attributed the public outcry to the lack of notice provided by Ranson for the zoning changes. “There’s a reason everyone in our community was stunned to learn about Rockwool this summer,” she said in a prepared statement. “The change to heavy industry was never the plan for Jefferson Orchard, and the City of Ranson failed to adequately notify the public, as required by law. Within a week of the announcement of the secret Rockwool deal, Ranson was moving to change the zoning at Jefferson Orchard to allow heavy industrial use and block almost all other uses of the property,” referring to the terms of an agreement with Rockwool that prohibit new churches, hospitals, schools and homes near the plant. Rockwool has a “right of first refusal” on contiguous parcels within and adjacent to Jefferson Orchards to accommodate a planned expansion.

 

Jefferson County Vision board members with delegate Sammi Brown on election night.

Nic Diehl maintains that “plans to develop the Miller piece on the other side of that property have been in effect for a while. The plan is for roads and smaller parcels that would be more mixed-use. You can find the future plan for that on the city of Ranson website.” Diehl stated that the current plan with Rockwool is compatible with the original 2012 plan, “Ranson Renewed,” positing that it is still compatible with Rockwool, though with some adjustments. Diehl sees the future of Jefferson Orchards as “more of a mixed-use commercial/industrial for large-footprint industry, kind of like the Burr Industrial Park (owned by the JCDA) though we won’t own or control it. I could see it as an advanced technology park.”

Diehl talks like a salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross, always spinning, always closing. Before Manchin occupied the Governor's Mansion the state had a public-private partnership called the Council for Community and Economic Development (CCED). The CCED, with private funds, could augment compensation so that reps like Todd Hooker and Nic Diehl could receive commissions for landing projects from out of state without it coming out of the state treasury. In some ways this made sense, but it distorted the incentives. Rather than considering what was in the public interest, the corporate and industrial contributors to the CCED had outsized influence over the direction of the state economy.

 

Because the transition to a post-carbon economy will be painful for many, Ted Boettner, the executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, has promoted a “natural resource trust fund” or “future fund” which has been enacted in West Virginia but remains unfunded. The purpose is to overcome the “resource curse,” or “paradox of plenty,” which shows that abundant energy resources can have significant negative effects, including weak local government, lower education levels, impacts on human health and environmental degradation. And when local economies are dominated by large mineral-extraction industries, the result can also be reduced economic growth overall.

Boettner also exposed the use of economic development expenses for political purposes. Instead of actually improving the economy, “they redistribute money upwards from the average taxpayer to mostly wealthy capital owners, they often subsidize low-wage jobs for out-of-state workers and they create a ‘race to the bottom’ between states in economic development.”

All of this is changing. The world is out of slack, and cannot tolerate more waste. In the next few years, the old arguments will be dead. The demagogues who claim they work for the public good while transforming the commonweal into private treasure are being thoroughly discredited.

Stewart Acuff calls non-violent direct action "love as it manifests in the public sphere." The magic of community is entering the realm of mechanical rubber stamps, box-checkers, i-dotters and t-crossers.

On October 24th, 2018 the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) came to Shepherdstown, WV for a hearing on the Mountaineer Gas pipeline extension to deliver fuel to Rockwool. Over 300 people packed the Shepherd University Storer Ballroom with many still holding signs and banners from the rally held outside before the event.

 

West Virginia Public Service Commission at a hearing at Shepherd University on the Mountaineer Gas pipeline extension to serve a planned Rockwool plant.

On the makeshift dais at the front of the room sat the three black-clad commissioners surrounded by black curtains, black bunting and tables draped in black. A woman from the audience leaned a protest sign against the cloth.

The outcome was already certain. In its 2015 regular session, the West Virginia Legislature enacted Senate Bill 390, codified at W. Va. Code 5 24-2-1k, that authorizes the PSC to approve expedited cost recovery of projects to expand natural gas utility infrastructure and create jobs.

 

When called for public comment, Morgan Sell strode to the podium with a child on her back and led those gathered in song.

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While the West Virginia PSC allowed the extension of the fracked gas pipeline to serve Rockwool, the state of Maryland refused to allow the gas to be transported under the Potomac River. On January 4th of this year reaffirmed my faith in public servants I received the following email:

Dear David,

Thank you for taking the time to write about the Board of Public Works’ vote on the TransCanada Potomac Pipeline.

Over the course of my public service career, I am proud to have consistently supported policies that safeguard our natural resources and promote environmental conservation. As comptroller and as a member of the Board of Public Works, I have been unapologetically vocal in opposing projects like the Potomac Pipeline that pose serious risks to our environment and the public.

I was very proud to join Governor Hogan and Treasurer Kopp in unanimous opposition to the TransCanada pipeline extension under the Potomac River. The people of Maryland would have incurred serious public health risks with none of the energy or economic benefits. I believe that clean, safe drinking water should be a bipartisan commitment and, with the Board of Public Works’ unanimous vote this past Wednesday, it was.

 

Thank you again for writing, best wishes in this new year. If I could be of service to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Peter Franchot

Comptroller, State of Maryland

 

With substantial evidence of improprieties, distrust in local and state government and serious public health concerns, Resist Rockwool is preparing to make demands on the behalf of citizens of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC would be impacted by the introduction of heavy industry into Jefferson County.

 

Jefferson County residents rally outside Storer Ballroom at Shepherd University where the WV Public Service Commission will hear concerns about the planned Mountaineer Gas pipeline extension to serve Rockwool. photocredit: David Levine

According to Newkirk, the first action of Resist Rockwool will be to hold Senator Manchin accountable for his participation in the groundbreaking of the plant and to express his outrage if he was misled about the nature of the development and the impact on the health of our children. Resist Rockwool will "demand that Manchin make an unequivocal official statement opposing the construction of the planned Rockwool factory in Jefferson County and that he pledge to use the full powers of his office to initiate a federal investigation into the health and environmental impacts of the plant and the suspected improper procedures and processes by which it is being imposed on our communities."

Things could turn very sour for Rockwool in Jefferson County very quickly.

 

Last week Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a resolution for the Green New Deal, a 10 year, multi-trillion dollar program for a net-zero emissions economy while putting every American to work in a family-supporting job. This article, the third in a series for Forbes, shows how the outcome of the Rockwool controversy in Jefferson County, WV, could predict the success or failure of America’s attempt to halt climate change and build a more equitable and productive economy. For background, please read Rockwool: Three Truths And A Lie About The Economic Development Game and How To Stop A Toxic Factory By Cutting Off Its Energy Supply.

The Green New Deal had a big roll-out last week with all presidential candidates in the Senate among their nine colleagues who co-sponsored and 64 co-sponsors in the House. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi mocked the plan in a Politico interview, calling it “the green dream” and stating that “nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., arrives to hear President Donald Trump deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The reason they’re for it is that the Sunrise Movement made it a popular cause. The group entered public consciousness soon after the 2018 midterms with a protest at Pelosi’s office that was joined by Ocasio-Cortez. Because of the inherent, widespread popularity of the program, the Sunrise Movement was able to make Green New Deal support as a litmus test for 2020 presidential race by starting with a sit-in at Pelosi’s office.

An hour before Ocasio-Cortez famously threw shade at Senator Manchin’s public enthusiasm for fossil fuel interests during the state of the Union, the group launched a campaign to support the Green New Deal with about 400 watch parties around the country that included over 2000 individuals. One of those watch parties was at Shepherd University in Jefferson County, WV. Those gathered in the Robert C. Byrd Auditorium felt an eerie deja vu as author Naomi Klein and Sunrise organizers Aru Shiney-Ajay and Jeremy Ornstein described the stakes, challenges and possible outcomes of an organized, unified climate movement supporting a specific set of public policies.

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In Jefferson County, WV, an exurb of Washington, DC blessed with profound natural beauty and rich American history, faces a comparable crisis with the planned construction of a heavily-emitting Rockwool mineral wool insulation factory across the road from an elementary school. The primary differences between the Sunrise Movement across America and the opposition to the heavy industry in Jefferson County are a matter of spatial and temporal scale along with the size of the affected population. Because the industrialization of Jefferson County is moving faster than climate change, encompasses only the Washington, DC region and involves far fewer players, the Rockwool controversy can serve as both a test-bed for actions to counteract the corporate and fossil-fuel interests driving climate change and as a predictor of success.

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Jefferson County’s corollary to the Sunrise Movement is Resist Rockwool, a group of citizens (including me) formed to employ non-violent direct action and online organizing to build widespread opposition to the factory.

Jefferson County Vision, a separate citizens group with about 10,000 participants their Facebook campaign, has successfully caused the resignation of over half the county economic development board, triggered a seismic shift in the local midterm elections, slowed or halted the provisioning and financing of water, sewer and fracked gas utilities to the industrial site, questioned the constitutionality of a common tax incentive, turned the Board of Education against the project, brought thousands of records of backroom deals into the sunlight and drawn international attention to the greenwashing, public health concerns, pressures on civic governance by corporate interests and environmental degradation associated with the industrialization of a popular DC tourist destination.

