Investigation Appears to be the First Time U.S. Citizens...
How did a federally funded plan to build a sustainable community devolve so quickly into a heavy industrial facility permitted to be the second-largest emitter of VOCs in the state of WV?
$150 Million Plant Coming to Ranson
RANSON, WV, —A Denmark company has selected an old apple orchard in the city of Ranson as its home for a new 463,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that will produce high-performance industrial insulation and bring about 150 new jobs to the city and Jefferson County. Roxul Inc. plans to construct the $150 million plant on about 130 acres…
The following is excerpted from a Sept. 14, 2018 letter drafted by Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool, A Project of Jefferson County Vision
In 2017, Rockwool used a secretive, fast-track process run by the state government to gut our community’s carefully constructed plans for a sustainable mixed-use community. Instead, Rockwool intends to build a global-scale insulation factory that will burn fossil fuels around the clock.
The location Rockwool selected for their new plant is an apple orchard next to an elementary school in a residential and agricultural area. The area was never planned for heavy industry, but the company bound state and local government with various “understandings” ahead of the environmental permit process. Now that our community is expressing outrage at their plans, Rockwool is threatening our local government with a $100 million lawsuit if we do not provide them with massive tax incentives.
To make their insulation, as defined in their permit here, Rockwool’s process would primarily involve quarrying stone, trucking it in, melting it in 2,600 degree furnaces powered by coal and petroleum coke, then spinning the molten stone into fibers that are bound using toxic chemicals– including the neurotoxin Formaldehyde. In our view, just because this incredibly energy and resource intensive product uses a minority percentage of recycled slag, does not make it sustainable. Rockwool’s plant, as permitted, would be one of the most prolific emitters of toxic and hazardous air pollution in the entire state of West Virginia.
What should have happened here
In 2009, President Obama created the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency that works to revitalize neighborhoods with convenient, affordable transit and clean energy.
The City of Ranson was a leader in this model community movement before Rockwool came here. They received over $1 million in planning grants and assistance from three federal agencies to integrate affordable housing, economic development, and transportation to build a livable community.
Ranson was one of only two cities, of 1,700 who applied, to get all three grants: DOT, EPA and HUD. Within the 2012 Ranson Comprehensive Plan, Jefferson Orchards (the site now controlled by Rockwool) was highlighted as one of the major redevelopment projects in the region. Ranson rezoned the property to have a maximum density 4,300 homes in a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development. Basically, Ranson was given the opportunity to build a dream small town.
Transit Oriented Development is at the heart of modern urban planning, and we fell in love with it because it creates vibrant, livable, sustainable communities. The creation of compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around high-quality train systems reduces complete dependence on a car for mobility and survival.
In 2013, the WV State Rail Authority passed a resolution to support the creation of a Transit Oriented Development integrated with the design of the new NorthPort passenger train station at the site where Rockwool is now breaking ground on their plant. The Maryland Transit Authority also provided a letter of support and officially approved the relocation of an existing outdated station. By 2015 Ranson had adopted the NorthPort Feasibility Plan that showcased the idea of a multi-modal community featuring 1,000 homes (single family, townhomes and apartments), 10 parks and 800,000 sq ft of office and commercial space.
What happened? Rockwool came to town and secretly negotiated a rezoning application giving them an extra 100 acres of industrial, a Land Use Restriction Agreement and a Right to First Refusal. Rockwool has removed the legal avenues to build homes at Jefferson Orchards. No homes means no mixed-use community built around mass transit connecting us to Washington, D.C. And there goes our real-life Sustainable City vision up Rockwool’s 21 story smokestacks. Never to return.