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Kaine offers help on grading project
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine said he is willing to try and cut through some regulatory red tape so a grading project at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre can begin.

“I am definitely willing to help,” formally or informally, “win or lose,” in his race against George Allen, said Kaine.

Both men are former governors. Kaine, a Democrat, and Allen, a Republican, are vying in the Nov. 6 election for the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, who is not seeking re-election.

Kaine was in Martinsville last week to drum up support for his campaign. When he was told about the stalled grading project, he said he was willing to work with local officials “to make the case why this is important” and “untangle a knot.”

Kaine, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said he has good ties with President Obama’s administration, and he has undertaken similar projects around the state as a “non office-holder.”

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall and Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., both said they would welcome Kaine’s help.

“We have tried to move it along” and had either direct or indirect contact (via attorneys) “with everybody you can think of,” including Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s office and other state and federal representatives, Hall said.

“You name a politician who has some influence, and we have reached out to them, and they’ve all been responsive,” he added.

Hall did not know if anyone initiated contact with Kaine, or if that was pending. However, Hall said McDonnell’s office “has been in frequent contact with the corps (of engineers)” as has Bolling’s office.

State Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, “have offered to bring all the parties together” at a meeting in Washington “to see if we can push this thing forward,” Hall said.

A date for that meeting has not been set, according to Hall and Heath.

More than a year ago, the county applied for permits with the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which administers the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations related to the Clean Water Act, county officials have said.

At the time, the permitting process for grading, building roads and doing other work at the business center was estimated to take three to four months.

The county received the DEQ permit in July for work on the rail-served industrial park that is located on the county’s southern border near North Carolina.

But the corps is not inclined to permit speculative projects, and the project is stalled, Hall said Friday.

“The corps thinks we should have a client (for the business park) before we even come to them” for a permit, Hall said. “In the world of economic development, it just doesn’t work that way.”

Already, the area has lost economic development projects “who were specifically interested in CCBC, but were forced to go elsewhere because the site prep wasn’t what they wanted or needed it to be,” Hall said.

Neither Hall or Heath would identify those companies, where they located, or other details. But the possibility of losing others continues as long as the project remains stalled, they said.

“We’ve also shown it to a couple of prospects with the understanding that we needed them to go to the corps with us and indicate their interest” to possibly help the permitting process along, Heath said.

The companies declined, in part because “it’s hard for any prospect to get their mind around the fact that we could deliver it (site) on the timetable they need,” Heath said.

Also, businesses wonder why they would want to get involved in a “sticky legal battle when” they can locate in another area, he said.

Companies want a prepared site so they can start to build, Heath said.

“This is money to them, and they are not going wait” for a permitting process to play out, he added.

Currently, officials working on the project are completing an alternative analysis the corps requested, Heath said.

“We’re basically waiting on further action from the corps,” Hall said. The permitting process is “methodical and lengthy, and they follow their process ... It is not through a lack of effort that this project has bogged down a little bit. It’s just that the corps is very specific as to what it wants and we answer their questions as best as we can when we get them.”

“At the end of the day, either we’re going to get permitted or not, and yes, I think I’d be less than honest” if he did not acknowledge the chance that the corps may not issue the permit, Heath said.

“I’m just baffled that we haven’t gotten it already. We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do,” Heath said.

“This is frustrating, exceedingly frustrating. This community is trying its best to help itself and governmental agencies are telling us we can’t ... We just need the corps to tell us, one way or another, what the situation is,” he added.


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