The Corrupting Influence Of Corporate Interests

Corruption is a big, loaded word and not one that should be tossed around lightly. In the Green New Deal rollout, Aru Shiney-Ajay, a 20 year-old organizer with the Sunrise Movement, said “Our generation knows that climate change is happening, we can see it happening before our very eyes. And the thing is we know the solutions are out there as well. Technologically the price of renewable energy is plummeting and the efforts of the Green New Deal show massive popularity and massive potential for real transformative action. But we all know for decades action has not happened. Why? Because fossil-fuel billionaires and corrupt politicians have bought out every level of our government. They have actively unseated politicians who call for climate action, they have dropped millions to defeat statewide climate initiatives and this is all part of a decades-long strategy of denial. And as of two years ago, they have even succeeded in putting a billionaire climate denier into the highest political office of this country."

Shiney-Ajay is redefining corruption away from small unmarked bills in an aluminum suitcase toward the slower, deeper, more thorough distortion of the political process away from services to vulnerable constituents toward the service of powerful interests. When you have a clear will of the people and public benefits associated with the transition to a clean economy, it’s only the corrupting influence of deeply entrenched fossil fuel interests that can resist that change.

Siney-Ajay also describes the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, who famously tweeted four years earlier that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and more recently wished for “a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming” during the midwest polar vortex, as the apotheosis of this corruption.

President Donald Trump, left, hugs West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, right, after Justice announced at a campaign-style rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va., Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, that he is changing parties. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) photocredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two years after Trump's inauguration the election results are in. CO2 emissions increased by 3.4% in 2018 after falling in each of the three previous years. In the eighteen months since President Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the gap that the US needs to close in order to meet its target has widened.

The 2016 general election saw a Trump wave across the state of West Virginia. Trump’s margin of victory, 68.5%, gave him his largest share of the vote in any state. West Virginia was one of only two states where every county went to Trump. In Jefferson County, where I live with 12,787 registered Democrats, 12,332 Republicans and 13,452 Independents, strong turnout by Trump voters (53.9%) and weak showing for Clinton (38.8%) pushed every significant down-ballot races to Republicans.

Two Jefferson County Commission (JCC) members swept into office for six-year terms on Trump’s coattails, Josh Compton and Caleb Wayne Hudson, have become pivotal figures in the Rockwool controversy. In an interview conducted a few weeks before 2018 midterms, the editor of the Spirit of Jefferson, Carolyn Snyder, specifically blamed the defeat of Dale Manuel by Compton in the 2016 cycle for bringing Rockwool and heavy industry to the county.

“Dale Manuel always called for public hearings on anything and everything. If he had been on the commission you would have had this discussion in public early on,” Snyder said. “You can place blame all over the place, but the voters elected Josh Compton over Dale Manuel…. saying we don’t want somebody that has two terms under his belt, has been a state lawmaker and knows all the ins and outs. We want a brand new person who hasn’t really been paying attention to Jefferson County or Jefferson County politics, and they put him in that role, and he didn’t call for a public hearing.”

I spoke with Commissioner Compton soon a few days before the 2018 midterms to gauge his level of support for the water bond to serve the Rockwool factory scheduled for a vote by the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) on November 7th, the day after the election. According to several JCDA board members President Eric Lewis had the requisite number of votes lined up to push through the water bond. Compton said he would wait for the election results and take action if necessary in accordance with the will of the people.

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While the 2016 election in Jefferson County was driven by enthusiasm for the candidate at the top of the ticket and his anti-immigration, anti-regulation and isolationist rhetoric, 2018 was effectively a referendum on Rockwool. The three West Virginia State House districts in Jefferson County shifted by 30, 17 and 13 points in favor of anti-Rockwool candidates between 2016 and 2018. By a 12-point spread, the anti-Rockwool vote unseated incumbent Riley Moore, the nephew of Senator Shelley Moore-Capito and grandson of the late Governor Arch Moore, who was expected to assume the mantle of Majority Leader.

According to Republican candidate Mike Folk, who lost to incumbent State Senator John Unger’s re-election bid, polls were showing the county at 2 to 1 against the Rockwool plant with only 10 to 20% undecided or unaware of the issue. In the race with the most bearing on the outcome of the Rockwool project former Jefferson County Prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti, an anti-Rockwool Democrat, was elected to the JCC over the incumbent Republican Rockwool advocate Pete Onoszko.

On the morning of the schedule water bond vote, JCC President Josh Compton emailed JCDA board members and posted the following on Facebook:

“Regarding the JCDA water vote that is scheduled to occur at 1:00pm: If there are members of the JCDA that are not comfortable voting or feel they need more information prior to making a decision, I think it would absolutely prudent to request an extension of the vote timeline rather than making a decision they may or may not be confident doing…”

Compton’s call for a deliberative process was both the result of the midterm election and the public release a week earlier of explosive emails from JCDA board members Lyle Tabb and Julia Yuhasz to Lewis provided by the City of Ranson in response to a JCV Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. ). The email from Tabb conveyed his concern that Lewis had violated the Open Meetings Act by admonishing and threatening board members to vote for the water bond in executive session. Yuhasz noted a lack of clarity, transparency, communications and purpose. The outcome, they were told, was preordained and the board was informed they were potentially personally liable for damages even though they lacked independence or volition.

Most significantly, Yuhasz stated that she was unaware of the nature of the project, that it was heavy industry with potentially significant health impacts, until after the point when the organization for which she is a fiduciary had obligated the county. From her email:

In reviewing how we got to this point, I believe insufficient communication was provided about the projects and processes that JCDA Board or Staff is involved in or routinely participates in. I did not know, for example, the full scope of “Project Shuttle’s” impact until the public attention and data reporting received in the past two months. I was never given the impression that Rockwool was heavy industry, could have such significant health impacts on compromised populations, or would be building smokestacks. Had such information been provided about Rockwool, Members would have had over a year to conduct their own research and discuss with others. I believe that many JCDA members would have participated in a more robust discussion of this project or whether it was the “right fit” for Jefferson County. I feel extremely uncomfortable voting for something that many in public leadership do not entirely understand even now or fervently oppose as a decision which creates financial obligations for Jefferson County for the next 40 years, has untold public health implications, and great potential to drastically change the character of our community.

The planned Rockwool factory is expected to disrupt 15 viewsheds. This rendering shows Rockwool's Byhalia, MS plant superimposed on one such viewshed in Jefferson County, WV. Photocredit: Danny Johnson Love and Sol Photography.

As JCDA president, Lewis had two options. He could ignore Compton's plea, hold the vote and push through the water bond, or he could postpone the vote and allow for further deliberation and input by the JCDA board. He chose a third option.

After canceling the November 7th meeting, Lewis hand-delivered a resignation letter to the JCC two days later accompanied by the resignations of 11 of the other 20 directors. Because the volunteer JCDA board requires at least 12 members to function, the body of public officials accountable to the citizens was rendered ineffective, giving free-reign to Executive Director Nic Diehl who had been recruited by Lewis to the paid position from the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO). Lewis’ wife Joy Lewis continues to receive a salary from WVDO in the position formerly held by Diehl promoting economic development in the Eastern Panhandle.

According to Tabb, the mass resignation was likely orchestrated by William Rohrbaugh, the counsel retained by the JCDA for work on the water bond. “Now that there is no quorum on the board until the County Commission makes its appointments Nic Diehl has no oversight. I know for a fact Diehl is making legal decisions and taking advisement, actions for which the board is supposed to provide oversight,” he said. “The more Eric got frustrated with the bond not passing, the more evident it became that Eric had made a promise and he wasn’t delivering. ‘I’ve been JCDA president for 20 years. I’ll get the votes.’ He tried to do it quickly. Really quick.”

When opposition emerged, Lewis dug in. “The first time he got short and annoyed was at the second reading of the water bond when there was a lot of public input,” said Tabb. From that point on Lewis behaved very differently to Tabb. “He wanted to just jam this thing through. If it gets messed up, it would be on him. He told someone he could deliver and he was frustrated by people saying it was a bad deal. He saw the public negativity as just noise. He had already made his mind up and that was his perspective.”

Tabb said that Lewis’ view of his constituency was typical of the majority of the JCDA board. “Public comment didn’t mean s--- to him, and not just in the most recent case. He went to a town hall about the Mountaineer Gas pipeline in 2017 at the Shepherdstown Men’s Club. He was very defiant, defensive and pretty much went away from there saying everyone who was there was an activist and uninformed. I would assume he would consider all opinions and make a decision based on that. From the start of public comment on Rockwool, he and the board majority saw public comment as noise and nuisance that they had to put up with to get the water bond passed. That was disappointing.”

According to a source close to Steve Stolipher, a current Planning Commissioner and former JCDA board member, Nic Diehl suggested the mass resignation to get the board under the 12-member threshold required for oversight and governance. Dan Casto, one of the JCDA board members who resigned along with Stolipher and Lewis, denied there was any coordination that led to 11 members resigning on same day, followed by Lewis 24 hours later. “One person decides to resign, then another person decides,” he stated in an email response to a request for comment.

