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Board member seeks support for crossing
Asks residents to lobby Congress for industrial park
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This is the cover of a mock newspaper “card” that was sent to the White House by local real estate broker Brenda Vaughn appealing to President Barack Obama for help in advancing the stalled Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. (Contributed photo)
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Thursday, February 28, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors is urging residents to lobby Congress to get permits issued so grading can begin in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.

“There is $16.5 million on the table and we can’t use it until this is resolved. It’s time for the squeaky wheel to start squeaking,” Ridgeway Supervisor H.G. Vaughn said Tuesday during a board meeting.

His remarks were prompted by the stalled permitting phase of a project to grade an estimated 200-acre pad in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which represents the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the permitting process, says the project is speculative because there is no industry to occupy the graded lot, according to previous reports. As a result, the corps refuses to issue the permits.

Vaughn is encouraging residents to write letters to 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt as well as 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith and U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

“We need to keep” the issue of Commonwealth Crossing “right in their faces until it’s resolved,” Vaughn said, and encouraged residents to “start raising some raucous and get our voices heard.”

Vaughn’s wife, local real estate broker Brenda Vaughn, is making the county’s case for the project in a “card” sent to President Barack Obama.

The card is slightly more than 8 by 11 inches, glossy and with color photographs. The front resembles the front page of a newspaper and has the area’s name at the top, with “Emergency Call for Obama’s Help” and “Commonwealth Crossing” written in bold letters.

A photograph of Obama during his Aug. 21, 2008, campaign stop in Martinsville occupies a large portion of the left hand side of the card. The headline reads: “Obama Promises To Wake Up Everyday Thinking About People In Martinsville.”

The accompanying story is a comment Obama made in Martinsville during an campaign stop during his first run for the presidency.

“If you give me that opportunity, if you give me that chance, I will fight for you every single day,” Obama pledged. “I’ll wake up every day in that White House thinking about those people in Martinsville.”

Other “front page” headlines include “Commonwealth Crossing Project Brings Hope for New Industry in Martinsville/Henry Co.” and “Federal permit stalls construction of industrial site.”

The Page 2 headline is “Martinsville & Henry County Needs Washington’s Help,” with “Urgent Plea to Obama” written below.

“Not many people really believe President Obama wakes up every morning thinking about Martinsville as he indicated” during the 2008 campaign stop, the accompanying story stated.

“Now, many local residents have reason to believe the federal government is working against us in our efforts to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” the story continued.

Other stories cover the fact that the stalled permits have caused a loss of industry, and comments from Hurt that “Government rules can hamper job growth.”

A letter from Brenda Vaughn to Obama is on Page 3.

It states, in part, “Show us that you care and you are keeping your campaign promise.”

H.G. Vaughn said his wife has not heard a response.

Also during Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., said Tuesday that only $700,000 of federal money will be used to pay for the work. The rest is from local and state sources.

“And yet we are repeatedly being told ‘No you can’t,’” Heath said.

By its very nature, economic development is speculative Heath said. For example, he cited grading projects in the Patriot Center that were done without an industry commitment for the site, shell buildings that are constructed without a buyer or tenant and other ventures.

“We need shell buildings and we need for this park to be developed,” Heath said Tuesday. “We could not be more frustrated.”

Throughout the permitting phase, Vaughn said the corps has asked questions such as why property near the Virginia/North Carolina line was selected rather than a different parcel.

He wondered if a housing developer who bought several acres to develop would face a similar series of questions.

For example, would the corps ask a developer “why did you pick that location” over another, Vaughn said, adding that county and economic officials have answered a series of questions several times.

That leads Vaughn to conclude that “the corps is giving us the runaround,” he said.


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