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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 1

Chapter Six

... To Be Continued

Economic development and projects in progress across the region

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

Vacant... Now locked behind a chain link fence, the building that once held Flowers Bakery stands empty along Route 52. The loss of jobs caused by the closing of area business has added stress to an already-weak regional job market.

Search for jobs ongoing in Mercer, Tazewell By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph PRINCETON — Recent job losses in Mercer and Tazewell counties have added a renewed sense of urgency to regional economic development and job creation efforts. The two Bluefields were hit particularly hard earlier this year by job losses, including the closure of Kroger on Cumberland Road in Bluefield and Bluefield Beverage at the Bluefield, Va., Industrial Park. Between the two companies, 110 jobs were lost in the spring. The town of Bluefield, Va., also lost its biggest water customer with the closure of the bottling plant. The U.S. Postal Service also announced in late spring that it was proceeding with the

planned closure of Bluefield’s Mail Processing and Distribution Center, but not until early 2013. The recent job losses also come on the heels of the 164 jobs that were lost last year with the closure of Flowers Bakery. But while the two Bluefields have been hit hard, the story has been different for neighboring Princeton — at least in terms of retail and service industry growth. In fact, there isn’t much room left for growth near Exit 9 at Interstate 77. “There really isn’t a lot of space at Exit 9,” Mercer County Development Authority Director Janet Bailey said. “There have been some companies that have looked at that area. But we are running out of space. That is a good thing.”

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A few spaces do remain at Exit 9, including the old Kmart property. Bailey said the area east of Princeton, including Exit 14 and the Route 460 corridor between Princeton and Oakvale, are areas primed for future growth. “You will see more growth and activity at Exit 14,” Bailey said. “And we have had some activity and interest in the Exit 1 site in Bluefield. I think once you have one business there, you will see that area mushroom. The infrastructure is in place. There has been activity. There is a truck stop that has looked at the area, and a hotel and motel. One of the problems is visibility with the mountain restricting visibility from the road.” Bailey said the old Flowers Bakery plant in Bluefield is still not on market. Thus, it can’t be

shown to prospective clients. “Flowers Bakery, from what I understand, is still not on the market,” Bailey said. “We’ve had a lot of interest, and a lot of people to ask about it, but until they put it on the market there is nothing we can do or anyone else.” Bailey said both Target and Home Depot are exploring possible sites in Mercer County, along with an IHOP restaurant. Bailey said other big box national chains also have been looking at sites near the interstate corridor. “They (the big box chains) are still holding off, and waiting for the economy to grow,” Bailey said. “There is a possibility they will put an option on those sites (in Mercer County) as soon as they see the economy is getting

better.” Bailey said the area just east of Exit 9 is attracting interest for several reasons, including the interstate corridor, and the ability to draw traffic not only from Mercer County but also neighboring Giles County. “Anytime we talk with business prospects we always kind of do a regional approach,” Bailey said. “We really need to look regionally.” Bailey said Mercer County also has quietly seen some manufacturing growth in recent months. “We do have sites that are still available at the Bluefield Cumberland Industrial Park, and we have two new businesses that have moved into the Bluefield Cumberland Industrial Park,” Bailey said.

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“Lamb Machine purchased the old Genmark about six months ago. There is still another building available in the Cumberland Industrial Park, and it is a 54,000-square foot facility. That is a site available. Actually, the development authority built that building, and sold it to Genmark. The other business that moved into the Bluefield Cumberland Industrial Park is Quality Metal Roof, Inc. They manufacture metal roofing. Lamb Machine (Inc.) has about 18 to 20 employees, and they have an advertisement in the paper seeking employment. Quality Metal Roofing has about 15 employees now. They hope to have a total of 30 (employees).” Bailey said Recycle West

Jobs, 11


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2 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

State-of-the-art educational facilities Local school officials champion the replacement of aging classrooms By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph PRINCETON — School officials in Mercer and McDowell counties are still working to replace aging facilities with new, state-of-the-art classrooms. A rebuilding project at the old Oakvale School in Mercer County is expected to get underway this September, and school officials in McDowell County are hoping to begin site

preparation work this fall on a new Iaeger Elementary School complex. In Mercer County, the new $5.8 million Oakvale School is being constructed at the site of the existing Oakvale School. While the new project retains the same gymnasium as the present facility the rest of the building will be brand new. This includes new central airconditioning, new heating and plumbing, new electrical service, a modern media center, an

office suite, new classrooms, cafeteria, hallways and foyers and improved spacing for parents to pick up students, and buses to drop-off students. The new facility also will be located outside of the flood plain and will be handicap accessible, according to Mercer County School Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers. The shell of the original school — a structure that dates back to the 1920s — was demolished in July. The demolition contract was awarded to Swope Construction Company of Bluefield. Akers said the actual construction contract is expected to be awarded this fall. “The new structure will be built a little further back from the road, but it will be tied into the gymnasium,” Akers said. “The look of the plan for the new building includes some of the features of the old building. The old building had an arch peak in the front of the building. One of the features near the entrance of the new portion of the building has an arch peak there. It will however sit