Ray Bruning (far right) and Dan Casto (second to right) listen to public comment at the January 7 Charles Town City Council Meeting. Photocredit: David Levine

The JCC reduced the size of the board to 15 members, solicited applications and announced that interviews and appointments would occur promptly. After receiving 39 applications (including my own) for the 7 remaining open positions, current JCC President and outspoken Rockwool advocate Patsy Nolan added an agenda item seeking the removal of all JCDA board members and requiring their reappointment. The action would further delay the restoration of governance and oversight until at least the end of the month and provide the JCC with an opportunity to re-stack the board with Rockwool supporters.

The January 17, 2019 meeting was packed with citizens urging the JCC to leave the current JCDA members in place and move quickly to appoint new board members. Of the 30 or so citizens providing public comment only a few, including Casto and Planning Commissioner Ray Bruning, spoke in favor of Rockwool. Bruning characterized the Rockwool opposition as anti-growth and Casto admonished the JCC to be the “adults in the room” and ignore the citizens providing public comment against the administrative maneuvers that appeared to favor the development of heavy industry.

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Noland asked every JCDA board candidate the same question, “Do you support Jefferson County Vision in their lawsuit against the Development Authority?” JCV has actually filed several lawsuits against the JCDA. Two are related to the JCDA’s refusal to release records pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and the other concerns the constitutionality of the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rockwool who, according to Amanda Foxx of JCV, “conspired with local government to pay nothing at all for many years. In other years, Rockwool pays at a tiny fraction of the rate every other business and citizen pays.”

Tim Ross, an applicant for a seat on the JCDA board, stated that Nolan’s question on the JCV lawsuit “is kind of a chilling question.” Her response, “It is chilling. It’s meant to be.”

Leigh Smith, the Jefferson County Vision President, called Nolan’s question posed of applicants to a public office unconstitutional. “We sought legal advice about the constitutionality of the questions and have confirmed that your questions, and any similar questions of JCDA applicants, or consideration of responses are a violation of their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Litigation is a form of freedom of expression, and is protected under the U.S. Constitution. Thus, your questions seeking their views on the JCV litigation, which you used to intentionally ‘chill’ the applicants was a violation of their constitutional rights. Likewise, all citizens have a right to the freedom of association without harassment by the government – your negative commentary against JCV and those who support it, along with your misuse of your position of authority to harass or intimidate those who express views advocated by JCV, are also a violation of the constitutional rights of your constituents.”

State Supreme Court Justices file past Concern Citizens Against Rockwool Rally at the opening of the legislature and State of the State Address in Charleston, WV. Photocredit: Benita Keller

Diehl will be operating the JCDA without governance or oversight until the appointment of a board that meets the organizational requirements. The second round of interviews is currently scheduled for March 7th, meaning it will be at least a month before the governance of the JCDA is established. Lyle Tabb notes that the last time a seat on the JCDA opened, shortly before the water bond vote, the JCC quickly appointed Sandra Bruning, wife of vocal Rockwool advocate and Planning Commissioner Ray Bruning.

Tabb states, “I don't know of a prior instance where they had 2 rounds of interviews. This process has taken so very long. It's getting ridiculous. 5 of the sitting 8 (including me) have terms that expire April 5, 2019.” He suggests the delay is another attempt to purge the JCDA board of those who question the wisdom of the Rockwool deal.

Until the JCDA board is properly composed, Diehl will submit reports to the JCC on finances and general activities. Rather than providing comfort, the idea of Diehl providing information privately to the JCC rather than the JCDA board is seen as a cause for further concern. Lyle Tabb listened to Diehl’s presentation to the Jefferson County Commission and challenged his use of the term “we”. “There’s never been a ‘we’ since I've been on. There hasn’t been a tangible ‘we’ since our last meeting in October... He has deflected every attempt by the remaining members to assemble since. Even had counsel back him up on it. It sounds like he’s implying he would go along with a full board reset when he calls for a 'fresh start.' I really think that's disrespectful and I take it that way.”

Tabb feels Diehl is an expert salesman with a slick spiel, but the board is only “asked to rubber stamp. I have ideas about how that culture can change, and I have support for that and the other members have great ideas too. Doesn't matter if our voices aren't heard on the board. JCDA has been steered by the executive committee for a long time. They hired Nic, and now they are gone. I think he is more comfortable not having a board. That would be more like his old job. He has no oversight, he knows it, and JCC doesn't seem concerned enough to do anything.”

When Diehl was hired, Noland stated “I’ve known Nic for a long time and I’m very excited... he was the best candidate for the job. Nic can hit the ground running. He is keenly aware of the economic development in the county. I think he is keenly aware of projects that have been and continue to be in the pipeline. And I think he was a great choice.”

Former Commissioner Peter Onoszko chimed in at the time, “Nic was involved, and if you look at his resume, you’ll see that his current position is with the West Virginia Development Office… He was involved in the Roxul (Rockwool) contract and bringing them over here. He was involved in the TEMA, that’s the Italian valve whatever makers, and getting them here. There are several irons in the fire of various degrees of hotness that Nic is involved in from the state Development Office level--in fact representatives of one them had dinner here recently and Nic was an attendee there. His stepping into that position makes it absolutely seamless.”

Working with Reisenweber, Diehl was actively recruiting Rockwool to Jefferson County while employed by the State of West Virginia. Then Lewis recruited Diehl to replace Reisenweber, freeing up a spot with the State for his wife Joy managing business and industrial development for the Eastern Panhandle.

While operating without oversight, Diehl took action in the JCV FOIA lawsuit, attempting to keep records on the Rockwool transaction secret. JCDA’s attorney Carte Goodwin, former Chief Counsel for Manchin who kept a Senate seat warm for him after the death of Robert C. Byrd, filed a motion to dismiss the JCDA’s complaint stating that all documents related to economic development are by their very nature exempt from disclosure, even when the transactions have closed and taxpayers are on the hook for over $37 million in incentives.

The issues of transparency and suppression of the public record came to a head in a special session of the JCC convened last week to discuss the options for reconstituting the JCDA board or appointing new members. During public comment Kai Newkirk, a native of Jefferson County and nationally-recognized progressive organizer, invoked the corruption of civic governance, explained the basis of the opposition to the plant and warned the commissioners how opposition will only increase if they choose to side with corporate interests over their constituents.

He began by stating why he returned to the county to begin organizing, “as I’ve heard from afar about what’s been happening with the Rockwool development I’ve really been outraged to see that this was being pushed forward and was going to put… profits of a multinational corporation before the health of children in our community, before the long-term sustainable economic development of our community, before the land, the air, the water, that is the basis of why so many of us want to be here.”

Kai Newkirk leads a meeting of Resist Rockwool in Martinsburg, WV (third from right, hand raised). Photocredit: Susan Pipes

Newkirk defines corruption broadly as the willful manipulation by public officials of civic governance against the majority in favor of corporate interests. “People are outraged in part because this has been a very anti-democratic process that many people feel is corrupt and I feel needs to be investigated further. When we look at the hearings and how things have been rolled out and how it’s moved forward this is a very serious concern. If now, after this most recent election when the results show a very clear mandate against this project. If now this commission moves forward in a way that entrenches the commitment... regardless of that opposition I think that’s only going to deepen the sense that this is being pushed through against the will of a majority of people in this county.”

Finally, Newkirk presents the stakes to the commissioners. “If this project moves forward, and you and others continue to be on the wrong side of that moral question I believe it’s very clear that resistance is going to grow. And this opposition is only going to intensify. And you’re going to be faced more and more with the question of whether it’s courageous and right for this community and back up the clear will of the majority or stand frankly in a shameful position of rejecting that and moving forward something that will be viewed very negatively in history. And so i appeal to you and your conscience to stand with the will of the majority and do what’s right.”

After Newkirk’s call for courage and openness, Noland called in the JCC attorney and proposed closing the meeting to the public and conducting their deliberation on the composition of the JCDA board in executive session. According to the WV Ethics website, a governing body may only go into executive session for the reasons set forth in the Open Meetings Act at W.Va. Code § 6-9A-4. Noland’s motion for executive session was predicated on the discussion of “pending litigation,” thought the matters in litigation involving the JCC were not related to the composition of the JCDA board.

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Commissioners Lorenzetti and Compton vocally expressed their preference for conducting the deliberation in the open, and only afterward going into executive session for specific matters that might require attorney-client privilege in ongoing litigation. When Nolan called for a vote, however, Compton voted with Nolan and Hudson in the majority against Lorenzetti and Tabb to turn off the cameras and remove the public.

After sitting for a moment in shock, the public obediently filed out of the room.

A Call for Kindness and Courage

"Yet the actual practice of economic development and its dismal results are poorly understood, in part because its activities are often conduction in secrecy. Were the public really to understand what's being done on its supposed behalf, there might be rioting in the streets."

The Local Economy Solution by Michael Shuman.

The dynamic tension between industry and public policy, known as “economic development,” has long been a driver of the American narrative. The movie Chinatown and the second season of True Detective were set against the backdrop of water rights, utilities and real estate development in Southern California. Kingpin, the villain of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, is, on one hand, a brutal mob boss and on the other a real estate developer who just wants to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen and happens to corrupt senior members of the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of local government along the way. PG&E’s shady real estate deal that endangered public health was exposed by an unemployed single mother in the eponymous Erin Brockovich.

