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Griffith says he’ll push to end permit stalemate

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith describes himself as passionate about working to secure a permit and begin a grading project at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, but he also does not know at what point to accept defeat.

“The problem is I don’t know how many times we beat our heads against a brick wall,” Griffith, R-Salem, said Monday during an interview in Martinsville.

Henry County and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) secured funds for the grading project and applied for the required state and federal permits.

The state permit was approved, but the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which represents the federal Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), has not been issued because, without a committed industry wanting to locate there, the development is considered speculative, according to previous reports.

A meeting was held in November on the issue. Attending were Griffith; 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham; U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.; officials with Henry County and Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.; and representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which represents the federal Environmental Protective Agency (EPA).

At stake is the development of a 200-acre pad in the more than 700-acre industrial park near the Virginia/North Carolina state line. The project was to have been completed by this spring.

“We are all working together in a bipartisan fashion” to address the issue, Griffith said Monday. “Sometimes you have to be practical, and unfortunately the current EPA, backed up by the corps,” is relying on a “one-size fits all standard out of Washington” to follow in the permitting phase.

Griffith said members of congress that are representing the area “will have to figure out what we are going to do ... if we can’t get these agencies (EPA/corps)” to realize the importance of the project to the economic future of Henry County and Martinsville.

While Griffith said he does not think the Senate would approve a bill to change or relax the EPA requirements, he would support any effort by Warner to that effect.

“I believe I can get it passed in the House,” Griffith said. “But I don’t think the votes are in the Senate. They haven’t passed anything else to reign in the EPA.”

When Congress returns to session next week, Griffith said he will try to schedule a meeting with Hurt, Warner and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who took office since the November meeting.

“We keep pushing ... We know it’s jobs ... I think the four of us need to see what we can do and what we can’t” do, Griffith said.

However, “without some movement behind the scenes” (in the EPA/corps), Griffith said he doesn’t hold a lot of hope that the situation will be rectified.

Whether to continue moving forward on the permitting process “I think is a local decision, but at some point everyone of those industries (that has expressed interest in the site), local governments” and other involved stakeholders likely will become frustrated and abort the idea, he said.

“Unfortunately, that will be leaving a lot of jobs on the table. ... Those jobs will go somewhere else in the world,” Griffith said. That would be “extremely unfortunate.”


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