RANSON, W.Va. (June 22, 2020) — Citizens of Jefferson County and the surrounding area will gather for a physically distanced rally of no more than 100 people around Ranson City Hall on Mildred St. beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 23. The rally will be held in advance of a 7 p.m. virtual public hearing hosted by Ranson City Council. The Council is slated to consider Proposed Ordinance #2017-302, which would amend the Jefferson Orchards site on the official zoning map to permit industrial use. This will be the second reading of the proposed ordinance.
The rezoning is required for Rockwool North America (Roxul) to build an insulation factory on the Jefferson Orchards property. While the zoning change was first approved by the City of Ranson in 2017, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Hammer ruled on May 5, 2020 that Ranson failed to provide adequate public notice when it made its decision three years ago. Subsequently, Ranson was ordered by Judge Hammer to inform the Court of its intent by July 3, and Ranson chose to move forward with a first reading of the proposed ordinance on June 16 with a second reading and public hearing to follow a week later, on June 23.
“As coordinators of the rally, Jefferson County Vision and the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition are being careful to adhere to state guidelines around low-contact, outdoor gatherings, and we will encourage participants to follow all physical-distancing recommendations,” said EPGC Vice President Sharon Helman. “Yet this is an important moment in our county’s history, and we are confident that many will be on the street or in their cars to show Ranson that this fight is far from over.”
Over the last month, Jefferson County residents and others who are against the proposed ordinance have urged Ranson City Council to stand against Special District Industrial reallocation at the Jefferson Orchards site. Since Ranson began accepting public comments in advance of the June 23 hearing, hundreds of letters have been sent to Ranson City Council, resulting in a 1,700-page agenda packet, available here. Citizens will gather on Tuesday to continue to express opposition to the rezoning, which many believe would violate Ranson’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan and its commitment to the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of residents.
During the first reading of the proposed ordinance on June 16, Ranson’s City Attorney acknowledged citizens’ concerns; however, he also stated that Ranson must act consistent with, and as constrained by, the law. For the Council to reject the proposed amendment, it must find the amendment is inconsistent with Ranson’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan, which does encourage manufacturing facilities to locate in Ranson.
Yet the Comprehensive Plan also states, “The City will designate ample land that is well-suited for industrial facilities and will ensure that industrial facilities do not adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of the community” (p. 31). Rockwool will need to burn a combination of 80 tons of coal per day, plus natural gas, in order to create its stone wool insulation product. This, along with the other chemicals injected into the manufacturing process, creates a major source of air pollution emitted from the plant’s two, 210-foot smokestacks. According to the Potential for Significant Deterioration air permit from the WV Department of Environmental Protection, Rockwool plans to release approximately 400 tons per year each of VOCs, hazardous air pollutants and particulate matter. Jefferson County is known for its flourishing local agriculture and an outdoor recreation economy. In addition, four nearby schools are within three miles of the Jefferson Orchards building site. The reallocation to expand the industrial zone—inherently increasing pollution—can have detrimental effects on air, land and water quality, diminishing the quality of life for residents.
All those who plan to attend Tuesday’s rally are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing. Spaces at least nine feet apart will be marked. High-risk individuals can participate in their vehicles.
For more information on Ordinance #2017-302, or to see a timeline of Ranson and Rockwool, visit www.jeffersoncountyvision.com.