Several sources close to Lewis describe him as a Kingpin figure in Jefferson County. All speaking under condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, they describe him as highly controlling and manipulative. One spoke of a neighbor moving off of Lewis’ residential development to leave his sphere of influence. Another talked of Lewis as the golden boy of Cress Creek, the country club community outside Shepherdstown, continually dropping into conversations the fact that he is an owner of the club. Lewis received an ownership interest in Cress Creek as compensation for accounting services. (Lewis did not respond to a request to comment).

Until recently, I was unaware of this view of Lewis. We have had a contentious relationship over the years, and after each falling out we made amends but never re-established a friendship or went out of our way to talk beyond a brief greeting when we found ourselves together in line at the grocery store or at the same bar or restaurant.

On September 5th 2018, early in the cycle of controversy, I texted Lewis to ask “what would be the downside of developing an exit strategy on Rockwool?” In the ensuing dialogue, Lewis stated “If citizens who were not involved now want to get involved, that’s great. I will hand them the keys and wish them luck.”

When it became clear that this offer was disingenuous and that Lewis had no interest in my input or public comment, I started a weekly meetup called “Alt-JCDA” at the Town Run Community Taphouse to talk about how citizens could take economic development initiatives into our own hands, particularly in ways that encouraged entrepreneurship and local small business success. After a few meetings, one of the attendees suggested a more attractive designation for the group, and we agreed on Smart Growth Syndicate. Four of those involved introduced the concept during public comment at the October 16, 2018, JCDA board meeting.

Our group began to attract whistleblowers suggesting that Lewis had motives for triggering the mass resignation of the JCDA board beyond obstructing oversight and reducing transparency to keep the Rockwool project on track. One involves Lewis leveraging his position as President of the Shepherd University Board of Governors, a public institution, to secure a lucrative development deal of his own. The other involves an investment fund to capitalize on the industrialization of Jefferson County.

Ken and Dolores Blust are Jefferson County residents against Rockwool. Ken was in the Navy in WWII. Photocredit: Diane Blust

Lewis resigned as President of the JCDA on November 9, 2018. One month later he stood before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to request a variance that would allow him to build a WVU urgent care clinic on property he purchased for over $1M at the height of the real estate bubble that burst in 2008. According to a source, Lewis did not want the scrutiny that came with his public role in the Rockwool controversy. He was also hoping the new project proved popular enough to restore his reputation in Jefferson County while pulling himself out of a personal financial crater.

According to a source, Lewis bullied his way into the Chair of the Board of Governors position, at one point pushing another board member to tears. Once there he silenced Dr. Mary Hendrix, the President of Shepherd University and an outspoken scientist with a background in cancer research and children’s health, to prevent her from criticizing the Rockwool plant, a development that could negatively impact applications to Shepherd and admission rates.

Shepherd University had several options for the siting of the WVU clinic, including property owned by Shepherd and property adjacent to Shepherd on the same side of Route 9 owned by the founder of the Bavarian Inn, whose two sons were the current owners and close friends of Lewis. According to the source, one of the sons intervened on behalf of Lewis and pushed his father’s property out of contention for the clinic. Alan Perdue, the Shepherd University General Counsel, sent a letter to Lewis asking him to stay out of the matter and not compete for the clinic due to his position as Chair of the Board of Governors. (Perdue declined to comment).

Lewis had planned to develop 40 townhomes on his parcels and received the requisite approvals, but the more lucrative WVU health clinic was too enticing. The variance application was to change the setbacks from 75 feet to 25 feet to accommodate the clinic and two of other commercial properties as designed.

Back on September 19, 2018, shortly after Forbes published my previous article on the Rockwool controversy I received the following Facebook message:

“As a long term resident of Shepherdstown, I want to thank you for wrapping up the Rockwool situation in a way and with a knowledge that only you could, David. You may (or may not) recognize me as the woman from town who is missing her right leg and walks on forearm crutches. I'm typically chasing a small boy on a scooter. (; I sit down here, now relocated to Florida, largely because of Mr. Lewis (coincidentally), and I've felt so completely out of touch with what is actually happening with all of this...”

I sent a brief response and put the message out of mind.

Then, during the executive session of the special JCC meeting, last week, when the public was chatting in small groups in the hallway, the conversation turned to the documentary The Devil We Know about the 50-year cover-up of toxic pollution from DuPont’s Teflon plant in Parkersburg, WV. The people who had seen it said several elements of the backstory were frighteningly similar to the situation with Rockwool in Jefferson County.

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A friend mentioned a Facebook thread in response to Rep. Alex Mooney’s (R-WV) praise of Trump’s the State of the Union. Trump and Mooney advocated the further removal of regulations constraining the emissions of toxic and hazardous pollutants that protected public health. The comments were about the DuPont victims in Parkersburg, and one read, “I’m one of them. A competitive swimmer who spent all of my developmental years in those waters. At 25 I had to amputate a quarter of my body due to an unrecognizable bone cancer of my hip socket. I literally spent my childhood swimming in Teflon. And I've got the scars to prove it. Interesting side note- my childhood dog was diagnosed with the same atypical cancer in the exact same location 5 years earlier. Industry will always put their bottom line above the lives and health of the people. They always have - they always will. What regulations we can force upon them . . . please do. For the sake of God, please do. They will always take so much more than they're allowed, so at least let's bring the starting line way back on them. Please?--”

I clicked on the commenter’s name, Tracy Danzey, to send a direct message asking about her experience in Parkersburg and found that she was the person who had sent the message last September mentioning forearm crutches, scooter-riding son and circumstances relating to “Mr. Lewis.” I asked if I could give her a call to learn more.

Tracy Danzey, a competitive swimmer from Parkersburg, WV where DuPont had a Teflon Plant. Left, Danzey competes in the 1991 Great Lake Zone Regional Championships in Kalamazoo, MI. Right, Danzey's medley relay team prepares to compete. Danzey, facing forward adjusting her cap, specialized in backstroke.

Danzey was born in 1979 and spent her youth in the Parkersburg waters where she went to high school and swam competitively from the age of two. “I spent my days and nights in those waters. If it wasn’t in a pool year-round competitive swimming I was on boats with friends or out tubing on the rivers. If you asked anyone who knew me you would think of me as a high-energy swimmer and runner.”

DuPont knew they were releasing the highly toxic chemical C8 “for a long time," Danzey said. "Into the water table, in the streams. It was everywhere.”

In 1998 Danzey matriculated at Shepherd University to study nursing and lived in the dorms on West Campus. Two years later she learned her childhood dog developed a rare form of osteosarcoma, a cancer originating in the bone of her left hip socket. It rapidly metastasized throughout her dog’s body and killed her. She sent the acetabulum to pathologists who responded that the curious form of cancer had never been seen before. Danzey was heartbroken but went on with life.

Tracy Danzey in 2002, before her cancer, was a self-described "outdoors freak."

In 2001 doctors discovered she had a rare thyroid trapping disorder. Her thyroid was taking in iodine and instead of producing hormones it forms a goiter. They ruled out Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease and genetic disorders. A few years ago scientists conclusively determined that thyroid disease is a common health impact of C8 exposure.

In 2003 she moved into an apartment above the Pharmacy, a favorite restaurant on the main drag of Shepherdstown. The next year she received a graduate degree, married and started work as a nurse in the hospital in Martinsburg that’s now part of the WVU medical system. Her husband managed ground operations at the Frederick Airport.

One evening in the spring of 2005 the 25-year old Danzey was running with her husband during one of his long evenings waiting for a plane. She suddenly collapsed on the runway thinking her hip was broken. As a nurse, she knew it was really bad. “It was pretty dramatic,” she recalls. “The plane that was descending toward the landing strip had to keep circling because they couldn’t move me.” Danzey is grateful she was in Frederick because the emergency room doctors knew to transfer her immediately to the shock trauma center in Baltimore. After many tests and scans, they diagnosed a serious form of cancer and transferred her to Mount Sinai for care. Eventually, they determined that the same atypical osteosarcoma that had killed her dog had metastasized from her hip socket to the surrounding soft tissue.

Instead of a broken hip, it turned out that the tumor had exploded. The doctors described it as “like kicking sand across a shag rug.” They had to cut it all out, otherwise they had to assume that some sand particles would remain. This meant a radical hemipelvectomy where half the pelvis is removed and the gluteus maximus is sewed to abdominal muscles in front to give enough support to hold in her internal organs on that side. She remained in traction in the hospital from April to August, when they finally performed the surgery.

They warned Danzey that when she came out of surgery she might not have any feeling in her pelvic region, she might be incontinent and she might not be able to use her remaining let because before they went in, the doctors didn’t know how far they might need to go up or how much they might need to take out.

Tracey Danzey was "Sick...As...S---" during her multiple rounds of chemo in 2005, while still in traction after surgery.

After that, she went through an unusual regimen of chemotherapy at MD Anderson because the doctors didn’t know what would kill these particular cancer cells. Her husband had to stop working and sat by her bedside as she learned to get around on forearm crutches.

