TESTIMONY OF MIKE WHITT
MINGO COUNTY REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
OF WILLIAMSON, WEST VIRGINIA
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, and Climate Change
Thursday, June 6, 2002
Chairman Lieberman, Ranking Member Voinovich, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify. I commend you for your willingness to hear from the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority.
With mining, Mingo County is diversifying the economy. We are creating good paying jobs with benefits for our citizens, and the opportunities for economic development are better than they have been in a long, long time.
Our Mission…“The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority is a public organization, established to promote and encourage the economic and civic welfare of Mingo County, and for the development, attraction and retention of business, industries, and commerce within the county, thus creating employment opportunities and increasing the area's tax base.”
Because of mining and development sites created by mining, we have been able to create good jobs in the industries of wood, aquaculture, agriculture and recreation. The Mingo County Board of Education has established a Horticultural Curriculum through the use of our agriculture demonstration project. By growing excellent Arctic Char from mine water, we have created a new industry in southern West Virginia. We anticipate the county school system will add an Aquaculture Curriculum as a result of our fish hatchery, grow-out facilities and proposed fish processing facility. Without mining, these new jobs and economic opportunities would never have been possible in southern West Virginia!
Our challenge is to achieve our mission to create new jobs, improve the quality of life for our citizens, and increase our tax base throughout the next generation for the future of our children and grandchildren. We cannot meet this challenge unless reclaimed mine sites are provided to us for the purpose of creating economic development.
Diversifying the Mingo County economy through support of the mining industry is an important part of our future. Realizing this, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority brought together a diverse group of citizens to develop the Mingo County Land Use Master Plan (Plan). The Plan was presented to the citizens of Mingo County at a public hearing, where public suggestions were incorporated into the Plan. The Plan has been approved by the Mingo County Commission. For the first time in history, Mingo County has a Plan that provides a road map to achieve economic development opportunities. Any coal company who volunteers up front and before mining commences to use our Plan will be provided with our proposed post mine land use for the property. After mining, the property will be 1) returned in a manner consistent to our Plan; 2) adequately supplied with infrastructure; and 3) used for the economic development purposes as stated in the post mine land use. Prior to our Plan, Mingo County lost many economic development opportunities because most of the property mined was put back to its Approximate Original Contour (AOC), leaving no land suitable for economic development. Our Plan affords opportunities to change that.
Through the leadership of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, we have developed an excellent partnership with the private and public sectors. Mike Callaghan, Director of DEP, and Governor Bob Wise have been very instrumental in our efforts to encourage post mine land use development sites for proposed and ongoing surface mine activities. We have listened to Mingo Countians. The Land Use Master Plan is a grass root Plan of what we need to stop the downward economic spiral that we have been faced with. There is one thing that EVERYONE agrees on, and it is the fact that Mingo County must diversify.
We must stop the cycle of schools being closed, good teachers leaving and major industry jobs vanishing. Our county population has dropped from 37,000 in 1980 to 28,000 in 2000. One of our schools has 95% of our kids who qualify for the free lunch program…as a best-case scenario; we have nearly half our kids on the free lunch program at Williamson High School, which is located within our county seat.
Before 1989 when the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority was formed, local economic development agencies did not exist in any of the southern West Virginia counties. Since our establishment, we have worked hard to form a team relationship between our private and public sectors, and with the dedication of our board of directors we have achieved an excellent display of teamwork within our county. Everyone has come together to help save our county from economic devastation. We cannot wait to diversify our economy after the coal is depleted…we must diversify in conjunction with the ongoing and future mining activities, and our efforts must continue.
Here are some of the projects that the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority has accomplished by utilizing opportunities created by the mining industry…
Ø The Mingo County Wood Products Industrial Park (Exhibit A)
o Located on a reclaimed surface mine site
$28 million total project cost
Includes a centralized lumber storage area, lumber processing facility, lumber pre-drier, a battery of dry kilns, boiler and silo. The first shell building (82,000 sq. ft.) houses a hardwood flooring manufacturing facility.
o Presently 90 employees
o 100 new jobs by the end of 2002 (estimate)
Ø The Mingo County Agriculture Demonstration Project (Exhibit B)
o Located on a reclaimed surface mine site
o Enabled the Mingo County Board of Education to provide a Horticultural Curriculum
o Operated and maintained by the students through the new horticultural program
Ø The Fish Hatchery (Exhibit C)
o Utilizing underground mine water to hatch and raise Arctic Char fingerlings
o Created a new industry in southern West Virginia
o Will provide for an Aquaculture Curriculum to be available to the students through the Mingo County School system
Ø The Grow-out Facility for Arctic Char (Exhibit C)
o Utilizing underground mine water to grow Arctic Char fingerlings to market size (2lbs)
o $3.5 million private investment
o Pro-fish is the distributor of Arctic Char into the Washington, DC area.
Ø Twisted Gun Golf Course (Exhibit D)
o The coal industry has already constructed an 18-hole golf course, with a breathtaking view of the natural surroundings. This project will enhance the recreational opportunities in Mingo County.
Here are some of our potential projects that, in conjunction with ongoing mining, will help diversify and enhance the quality of life for Mingo County citizens…
Ø King Coal Highway / I 73-74 (Exhibit E)
o In cooperation with the Department of Highways and the Department of Environmental Protection, the coal industry plans to construct (to rough grade) 5 miles of the new King Coal Highway/ I 73-74, with 2 connectors…saving the taxpayers an estimated $90 million dollars
Ø Airport (Exhibit F)
o In cooperation with the Mingo County Airport Authority, the coal industry will construct (to rough grade) an area to provide the county with an airport runway of 6,000 – 10,000 feet, with sufficient acreage for ancillary future development… saving the taxpayers approximately $30 million dollars.
Ø Fish Processing Plant
o The coal industry has provided site preparation as an in-kind contribution toward the construction of a fish processing facility, which will handle all the fish that is hatched and raised in southern West Virginia
As you can see, the mining industry and our efforts to diversify the economy in southern West Virginia are connected in a substantial manner. However, to continue to advance our plans…
Ø The mining industry must continue…
Ø Our partnership with the private/public sectors must continue…
Ø Post mining land use creating developable property for future jobs must continue…
Ø Our diversification efforts must continue…
I am not a lawyer and I am not a chemist. I’m just a local citizen who loves my county and its citizens. We care about whether our kids and grandkids will be able to work and provide for their families in Mingo County. We want a county that will allow people who have been forced to move away to come back home. We care about all these issues. We care about our schools and the opportunities provided to our kids. We’re working hard to make southern West Virginia economically viable.
We have gone to great strides to achieve a better economy in Mingo County. We want to continue, and we will if the mining continues. The mining is necessary, and the valley fills are needed for the continuation of surface, contour, and underground mining.
Again, without diversification during the mining of coal, there will be no opportunity for diversification after coal mining. We have found a solution to stop our downward plunge and it’s not just a “fleeting vision”…it’s reality! It’s attainable! It works! And we want it to continue.
Now you have a better understanding of our situation and can see the importance of diversification during the mining process in southern West Virginia. If there’s anything I can do to help ensure that our progress is not hindered, please feel free to contact me. Better yet, I would like to invite each of you to come to Mingo County. I’ll personally take you around our county and show you first hand what progressive steps are being taken by Mingo County.
Some people see things as they are and ask why…But I dream of things that never were and ask why not.
Thank you very much.