Three hours of oral argument before Judge Hammer and a packed gallery in the historic Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday brought two of Jefferson County Vision’s cases related to Rockwool—a zoning suit and a taxation suit—closer to a resolution. At the end of the hearing, lawyers from both sides were directed to submit their pertinent legal points to the judge within ten days’ time, after which Judge Hammer will issue decisions.
Chris Stroech, JCV’s attorney at Arnold & Bailey of Charles Town, argued the City of Ranson did not follow the law when rezoning to allow heavy industry and Rockwool. Ranson was required to give a two week notice to the public when rezoning the Jefferson Orchards property, yet failed to do so.
When Judge Hammer asked what would happen if he were to remand Ranson—that is, to force the city to re-issue the notices lawfully and allow for public hearings—Stroech responded, “Ranson needs to follow due process.” Stroech also strongly argued that this is about more than Rockwool; other land was zoned industrial and there may be other industrial users down the road.
According to JCV board member, Amanda Foxx, “For all of these decisions, public opinion should have been included in the first place; instead these changes were made in the dark. We will not stand by and allow a 1,000 acre industrial park to be built without the public’s consent. Ranson must follow the law.”
JCV secretary Lori Maloney added, “The people of Jefferson County will be heard, and our attention is on the City of Ranson. We urge all people in Jefferson County to let the Ranson City Council members know—by attending meetings, and by writing letters and emails—that we are paying attention and we will not allow any shady antics to happen going forward.”
The first hearing of the afternoon concerned the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement, which grants Rockwool unfair tax breaks. JCV’s case was led by Professor Robert Bastress, who argued that the WV constitution has two themes: taxes must be equal, and everyone must pay their fair share—one can’t avoid tax responsibility by technical smokescreens. Professor Bastress continued that the “fiction,” or smokescreen, is that the property will be owned by the Jefferson County Development Authority—not Rockwool—in a scheme to avoid paying taxes. Like the thousands of members in this community, JCV thinks Rockwool should pay its fair share, and not use a technical smokescreen to defy state law.
Jefferson County Vision looks forward to Judge Hammer’s upcoming rulings, and, whatever the outcome may be, remains committed to its goals to promote clean air, clean water, and clean government for Jefferson County.
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