When Danzy came out of the hospital in August 2005 she was unable to navigate the stairs to her apartment above the Pharmacy with a wheelchair and crutches, so she moved into a tiny brown slate one-floor house owned by Bill and Dixie Knighten, retired farmers living next door beside the Sheetz just outside Shepherdstown.

She cared for the Knightens as a nurse through several illnesses. After a few years, Bill Knighten came to her and said “we want to leave you that home, but we may have to work it a little differently because there’s a development group that would pay a good price for all 16 acres. We’ll make sure you have a home on the property. We may have to purchase you a home or build a new one, but no matter what you’ll have a comparable place to live.”

Before she started treatment, several people suggested she have her eggs frozen, but she figured with so many kids in foster care that needed a home she would adopt if she got to that point. She was told that there was no possibility of her being fertile, and her probability of survival was so low, she didn’t really expect it live long enough to be a mom.

Then at the five year remission mark she went in for a scan and found she was four months pregnant with a son. Her doctors were upset. They had blasted her so hard with chemo they had couldn’t imagine the child would survive. She had constant pain in her pelvic region and they didn’t know what would happen if a baby added to the pressure. The doctors wanted to terminate the pregnancy immediately. She delivered a perfectly healthy baby.

Tracy Danzey in the snow in front of her little home owned by the Knightens in Shepherdstown and more recently on the beach with her son, now seven years old.

It turns out that Eric Lewis and his partner Chris Colbert managed the development group that bought the property from Knighten to build a high-density housing project called Rumsey Green. Knighten assured Danzey that they would take care of her and that her rights to a home were in the contract. During that time they talked openly about the situation. Then Dixie Knighten got sick and passed away and not long after, in January 2014, Bill Knighten died.

Danzey went to their son, Billy Knighten who was in his late 40s or early 50s at the time, and offered to move. Billy, who was on the autistic spectrum, told her not to worry. He said that making sure she had a home was “the only they asked me to do. The only thing I promised I would do.”

While telling Danzey everything was fine and not to worry, Lewis and Colbert worked on Billy to cut her out, slowly convincing him that he didn’t need to honor the contract.

"At a certain point, in the middle of negotiation between Billy and Rumsey Green, Eric Lewis took over managing Billy's finances, farm bookwork, doing his taxes, that kind of stuff. Billy told me that he was thinking about it and I told him that he absolutely couldn't because he can't hand over their finances to someone who he is negotiating the sale of a property with. A big sale. I told him that that was unethical for Eric to do professionally and that Eric should never be willing to take that on. But Billy handed over his business to Eric right in the middle of it all," Danzey wrote in a message. "At that time, Chris and Eric were taking Billy out to dinner for 'meetings' a lot and having women flirt with him, etc. Billy, now in his late 40s, had never had a girlfriend. He was ripe for the picking. Very easy to manipulate. His mother and father worried a lot about what would happen to him when they were gone. I promised Dixie I would help him, and I did until he pushed me away. I was his medical power of attorney last I knew. He asked me to be. I signed papers agreeing. He asked me to do what was best for him should the moment ever occur."

Danzey provided screen captures of text messages with Colbert that began on September 27, 2015 and that tell the story, as Danzey puts it, of “such a strange situation. Lewis and Colbert were open and generous until they felt they could get away with manipulating an autistic guy and then pushed a handicapped women out of her house.”

Some text messages concern a meeting between Danzey and Colbert at her kitchen table where, according to Danzey, Colbert suddenly claims that there “was never a plan to provide a home for us, even though I have had open conversations with him about it in the past, repeatedly. He says they are trying to ‘do the right thing’ and offer us a down payment on a home. $40K. Chris is calling Eric asking him questions that I’m asking him. I am emotional. Very. I’m devastated because I know what’s coming. He leaves with me crying saying, ‘I don’t know what we're going to do.’ I told him we'd think about it. I asked him why Bill Knighten, Sr. would lie to me. Why Dixie would lie? He shrugged his shoulders.”

In the text thread Colbert finally states they’re “not budging on anymore than $50K.”

Danzey reports by text to Colbert that “Mark (her husband, a service-connected disabled veteran) has been in and out of the hospital for a few days with cardiac issues and seizures. We are drowning just trying to keep the basics together here. I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it is the reality that stands before me.”

On Oct 18, Danzey writes, "Chris, I really do want to thank you for helping me with all of this, and caring about where we end up in the end. It means a lot to me and I appreciate it so much. I’ve been lamenting upon this fact all weekend, and I just wanted to make sure that you knew that."

Tracy Danzey's awards from her competitive swimming days in Parkersburg, WV and more recently Danzey walks on the beach.

The next day Colbert responds, "Good morning Tracy. We are currently working out the details on our end and will likely have specific terms drafted in the near future."

On November 1st Danzey writes "Hi Chris. Sorry to bother you. Just wanted to check in and see if you guys are still on the same timetable as when we spoke before (in terms of when you need us to leave the property). Just trying to plan and pack at the correct pace here. Hope you don't mind me asking. Packing is a slow process for me, even though we don’t have a lot. I just want to make sure that we are progressing quickly enough Thanks Chris! Hope you and yours are well."

Three days later Danzey hasn’t received an answer. "Ya there?” she writes. “Did you get my last message? Just wanted to make sure we are on track with packing. Johnny's teacher has been asking if we will be here in the spring semester because there are kids who need his spot if we will be out then, And on that note, if we will be leaving midstream spring semester, we need to decide if we would rather do that or start him in a different pre-k at spring semesters start. I know - all of it not your problem, but if you wouldn't mind updating me a tad, it would really help me in this process.”

Colbert responds, " Hey Tracy. We are currently working on a timeline and will let you know as soon as it is nailed down."

On December 12th, Tracy writes, “Feeling pretty nervous these days. Haven’t heard from you in quite some time. Can you give me some idea of what we are looking at here Chris, and how that pertains to my life? Pretty nerve shattering living in a state of limbo. Hope that you and yours are happy and well as we enter the Christmas season. I wish you the best Chris.”

There is no more communication from Colbert or Lewis until an eviction letter arrives demanding that she vacate the property.

"Over and over again the investors for the Rumsey Green project kept dropping out. I feel like it was 2-3 times the deals fell apart with different potential investors each time. I remember mumblings about it not being enough population for the profit margin the investors were looking for. I don't really know David, but I do find it very suspicious that suddenly Eric developed solid investors for Rumsey Green just as he was putting this Rockwool deal together under the sheets in this corrupt secretive way. Everyone kept asking 'Why would Eric do this in his own backyard?'" Tracy continued, "A few old farmers went out to talk to Billy Jr. when he 'evicted' us. They begged him to change his mind. They begged him for the name and contact info of the person or group that purchased the land. They wanted to ask the buyers if they would allow us to stay in the home long enough to pack and to not be displaced. Billy refused to tell them who the buyers were. Refused."

“Bill would be rolling in his grave if he knew,” said Danzey. “I was like a daughter to him... It was so sad and unnecessary. If they hadn’t come to me and said they would take care of it, I could have found a way to manage. It was an awkward, strange and manipulative situation. I couldn’t find accessible handicapped housing in time and had to move back in with my mother in Parkersburg. It was a sad situation that didn’t need to be sad, even if they changed their mind” about taking care of her. “It’s a small town,” she thought. “They would have to see her every day” if she stayed.

Her husband and son developed respiratory conditions in Parkersburg, so they moved to an island off the coast of Florida with clean air and ocean breezes. Danzey says her son, now seven, is mischievous but she doesn’t get too upset about anything. Her challenges have made her a very tolerant, if exhausted, mom.

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Danzey has remained close with many people in Shepherdstown and remembers distinctly being confused when people started arguing online about Rockwool and heavy industry. It seemed to be “the complete opposite of what Jefferson County has ever been. It’s such a safe place. For 20 years, all of my adult years, it raised me. In this beautiful place, I always felt safe. They care, they will make good decisions,” she thought.

“Through a horrific illness, they carried me. They carried me, David. I don’t expect that in a community. Now I feel an impending doom. When one heavy industry comes it opens the door to every heavy industry.”

“That of all places Jefferson county with its beautiful farmland and old people, not old in age, but people who do it in an old way, where so much has been preserved. It’s just completely devastating. Devastating, that someone can come and take take take. I’m tired of industries just taking. They’ve taken too much from me.”

It makes Danzey sad that people like Eric Lewis “who represent Jefferson County don’t understand that. They’re not seeing what the majority are seeing, what we’re valuing, what we’re preserving. It’s so sad that there are people in public positions that don’t see anything of what we’re seeing. They’re not experiencing anything.”

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia viewed from Maryland Heights, a popular hiking trail. Photocredit: Rebecca Heinlein

Last December, a couple months before I heard Danzey’s story, I submitted a letter to the BZA from Smart Growth Syndicate and provided public comment objecting to Eric Lewis’ application to change the setbacks from 75 to 25 feet to accommodate the WVU clinic. My primary objection was simple; the justification for the variance did not meet the requirements in the West Virginia State Code §8A-7-11. I knew that Shepherd University and WVU had other, better options for the medical clinic and the original approved plan for the Lewis property, affordable and workforce housing, better fulfilled the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

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Jennilee Hartman, the Zoning Clerk, agreed with the Smart Growth Syndicate objection. “The residential growth district was specifically called out in this section, I believe, it was intended for high-density residential development… I agree the variance can’t be granted on what’s currently proposed.” Yes, the land could be used for other purposes such as commercial or light industrial, but the rational Lewis provided for the variance on the setback was not sufficient or compliant.

