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Meeting set on stalled permit
For Commonwealth Crossing site work

Sunday, November 25, 2012

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A permitting impasse that is stalling site work at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre will be the topic of a meeting in Washington, D.C., scheduled for this week.

The colonel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory division in Norfolk is among those scheduled to attend the meeting, said Peter Kube, chief of the Western Virginia Regulatory Section of the corps.

Local officials also plan to attend that meeting.

Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn said that he hopes a resolution is within sight, because 17 or 18 prospects have visited the new industrial park and then “turned away because they were looking at just precut land that hasn’t been cleared” due to the permitting impasse.

Each company represented potential jobs that residents of Martinsville and Henry County desperately need, he added.

The money is in hand for site preparation, “but we are at a standstill” because the corps — acting at the behest of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — has not issued a permit for the site work, Vaughn said.

That is because it considers the project speculative, meaning no company has committed to locating there, officials have said.

The county cobbled together funding to grade a 200-acre site and add infrastructure that includes water, sewer and some roadways, according to previous reports.

It also applied for permits to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the EPA. The project received the DEQ permits, but the permit from the corps has stalled work on the project for months.

“We’ve been working with the county and we’ve been trying to figure out a way to get this done and that’s basically why it’s taking the amount of time it’s taking,” Kube said. “We can’t do this alternative analysis that we are required to do by the Clean Water Act. This is where we are stuck right now.”

“If we can’t get the information we need to do our jobs, the regulations say we have to deny the permit. We haven’t done that because we are trying to work this out,” Kube said.

He explained that the corps can issue a permit only under certain guidelines, including the least environmentally damaging alternative. “The way we figure that out is, applicants usually provide us with plans that show us the roads, ponds,” buildings and other development planned for a specific site.

The corps looks at the plans and makes any necessary adjustments, such as “moving the buildings around,” asking if a building can be built up rather than out or “several practical alternatives to try to avoid the environmental impacts,” he said.

However, “in this case, the county really doesn’t have any plans to show what it is proposing,” Kube said. As a result, “we really can’t do our jobs that we are required to do,” he said.

Tim Pace, Henry County’s director of engineering, said a comprehensive data packet was submitted to the corps on Sept. 21.

It had plan specifications, which include roads, utilities and the development of a 200-acre pad.

“Every single item they have requested has been provided. The plan clearly shows where the pad will be, where the roads will be and how the wetland issue will be mitigated. It stands to reason that we can’t show them where the building will be, because we don’t have a client” yet, said Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.

“I think it also stands to reason the building will be built somewhere on the pad” that is proposed, he added.

According to data from the state and research the county and economic development officials conducted, 200 acres is deemed a mega-site, Pace said. Mega-sites are needed to attract manufacturing facilities that would make a $250 million investment and create at least 400 jobs, “and we are hopeful that it will be more than that.”

Heath said it also is “proven that speculative development pays off.” He cited development of the Patriot Centre industrial park, two shell buildings and other projects as part of that evidence.

Heath said the corps’ argument that the project is speculative is bizarre, because “that is the very nature of economic development. Quite honestly, this is baffling to think this has just come up with” Commonwealth Crossing. Speculative development “has been going on for 50 years. Look at a shopping center when it is being built. It may have an anchor tenant, but the developer doesn’t have it filled. How is that not speculative?” he asked.

“Lots of people have looked at CCBC” as a place to relocate, “but the fact that it wasn’t graded poses quite a conundrum. It’s the chicken or the egg thing” and which came first, Heath said. “Obviously we are not the first county to build an industrial park without a tenant.”

“All we hear on the state level is we’ve got to have jobs, jobs, jobs, and we know there are companies looking to locate,” Heath said. “We’re not trying to be argumentative but this just seems contrary” to the push for job creation.

Also, “if there is anything the corps needs that we haven’t provided, I can’t imagine” what it may be, Heath said.

The county has “exhausted all of our resources and supplied the corps with stacks and stacks of information to defend our position on the project,” Pace said.

“We feel, and the county feels and our environmental attorney feels that we have provided them enough information to meet the public’s interest and be able to permit this project,” he added.


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