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Hurt pledges to keep up push for Commonwealth Crossing
Congressman visits Henry County on Thursday
U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt (left), R-Chatham, talks with local officials (from left) Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.; Tim Hall, Henry County administrator; and Tim Pace, director of engineering for Henry County, on a tour of the site of the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre on Thursday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt on Thursday vowed to continue helping local officials persuade the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a permit needed to develop the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.
Hurt, R-Chatham, made his pledge while visiting the industrial park, off U.S. 220 south of Ridgeway near the North Carolina line, with Henry County and Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) officials.
He also said that 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Va., also will continue to help.
The corps so far has refused to issue a permit needed to start grading at a 200-acre pad at the site because it considers the development speculative since no company has committed to locating there, officials have said.
On the other hand, “we’ve lost some multi-million projects” due to a permit not having been granted already, said County Administrator Tim Hall. He did not elaborate.
Last week, the county gave the corps a 60-page document addressing questions about the project in hopes that the corps will grant local officials another face-to-face interview, Hall said.
EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Heath said he knows of no other locality that has had such a problem with the corps.
Referring to the corps, Hurt said he is frustrated and “disgusted with them.”
“Speculative development should never be a factor” in deciding whether to approve a permit for an industrial park, especially in places with high jobless rates, he said.
Tim Pace, the county’s director of engineering, said the corps’ requirements for issuing a permit have been met “over and over again” but “we’re just not getting” one.
“It’s hard for me to see what the holdup is,” Hurt said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to incite investment” in an economically struggling community.
Growth in the number of local jobs must be encouraged, “but Washington has figured out a way not to make that happen,” he said.
The corps’ refusal to grant the permit so far is wrong and “totally devoid of reason,” Hurt said. It shows “the folks in (the government in) Washington are totally removed from reality.”
Hurt and members of his staff visited Commonwealth Crossing on a tour of places along and near U.S. 58 in the 5th District. Along with the industrial park, his local stops included Angler’s Choice, a boating and fishing supply store east of Martinsville, and the Axton Volunteer Fire Department.
He said he wanted to talk to people about “what’s going on in Washington” and hear their concerns about federal issues.
Many people have told him they were concerned about high energy prices and health care reform laws.
Hurt said measures such as the Keystone XL pipeline in development and allowing drilling for oil off Virginia’s coast should help cut energy costs. He added that the federal government must repeal the so-called “Obamacare” reform and “start over with a market-based solution.”
At the fire department, a firefighter said his wife works at a restaurant and recently saw her hours reduced to fewer than 25 per week — below full-time status — because the eatery did not want to pay for health insurance for its employees.
Decisions like that “really hurt a family,” Hurt said.
The Senate has approved the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would force online retailers to collect sales taxes for states where they ship items. The House has not yet taken up the measure.
At Angler’s Choice, Hurt asked owner Sandy Loganadan her opinion on having to collect sales taxes when her store ships items outside the state.
“We already do that,” Loganadan said. The way that Virginia tax laws are written, she said, “we take Virginia’s part out and send the balance to the other state. It’s a pain.”
But her store’s Internet presence has increased its business, she noted.
Hurt told Angler’s Choice employees that small businesses such as theirs are “the backbone of this country” and how well they succeed will influence how much the nation’s economy improves.
Congress must approve laws that, among other things, reduce businesses’ taxes and costs for complying with environmental regulations, Hurt said.
He commended the Axton firefighters for their hard work and dedication.
“No one fully appreciates” the services that volunteer fire departments and rescue squads provide, Hurt said. He noted that if they did not provide those services, taxpayers would have to subsidize paid departments and squads.
“Eventually, they’re going to have to pay firefighters” in rural communities because it is becoming harder to recruit volunteer staff, said John Wilson, secretary of the Axton department and an 18-year volunteer there.
As more and more people have to take out-of-town jobs, they do not have time to volunteer, Hurt indicated.