While the BZA went into executive session to deliberate I chatted with Lewis’ banker. He told me his boss, Henry Kayes, the Chief Operating Officer and Regional President of United Bank, sent him to make sure the project stayed on track. Kayes was also on the Shepherd University Board of Governors and stood to make a good bit of money for his bank in the transaction.

When I first went to Charleston in 2005 to work in the West Virginia Development Office as a political appointee I was told to “wait my turn.” The advice I received was that I was on the right track. All I had to do was help other people push through their projects for a few years, serve on boards, rubber stamp applications of older, wealthier, more powerful people and I would cash in when it was “my turn.”

Here’s the thing. If you’re a public servant it’s never your turn. You’re always supposed to put what’s right for the general public, what’s best for other people, for your constituents, in front of your own interests. Always.

While Nolan asked every applicant to the JCDA board if they supported the JCV’s lawsuit, Lorenzetti asked each one if they were familiar with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan was a guide for the future. A way to preserve the character of the county and protect the commonweal while supporting development. Because Lewis invoked the Comprehensive Plan to support his project, which was not aligned with the comprehensive plan, and because he did not have proper justification the variance should not have been granted.

When the BZA returned from their deliberation in executive session they unanimously granted Lewis’ variance. Apparently the public officials decided it was in fact his turn.

Your Sacrifice Zone Is My Opportunity Zone

As Naomi Klein stated in the introductory watch-party video, “That is the promise of the Green New Deal. Not just would it allow us to avoid the apocalyptic future that we’re all so afraid of, but that it opens up the chance to build a beautiful present and we all can do that together.”

In Jefferson County, the apocalyptic future and beautiful present are like two parallel universes occupying the same space. We’re in a Twilight Zone episode where the self-interested actions of a few individuals have sent us on a trajectory that, because of a few more actions based on self-interest, accelerates the velocity of destruction. At the same time, the solution that appears so simple and evident to the audience is unachievable because of the compulsive repetition of the key players, unwilling or unable to stop change course.

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The drama began on Ranson’s centennial, October 18, 2010, when Ranson landed a unique triple play putting it well on its way toward a “beautiful present.” The US Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development announced Ranson as the only small city to receive “Partnership for Sustainable Communities” planning grants from all three agencies.

Before the HUD grant, Ranson had 1920s-style “euclidean” zoning that had separate uses for different areas. It was auto-dependent, not walkable and unsustainable. Because Ranson was built without any stormwater drainage plan, all the runoff made its way to the Chesapeake Bay. The grant funding was secured by Sustainable Solutions, a consultancy that serves municipalities across the country founded by Matt Ward of Charles Town, WV.

“Part of the grant was to switch to form-based, or ‘smart,’ codes that were mixed-use. Instead of putting a store way back from the street, put it up on the street with a wide sidewalk,” Ward said of the concept. “HUD gave out about 500 of these grants until Congress killed the program in 2012. $350,000 was awarded to Ranson to fix their zoning, fix the comprehensive plan and make it more sustainable.”

Ranson hired Placemakers from New Mexico to set up three model plans that are typical of what you would address in and around Ranson. They selected an eight-acre former brownfield site of the defunct Kidde Brass Foundry, now Powaton Place, that broke ground in 2013. The second model plan was a zone for a downtown infill project for which they created a whole site plan.

Then they decided to show “how you can do development on a farm that concentrates on an agricultural village but leaves a big green reserve,” as Ward put it, instead of putting the development all over the farm. This model site they selected was the 400 acre Jefferson Orchards.

In 2005, after 40 years in the apple business, the owner David Ralston and manager Ronnie Slonacker were ready to sell. This was pre-recession and Dan Ryan was building vinyl-sided cul-de-sac subdivisions across the county. Since 1999 Ranson had been annexing everything it could and handing it to residential developers like Dan Ryan, but they had reached a saturation point. Ranson knew they didn’t want more residential development that “didn’t make anything better. They’re not revenue positive. They’re not walkable, they’re not good,” as Ward explained it, Ralston agreed. “We’ll take commercial.”

Placemakers noted that the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) commuter train line to Washington, DC from Martinsburg, WV went right through Jefferson Orchards. The older Duffields station was nothing more than a platform, shelter and gravel parking lot off the smaller Flowing Springs Road in the middle of nowhere. Placemakers suggested moving the MARC station which put it right by Route 9, a highway that Senator Byrd had expanded, and a bike path. The Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (EPTA) wanted a transfer station and bus warehouse which Placemakers accommodated through a multi-modal design surrounded by a transit-oriented village.

Young woman with backpack takes the train. photocredit: Getty

The western section of the development featured a freight railroad, so Placemakers integrated light manufacturing, “Special District Industrial,” into the landscape in such a way as to be compatible with commercial and residential units clustered in the nearby village. The final design for the multi-use, transit-oriented development had the train station and village at the northernmost point of the City of Ranson, fully-annexed, so the project was named “Northport Station.”

Over 400 people participated in the planning, according to Ranson City Manager Andy Blake’s October 24, 2013 memo. “It was a record turnout for such a process in the region,” Blake wrote. “Yet what made this a model process was not the participation numbers. Rather it was how the participation made for better informed, better-tested outcomes, outcomes likely to overcome all the usual challenges confronting even the best ideas when it comes to adoption, implementation and enforcement. That’s because people with the power to advance or undercut the Plan’s effectiveness were partners in the process.”

While the mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) plan would have created a windfall of for the Ralstons, it required a sophisticated marketing plan that could attract regional or national developers. A search of the Urban Land Institute database available to members shows a hot market for mixed-use TODs and limited available property for development in the greater Washington DC metro area. Rather than actively market the plan produced by Placemakers under the federal grants, the Ralstons hired Jeffrey Haymaker who put up a few signs but didn’t have the sophistication required to secure a project developer according to a source familiar with the effort.

When Rockwool and Deloitte, their site selection consultant, visited Jefferson County for the first time in January 2017 they looked at two sites, Jefferson Orchards and a property near the Berkeley County/Jefferson County line owned by the Rockville, MD paving and construction firm F. O. Day.

According to a source familiar with the site visit, the nature of the project was not disclosed to owners and agents of sites under consideration but was portrayed as low-impact manufacturing of a green product. For a low-impact project, Rockwool representatives asked unusual questions that raised eyebrows. They asked the distance to the nearest cluster of homes, which was about a half mile. Then they asked the distance to the Hospice of the Panhandle, which was closer.

The site selection team was asked why they didn’t consider Berkeley County, which had more remote industrial sites. The answer was clear. Only Jefferson County was under consideration because it was the only county in West Virginia with zoning. If the site was zoned for industrial, and it received the requisite permits, it could not be stopped.

Stop Toxic Rockwool signs cover the landscape in rural Jefferson County, WV. photocredit: David Levine

While the F. O. Day site appeared to have the better water and sewer capacity available for the project, it was in Jefferson County proper and would need to go through the county’s permitting and planning process. In order to avoid going through a countywide process, Rockwool selected the Jefferson Orchard’s site, which had been annexed by the City of Ranson. Rather than negotiating with the five-member Jefferson County Commission and the eight-person Jefferson County Planning Commission, Rockwool just needed the Ranson City Council and Planning Commission to make a couple changes to the zoning ordinances and speed through the paperwork.

“At this point, nobody in Ranson city government knows much about Rockwool,” says Ward. They had seen slick brochures with “‘LEED certified,’ ‘Paris climate accords,’ ‘saving the world,’ ‘committed to sustainability’ printed on them. (Jefferson County Commissioner Jane) Tabb, (JCDA Executive Director John) Reisenweber, Blake, etc. went down (to tour the Byhalia, MS facility that) makes something that saves the world. Air permits, check. Nobody knew how polluting it was going to be. In May 2018 nobody thought it was like the pictures with all the smoke, the smokestacks, nobody thought it was like that.”

According to Ward, Reisenweber had seen major projects going to neighboring Berkeley County and he felt he had to put points on the board. Billed as a $150 million “investment,” Reisenweber wasn’t going to lose Rockwool. He had strong allies in Mark Ralston, a Dallas bankruptcy attorney who had inherited Jefferson Orchards with his brother when his father, David Ralston, died a couple years earlier, and Todd Hooker, a WV Department of Commerce industrial development executive.

The Commerce Department was willing to load infrastructure into Jefferson Orchards for Rockwool as part of a thousand-acre manufacturing zone, and Ralston said “‘Amen brother! Someone with money!’ Manufacturing would build out more manufacturing (so Ralston could unload the property). Ranson said we’d like to get the train station too, and at this time there still a genuine belief (that we were talking about light manufacturing compatible with the mixed-use plans),” according to Ward.

