The Conservative Republican Case Against Rockwool

Last Friday on Eastern Panhandle Talk with Rob Mario and David Welch on radio station WRNR, the issue of Rockwool’s proposed heavy industrial plant in Jefferson County, West Virginia came up.

“What’s really fascinating culturally in this country is – you are either on Trump’s side or not on Trump’s side,” said Welch. “Rob made a point the other day. Go out to Rockwool and look at the protesters – 500 people. They probably all hate Donald Trump.”

Jefferson County has about 12,000 registered Republicans, 12,000 registered Democrats and 12,000 registered independents.

More than 10,000 citizens have signed onto a petition against the Rockwool facility. A good chunk of them are probably registered Republicans.

Take Chris Kinnan. He’s a leader in the citizen group – Jefferson Vision – opposing the Rockwool plant.

“My own personal politics – I’m a conservative Republican,” Kinnan told This Week in Morgan County with Russell Mokhiber. “Our organization is a movement more of parents. All of our board members have young children. This is very carefully a non partisan movement. This is about our identity as a community, what kind of development strategy we have as a community.”

“Our historical arm of the county government didn’t know about Rockwool’s smokestacks. The opposition is broad. Harpers Ferry unanimously issued a proclamation opposing this. This is not a partisan issue at all from our perspective.”

“People get it. This is not what the community has defined itself as. Jefferson County is growing. We have grown 50 percent in the last 25 years. We are fortunate to have rising incomes and very low unemployment. We are an exception in West Virginia in that regard.”

“A lot of people have moved to the area for the promise of clean air, safe schools and a little bit of room to raise a family. And then all of a sudden here are smokestacks popping up with no real notice. We talk about being a wild and wonderful place that’s the gateway to West Virginia — that’s how people conceptualize Jefferson County. And this just cuts at our very identity. There is a very powerful response for that reason.”

Is there a debate within the group whether to negotiate with Rockwool or just to hold fast and say — you are not coming in here?

“We have one question — are you still building heavy industry on an apple orchard next to an elementary school?” Kinnan said. “This whole process has been inappropriate and illegitimate.”

Rockwool’s President Trent Ogilvie has said that the facility will be built in Jefferson County as planned.

Will it be built in Jefferson County?

“I don’t think so,” Kinnan said. “We have the consensus, the opposition, the strategy and the energy to stop it. It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it will be built.”

Is this a NIMBY issue — not in my back yard?

“It’s more of a not in my schoolyard issue,” Kinnan said. “This has never been on the table for our community. It’s not like we had an industrial park where they were going to build it. This was so out of left field — like a lightning bolt. It is so inappropriate for the community on so many levels. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has pointed out that there are 15 or 17 vistas that will be impacted by the smokestacks. Harpers Ferry is obviously a national historical park. The state of West Virginia is 24,000 square miles. And we are somehow locating this facility, which will be one of the dirtiest in the state — by its permit — within six miles of the Potomac River, Harpers Ferry, our third largest state university at Shepherd, within four miles of both major school zoned properties where we are expected to grow, and then within two miles of four schools. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s an astonishingly poor planning decision. Nobody thought this through. Some guys in a room got together and said — let’s do it, let’s fast track it and get it done.”

“This is a beachhead,” Kinnan said. “This is the first phase for Rockwool and their plans. The Jefferson County development authority has talked about hundreds of acres in that same zone for heavy industry.”

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