More than 120 citizens opposed to Blue Water Development’s 350 RV campground proposal for Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia gathered Monday night at the park’s upper lake – up from about 90 citizens who gathered on April 3 and about 70 at the first meeting on March 27.
Delegate George Miller (R-90), who is also opposed to the Blue Water RV proposal, attended Monday night’s meeting.
Miller said he has asked for a meeting with Governor Jim Justice but has not heard back from the Governor’s office.
Monday night, Miller said he was going to call on Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to look into the deal.
“When I go down to Charleston next week, I’m looking to be able to talk to the Attorney General,” Miller told the gathering.
“I’m on the same page you are on,” Miller told the gathering.
And what page is that? he was asked.
“That’s the front cover,” he responded. “I’m going to go in and talk to him and see what can be done about it.”
This Blue Water development couldn’t have happened without the legislature passing HB 4408, the law that was passed in March 2022 to enable private corporations like Blue Water to develop public state parks like Cacapon?
“That’s correct,” Miller said.
Was HB 4408 passed so that this 350 RV park could go in at Cacapon?
“I don’t know for sure, but it sure as hell looks like it,” Miller said.
On April 3, Miller said that he “screwed up” by initially supporting HB 4408 before eventually changing his mind and voting against the bill.
Attorney General Morrisey announced last week that he was running for Governor. Governor Justice is eyeing a Senate run in 2024. Justice would face off in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat against Congressman Alex Mooney.
Attorney General Morrisey, Congressman Mooney and Senator Joe Manchin have all been invited to attend the group’s next meeting on April 17 at 6 pm.
Both Delegates from Morgan County – Miller and Darren Thorne (R-89) – have come out opposed to the Blue Water proposal.
As has the Morgan Messenger in an editorial last week titled – RV Proposals Don’t Fit Cacapon.
Also last week, the Morgan County Commission came out with a letter to Chief of Parks Brad Reed against any large-scale (more than 100 sites) RV park at Cacapon State Park.
The Commission cited excessive traffic and safety issues, overcapacity at the park’s sewer plant and clear-cutting of trees and excessive excavation.
“To put it bluntly, we cannot imagine the impact that an RV park of the size and scope of two of the proposals would have on Cacapon State Park and we don’t feel it would be for the better,” the Commissioners wrote. “On the contrary, we feel like it would diminish many of the reasons the folks visit our park to begin with – the natural beauty, the historical significance and the peaceful tranquility.”
Last year, Todd Burbage, the CEO of Blue Water, in response to a question about Blue Water developing RV campgrounds in state parks, said “we’re actually in high level talks with one of the Mid Atlantic states right now.”
“They’re actually being wildly helpful with us,” Burbage said. “The Governor and even a federal Senator asked us to come see him. I came to the Governor’s state house.”
Last week, we wrote to Burbage asking him if he was referring to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Cacapon State Park.
Burbage wrote back: “I have had zero communication with the West Virginia Governor or any Senators about Cacapon.”
“Have you ever spoken with Governor Jim Justice?” we asked.
“Please see my original reply,” Burbage wrote back. “It answers all of your questions to date. Now, I’m very busy. Happy to talk and correspond when I return to the USA.”
We invited Burbage or any executive to come and meet with the community on April 17 at 6 pm to address their concerns about the Blue Water proposal. Burbage said he would be out of the country on April 17, but would try and arrange for another Blue Water representative to be there.
Last December, before the RFP was announced, former Delegate Ruth Rowan (R-89) asked the West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Ben Bailey whether the RFP would involve Cacapon.
Bailey confirmed Cacapon was a possibility.
“People would really encourage seeing 50 camp sites – possibly 60,” Rowan told Bailey. “But talking about 100, they’re concerned about conservation of the area, especially the locals. And as a camper, I’m concerned. When I go camping, it’s to get out in nature. If we’re talking about 100 sites in the area, we could be talking about bumper-to-bumper. So I do have a concern there.”
“There is a public notice and public hearing component of this process,” Bailey replied. “We, of course, would be soliciting input from the public before we executed any type of contract. And to the concern, I would say that I agree. If you’re bumper-to-bumper, that’s not an attractive campground situation. The last thing that we’re going to do is build something that is not appealing to the folks that use the parks. You’re not going to get very much business if you build downtown Manhattan in Cacapon State Park.”
(As of this morning, 777 people have signed a petition calling on Bailey, Governor Justice and other state government officials to withdraw the RFP. savecacapon.org).
At Monday’s meeting at the upper lake, citizens expressed concern about whether or not the April 18 at 5 pm public hearing met the requirements of the state’s open meeting law.
Bailey, a key decision maker, reportedly won’t even be present at the Cacapon Lodge for the April 18 meeting. He might be there via zoom. But the meeting will be held in person by Parks Chief Reed and local park officials. And it won’t be a traditional public hearing, where citizens go up to a microphone one by one and make their concerns known. Instead, it will be a Department of Highways style meeting where three tables will be set up – one for each of the proposals. And citizens will go to the tables to learn about the proposals and register their concerns.
And the Messenger reported this week that the state had not taken out legal notice of the meeting in the county’s only newspaper.
(Update April 12, 2023 2:36 pm: A spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Commerce said that in fact the legal notice announcing the public hearing was published on March 27 and April 3, 2023 in the Martinsburg Journal. (See legal notice here)).