“Reisenweber called the Mayor of Ranson, the City Manager and Assistant City Manager with Deloitte, Rockwool’s site selection consultant and said, ‘we need everything waived,’” Ward said. Blake responded, “‘Go f*** yourself we’re not waving anything… all we can do is live by our code, we’re not waiving the code.’”

Ward said they went back and forth with variations on “‘You’re gonna f*** up these jobs, drop the restriction’ and ‘we’re following the code.’” According to Ward, when previous projects were brought to Ranson, Blake had responded with “we don’t want a polluting source,” which frustrated both Ralston and Reisenweber. So they didn’t tell him it was a polluting source, just that they needed more latitude and they didn’t want to come back for permission again. Instead of adjusting certain limits, they got rid of them.

Because Ward was the only one who would have known what questions to ask and would have seen the scale of the pollution, he was kept out of the process by Reisenweber (in a Facebook message, Reisenweber declined to comment). Ward had lobbied him back when Reisenweber worked for then-Representative Capito, and the two rarely saw eye-to-eye. Ward claims Reisenweber refused to put Ward under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that would have given him access to information about the company or industry that was sniffing around under the “Project Shuttle” alias. Ward did some digging and guessed it was a Volvo plant that was coming, because he knew Ranson and Jefferson County officials has toured a manufacturing plant in Mississippi, where Volvo had a factory.

Reisenweber collected signatures on the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement using the constant refrain of “jobs!” in order to lock-in the Jefferson County Council (JCC), Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA), the City of Ranson, the City of Charles Town and the Board of Education.

Matt Ward stops by the Town Run Community Tap House in Shepherdstown on Sundays after church. photocredit: David Levine

The PILOT agreement was approved by the City of Ranson on July 18, 2017. The PSD Application for Permit to Construct wasn’t filed with the DEP until November 20, 2017 with the notice going into the local paper of record two days later. This means the municipal and county public officials were locked into an agreement with Rockwool four months before anyone would have reasonably known that Rockwool was a major emitter, defined as a source of over 100 tons of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) per year according to Ward.

When Blake originally received the 65-page permit to construct, he assumed it would protect public health because “on the cover of it said ‘Clean Act Air Permit Approved.’ They didn’t open it up to see 92 tons of PM 2.5, they didn’t see 300 tons of phenols and formaldehyde, they didn’t see a thousand tons of criteria air pollutants... they didn’t look at that. And they certainly didn’t look at when the Mineral Wool National Emissions Standards Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) Act that was updated in 2015 to check if it was strong enough. They didn’t do any of that. They just saw the boxes were checked. Fire Marshall, check. DEP, check,” said Ward.

The better part of a year went by without anyone paying much attention to the progress of Rockwool. Then suddenly, “the week after July 4th, 2018 the Sierra Club’s letter to the DEP went public and July 7th to 9th boom! I read the air permit,” recounts Ward. His role shifted to, “How do I keep everyone calm. I was a crisis manager. I thought, maybe we made a mistake.”

According to Ward, “Andy Blake assumed a Clean Air Act permit meant it was safe for public health. I know that is not what the Clean Air Act does.” Both Blake and Ward read the 684 page PSD and were horrified. The DEP issues “a technology-based permit,” Ward continued, “which says that industry can or will consent to afford the limits of this permit. This permit will take on a smokestack and if you extrapolate out what will come out of it, guess what it’s 1500 tons of pollutants. That’s the permit we’re willing to put on in an industry-led, technology-based standard. If you did a health-based standard, you might go down to 100 pounds, not 1000 tons.”

The week of July 9th, 2018 after the Sierra Club letter, the Facebook group CCAR was growing “from a thousand to three thousand to five thousand to seven thousand. And people were upset, clearly,” reports Ward. “And I didn’t have to tell Duke Pierson and Andy Blake people were upset. People were really upset.”

“I represented Flint Michigan after they were poisoned. And got ‘em $300 million out of Congress which is about a third of what they needed just to fix their media problems, let alone the long-term damage. I know what angry citizens are about. I’ve helped manage angry citizens over environmental issues many times. And with the exception of Flint, as I told (Charles Town) Mayor Scott Rogers and Mayor Duke Pierson, this was the worst I’d seen.”

Locally, “there was a tempest over Huntfield, I was in the middle of that. The white supremacy plaque, I was in the middle. Gay non-discrimination ordinance… people were asking me about Rockwool, is this just the controversy of the year? This one is different. So I said to Ranson you gotta figure out how to get your way through this,” said Ward. “So I was writing a memo to the city. There are 7,000 people in the Facebook group, and I put the computer down to get dinner and I went back and there were 9,000 people in the group.”

Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool-Ranson pose with State Senator John Unger in Charleston. His district covers Jefferson County and part of neighboring Berkeley County. Photocredit: Benita Keller

The substance of the memo is crisis management, with coaching for the Mayor, City Manager and Assistant City Manager on how to address the issues and communicate with the public. In a footnote to the memo, which was released by the City of Ranson as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Jefferson County Vision (JCV), (). Ward provides this warning:

“For what it is worth, from my own personal perspective, the community controversy, anger, and level of organizing is very high and does not seem likely to subside any time soon. I have been an elected official in Jefferson County, been the subject of many protests, and also organized many protests, including on behalf of “smart growth” and environmental organizations. I have provided professional representation to municipalities dealing with environmental issues (including challenges from, among other groups, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council), and have been retained by environmental and community groups to organize protests, opposition, litigation, legislative/regulatory, and political action against polluting entities and projects. I have never seen an issue get so hot and so viral as this Rockwool reaction thus far.”

Blake and Erfurt, the Assistant City Manager, had been too clever by half. In their accommodations to Reisenweber and Rockwool when removing protections they’d painted himself into a corner. The zoning changes were made in such a way that Ranson’s ability to deny a permit was limited. The Rockwool project was on auto-pilot. As Deloitte had predicted, once the Air Permit was issued by the DEP, little could be done to stop the project, no matter how damaging or destructive it turned out to be.

“Everybody’s Gonna Die”

Rockwool, the DEP and the West Virginia Development Office quickly convened a private meeting at the Bavarian Inn to tamp down the outrage. Former Jefferson County Commissioner and State Senator Dale Manuel called DEP Secretary Austin Caperton to find out why they were holding the Bavarian meeting in private rather than seeking public comment.

According to Manuel, Secretary Caperton responded, “I don’t want to come all the way out there just to get my ass whupped.” A coal executive appointed to the post in 2017 by Governor Jim Justice, a coal company CEO, Secretary Caperton was charged with “getting rid of needless red tape that hurts job creation.”

Manuel wasn’t the only one concerned with the closed-door nature of the meeting. In an email send on August 6th, two days before the meeting, and made public by the Ranson FOIA, the EPA’s Mark Ferrell noted “a closed door meeting with ‘stakeholders,’ organized by a PR firm? Doesn’t sound kosher.”

According to an attendee of the Bavarian Inn meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, Secretary Caperton was challenged by Blake immediately on entering the room. “People are really upset,” said Blake. “People think that they’re gonna die.”

A Jefferson County resident wears a Toxic Rockwool hat for the DEP wastewater discharge hearing at the Ranson Civic Center. photocredit: David Levine

Secretary Caperton responded, “well everybody’s gonna die. Everybody dies. I guarantee that. Talk to an actuarial, 100% of us will die.”

Another attendee standing nearby chimed in, “are you f***ing serious? Is that what you’re going to respond with? I understand people are upset, well, everybody’s going to die. Your kids are going to die, too.”

When JCV submitted a FOIA request to the JCDA for information “requesting all documents about the meeting, created at the meeting or created after the meeting,” the JCDA refused, citing an exemption for “records associated with the JCDA’s effort to furnish assistance to a new business in West Virginia, which are not agreements signed or entered into by the JCDA that obligates public finds.”

The meeting attendee who spoke under condition of anonymity stated that Ranson Mayor Pierson and City Manager Blake used the meeting to challenge the DEP and Rockwool, looking for “which permit they could rip up without being told by the court we’re putting it back in. How do we get rid of them? Ranson couldn’t figure it out. Permits become vested rights, and you can’t take them back.”

By annexing Jefferson Orchards, changing zoning ordinances and accommodating heavy industry Ranson had unleashed a monster that was turning on its master. The Ranson city officials had no way to stop it.

I spoke with Mayor Pierson outside Charles Town’s City Hall after the December 12, 2018 meeting of the Charles Town Utility Board (CTUB). The City of Ranson and the adjacent City of Charles Town, the county seat, were in the process of merging their sewer systems and putting them under the control of Charles Town. The impact of wastewater from Rockwool and funding for the sewer was dominating the meetings.

Children cover their mouths with Toxic Rockwool stickers at a rally in Jefferson County. The factory is planned for construction across the road from an elementary school and within 2 miles of 30% of the public school population of Jefferson County. photocredit: Jenn Walker

Mayor Pierson had built his career at an Alcoa aluminum plant in nearby Frederick, MD. He considered the Rockwool emissions to be minor “compared to what we did.” He believed it was “the job of the DEP” to determine the acceptable level of emissions and enforce the limits that are set, not the municipality or county. He thought it was a mistake to reject Rockwool and feared it would be hard to recruit “any industry at all” to the area if we did.

