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Heath: Project ‘investment’ never in doubt
EDA statement referred to grant, not local project
Friday, October 26, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The idea that developing Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is a bad investment may have been caused by misinterpreting statements made by a federal agency, two local officials said.
Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., and Henry County Administrator Tim Hall both recalled that Henry County applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a $1.7 million grant to help develop Commonwealth Crossing, a new industrial park near the Virginia/North Carolina border.
The county was notified in a July 1, 2010, letter that the EDA’s Philadelphia Regional Investment Review Committee found that the grant, “while meritorious, was not competitive and would not be a prudent investment” for the EDA’s limited funding.
At a Martinsville City Council candidates forum Saturday, Councilman Danny Turner said both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had found that the Commonwealth Crossing “is a bad investment.”
On Thursday, he said the commerce department found that “it just wasn’t a good investment for the federal government. They said they weren’t going to send any more money that way because it was not a good investment (for the EDA).”
That is not to say it is a bad investment for the local area to undertake, Heath said.
“They never said it was a bad deal. I never heard anybody say or suggest it was a bad project,” he said.
Hall said he also has not had “any of those conversations” indicating that the park was a bad investment.
“The EDA for the whole East Coast only has $50 million” to award in grants, and it funds projects based on a competitive scoring system, Heath said.
The EDA “clearly said that we would have difficulty winning in a competitive grant” process, Heath said. “How could a federal agency tell a community that they shouldn’t try to help themselves. ... I never got any indication that what we were doing was ill advised or not the right thing,” he added.
After cobbling funding together to further develop the industrial park, the county also filed permit applications with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin work there.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which represents the EPA, has not issued the permits because it considers the project speculative, county and economic development officials have said.
No one, including consultants who looked at the project beforehand, could have predicted the permitting snafu, Heath said.
For one, permits are not sought beforehand, and secondly, consultants “have nothing to do with” the permitting phase, Heath said. “Permitting is just the next step in the project and we have only been in a position to apply for a permit in the last few years. Nobody suggested or dreamed it would be this difficult to get a permit. If somebody suggested that, I would be real curious to know which consultant it was.”
Funds for a grading project at CCBC total $16.5, including $5 million each from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and the Harvest Foundation; a combined $5 million from Henry County and Martinsville; and $1.5 million from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, according to previous reports.
The new industrial park was set to open in 2013, but it likely will not be open that quickly due to the permitting snag.