He was front and center when the plant was first announced on July 6th 2017, proclaiming “I really am truly awful proud of what we have done” in one local paper and providing the more polished quote, “this investment will provide many high-quality jobs, expand infrastructure for future development and broaden our tax base” in another.

A year later, in July of 2018, shortly after the scale of the emissions, environmental impact and risk to public health became clear and the citizens of Jefferson County mounted an oppositional campaign, Mayor Pierson remained defiant, posting a statement ghost-written by Ward reiterating his endorsement of the project. The statement described a public process from March 2012 through 2017 that led to the siting of the Rockwool plant and described the introduction of manufacturing in Jefferson Orchards as an integral part of the plan for Ranson Renewed.

But as an elected official, Mayor Pierson had become clear that it was the overwhelming will of the people to make sure the Rockwool factory is never commissioned in Ranson. “The people don’t want it,” he said. It went against his instincts and better judgment, but if the citizens are against it, he wasn’t going to continue siding with the factory against the people. As an elected official, he believed he had no choice but to end his support of the project. He just isn’t sure there’s anything he can do.

Michael Tolbert, a City Council Member of nearby Charles Town, the County Seat, and Game of Thrones fan suggested in a text message that county residents shouldn’t give up on Ranson. “I ask that you sometimes think of Hodor,” he wrote. “It would help if maybe you folks would spend some quality time at the municipality that started this mess and pass out your checklist, call them names and more importantly build a political infrastructure to plan some changes to their political DNA by the time the next election comes along. If you want to weld shut the back door to heavy industry at Jefferson Orchards, start with the municipality that annexed it.”

Protesters outside a Charles Town City Council meeting. photocredit David Levine

Tolbert continued his appeal, “they have shorter meetings and softer seats in their chamber. I think Charles Town is The Vale. Yes, we own the problem but the conflict's real origin lies in a secret deal that House Tyrell (Ranson) started - always playing puppet master. Part of the problem is that all the County’s cities, the BOE and the JCC, with all its appointed entities that keep getting themselves in trouble, are simply little stovetop kingdoms that have yet to form a single union. Get us all together to build Kings Landing. I guarantee the fights will be twice as interesting. :)”

He also asked for patience. “Charles Town needs downtime,” Tolbert continued. “Winter is coming and we have an uptick in County homeless downtown and in the neighborhoods. We may also have a brewing opioid problem now that Martinsburg is closing down its drug house. We need some time to get our own house in order. City governments are nothing more, nothing less than public service providers on a budget.”

I responded to expect our participation in Charles Town affairs to continue, relentlessly, until the problem was solved. “Rockwool must be stopped,” I wrote. “That’s the beginning. Everything else comes next.”

“That I must say is a concise statement of your position. We have all the problems at the same time. I think we are Bear Island.”

The Power of Public Comment

Ranson broke away from the neighboring city of Charles Town in 1910 to pursue its destiny “as the industrial hub of Jefferson County anchored by a booming manufacturing economy.” A year ago, in January 2018, Ranson and Charles Town proposed merging their sewer systems and then completed the deal late last year giving the city of Charles Town control of the wastewater treatment services required by Rockwool.

Rockwool was a non-issue over the spring and summer of 2017. Charles Town City Council Member Mike Brittingham remembers the development being presented as a side note in a May meeting of the Ordinance Committee he chaired. It was presented as “by the way, Ranson is opening up development on Route 9 with an amazing financing package from the state,” he said. “We were 100% on board. There was no controversy. It was not on our radar.”

On August 6th, 2018 all that changed. Charles Town city government held a Building Commission meeting at 4pm, then a City Council meeting at 7pm. There was a major protest at the Building Commission meeting that went down the block and extensive public comment against the Rockwool sewer bond. Before the City Council meeting, Brittingham was standing in the vestibule of the Charles Town City Hall chatting with other council and staff members. They were aware of the protests, but the general consensus was that the Ranson development had “not much to do with us.”

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Walking into the August 6th meeting Brittingham was sold on the sewer project. “I was prepared to vote yes on the sewer bond and I still didn’t know much about the user. I just knew we were considering the end project of the sewer line,” he said.

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“The people who showed up are not who you would expect,” said Brittingham. “They were not your typical protestors. They were the kind of people who would see protest as a negative connotation. They were clearly not a special interest but representative of the population as a whole.”

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Brittingham was impressed with the fact that they all had different perspectives and information. There wasn’t an organized message, but they all “cared about stopping the industrialization of Jefferson County.” They saw “Rockwool as just step one. Not the worst polluter on the planet, no worse than other heavy industry, but it was clear that the state wants to industrialize Jefferson County because it’s the easiest to bring in. Advanced manufacturing, tech, clean high-paying jobs for people without a college education or maybe didn’t finish high school that will boost the economy” would be off the table he said. This was “all that West Virginia could accomplish,” and they were expecting Jefferson County to settle for what the State wanted to bring in.

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At the conclusion of the meeting, Brittingham summarized his position. “Sometimes in life you all the sudden have a moment and change your mind. Every time that public hearing comes up I always have my own opinion before it begins but I always try to keep in mind that public hearings are an extremely vital process in forming all of our opinions, as they should be. We can’t be dead set in our opinion before we hear them. And from what I’ve heard tonight, these people are coming here and they’re from Ranson, and they’re from Kearneysville and they’re from Shepherdstown, and you’re right. It’s not our problem. It’s not our problem.

“This is not in Charles Town. We might not have the right to stop it, but I’m a former Marine, I’m a former State Trooper, I’ve been in my volunteer fire department back home since I was 15 years old, although I no longer live there I’m still a member of it. I’ve devoted my life to helping out other people who need help, and these people have been wronged by their representatives that are supposed to be helping them, by the Ranson City Council, by the Jefferson County Commission...

“I watch videos all the time. We’ve all seen one where there’s a fight, or someone’s being assaulted and we ask ourselves ‘why are the four guys standing on the side, who could be intervening and stopping somebody, why aren’t they jumping in. Well damn it, I’ll jump in.”

After the meeting, Brittingham realized that the state of West Virginia “needed a user to start the water, sewer and gas lines, to push the infrastructure. Rockwool was a bad deal financially with all the tax breaks, but that wasn’t the point. The state had the power to do it.” Ranson received over $37 million in direct and indirect incentives according to JCV, including a $2.2M cash grant, an amount about equal to the cost of the real estate purchased from Mark Ralston, to Rockwool in the form of a loan that would be forgiven when the factory employed 120 people. The sewer capacity proposed for state financing was eight times what was needed for Rockwool.

By the end of the August 6th meeting, Brittingham “was feeling like I was taken advantage of” and had been “left in the dark. After hearing the public comment and starting to piece together how we got to here, I moved to reverse course.” Brittingham realized that certain county and municipal staff members and appointed officials were working their own plan in the background and pressuring elected officials by scheduling meetings as quickly as possible and disclosing as little as possible.

“When I got home that night I sat in my garage until the early hours of the morning and watched over the recordings from various meetings and I started to piece together my feelings about the meetings in the months prior. I wondered at the unusual pace and frequency, and I started to remember back to uneasy feelings in those meetings, information that was omitted, comments at committee and other council meetings. I saw how the same individuals that had pushed for frequent meetings seemed visibly upset by the prospect that project could be delayed and the company could change course.” That night Brittingham placed calls into the early morning to colleagues that were still up “to see if others had the same feelings, to see if mine matched up with theirs, to see if we may been taken advantage of or persuaded to do the wrong thing.”

Over the next month, Brittingham dug into the details and asked questions. After bearing the brunt of Brittingham’s grilling at the the September 4th, 2018 Charles Town City Council meeting, Bjoern Andersen, the Senior Vice President for Operations visiting from Denmark, stated that “If you actually got to know us, you would see we are not the devil in disguise.”

Brittenham replies, “I would disagree with you on that. When I said 18 tons of pollutants in this county prior to you coming here I was corrected. It was 18 pounds, less than my cat weighs. To be honest, 550 tons is a three million percent increase in pollutants. And so while I agree you have met the qualification, it’s just simply an industry we have never had to rely upon, that has never helped us in this county at any point, and we’ve watched it help deteriorate the rest of West Virginia and we don’t want it here. That’s all I’m simply saying.”

Brittingham concluded by stating, “while you’ll do everything in your power to get that plant here, I’ll do everything in my power to oppose it.” For about five seconds, Brittingham locked eyes with Andersen. He told me later it felt like 20 minutes, and in almost any other context would have escalated into physical violence.

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Meanwhile, Rockwool went on a charm offensive, taking one council member on a tour of Jefferson County to see the areas of poverty and promising to provide charity. The council member, Michael Tolbert, described the conversation to a local paper as “quiet,” “civil” and “respectful.” Tolbert then extended the satanic metaphor system initiated by Andersen in his confrontation with Brittingham. “I did check,” he added, “but I detected no wings, no fangs, no sulphur smell… They are humans.”

Shaun Amos, a nurse who lives in Harpers Ferry, responded to Tolbert in his public comment at the November 5th, 2018 meeting of the Charles Town City Council. “Well, I would tell you if Satan real