back from the main road to allow for parents (to drop off) students and a bus drop off.” Akers said the existing gymnasium, and the classrooms that are right now below it and behind it, will be utilized during the construction period as instructional spaces for students. A portable kitchen also will be utilized during the construction phase. Akers said disruptions to the learning process should be minimal. “There are classrooms in the bottom level we will use during the construction time,” Akers said. “We are bringing in a mobile kitchen, and we will use the mobile kitchen for cooking. So the kids will eat in the gymnasium. We would really like to have it finished by August of 2013. We’ve got the spaces worked out real well. The demolition will occur this summer. So the noise and all associated with that will be taken care of before the students come back in the fall. And with any type of construction there will be perimeters set up around the construction part where the children will not be allowed into those areas. We’ve also worked out evacuation areas for fire drills and such that avoid all of those areas.” Akers said the new school is being constructed with a combination of state School Building Authority dollars and county funds. The project is of particular importance because it improves safety for students and removes the old school

from the flood zone, Akers said. “It is very much needed for fire and safety issues, and flooding issues and accessibility,” she said. “There is no handicap accessibility to that building.” Akers said the new school is being constructed with elementary school students in mind. The old facility also served as a high school. “We are building a building designed for elementary students,” Akers said. “So that makes a big difference. The pre-K and elementary spaces are large. The sinks and toilets are sized for elementary youngsters.” Akers said the new school also will utilize natural lighting, similar to the PikeView Middle School complex. In McDowell County, site preparation work on the new Iaeger Elementary School should begin this fall. Construction is expected to follow in 2013. The new elementary school is the last project included in a decade-old flood-proofing agreement originally authorized back in 2000 by local, state and federal officials. The new school will be constructed at the site of the old Iaeger High School. “It (Iaeger High School) has been demolished,” McDowell County School Superintendent Nelson Spencer said. “It would be at least two more years as a target date for opening (the new elementary school). We would like to get started on

Staff photo by Jon Bolt

Going down... A worker tears down an old retaining wall outside of Oakvale School. New and renovated facilities will give area students new educational opportunities.

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some site preparation work early in the fall, and then begin to build the school in the year 2013.” Spencer said the new elementary school will be a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art facility. Students will continue to attend class in the existing Iaeger Elementary facility until the new high school is completed. Then the old elementary school facility will be demolished. “The existing elementary school is very old,” Spencer said. “I’ve been in it. We need a new school soon.” While former School Superintendent Jim Brown had proposed a new consolidated facility for Anawalt, Fall River and Welch, the proposal wasn’t funded by the state School Building Authority. Spencer said the project could be revisited in the future if additional SBA dollars become available. Three new schools have already been constructed as part of the original 2001 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreement. They are River View High School, Southside Elementary/Middle and the new Bradshaw Elementary. A fourth new school — Mount View Middle — was not a part of the original flood-proofing plan. It was constructed with state School Building Authority funds on property adjacent to the existing Mount View High School in Welch. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com


Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 3

Building a grand stage...

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

Still a dream... A long-planned multi-purpose event center — once referred to as an equestrian center — is now envisioned as a large-scale multi-purpose facility capable of housing festivals, conventions, county fairs, local and national conventions and equestrian functions. The idea of the equestrian park, and now the multi-purpose center, dates back to 2006.

Multi-purpose event center still a dream for Mercer County By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph PRINCETON — A longplanned multi-purpose event center for Mercer County remains on a slow path toward reality. The project — once referred to as an equestrian center — is now envisioned as a large-scale multi-purpose facility capable of housing festivals, conventions, county fairs, local and national conventions and equestrian functions. The idea of the equestrian park, and now the multi-purpose center, dates back to 2006. “Actually we formed our committee in 2006, but there are discussions that go back to 2004 or 2005,” Mercer County Development Authority Director Janet Bailey said. “It will be called a multi-use, or multi-purpose event center, but it will also be utilized for equestrian events. On the off years when they aren’t having those events it could possibly be used for the coal show.” At the moment, the National Guard Armory in Brushfork is the only facility in Mercer County capable of handling such larger gatherings. The Development Authority with support from the Mercer County Commission is seeking a site with at least 400 acres of land for the proposed development. “Well hopefully it (the multipurpose center) will be larger than the armory,” Bailey said. “I think it is very important to have an event center like that. There are a lot of events and a lot of conferences we have statewide and nationally that

are economic development conferences. In this area we just don’t have a facility or site to house that many people. For example, the Southern Economic Development Council meetings. There are thousands of people who attend these conferences.” Bailey said additional growth, including hotels, motels and restaurants, would follow such a large-scale multi-purpose center. “Hotels and motels could be developed beside of it,” Bailey said. “Also, you may have more eating establishments, fine restaurants and things like that.” The equestrian park was originally proposed as a joint venture between the county commission, the city of Bluefield and the city of Princeton. It was originally proposed on property jointly owned by the two cities. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later ruled that the property in question would not work for the equestrian park because it was located within the flood plain. The two cities are not directly involved in the new proposal. “They are not, but in a way they still are,” Bailey said of the cities of Bluefield and Princeton. “They provide support. As for the land, no, they aren’t involved. Because the site owned by the two cities was not feasible. It was in the flood plain.” Bailey said a equestrian component remains for the project, as well as a possible connection to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. “I think you are going to find the Hatfield-McCoy Trail is going to be very beneficial to

this project,” Bailey said. “Because I think you can tie the two together. They (the Hatfield McCoy Recreational Authority) are still interested. It has been a couple of weeks since I have spoken to Jeff (Lusk). But I see it as a possibility where we can work together and tie it all in.” But for now the focus remains on finalizing a site for the multipurpose center. Seven sites remain under consideration for the project. They include: • Site A — Alexander Farm. This site is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 460 and John Nash Boulevard. It has approximately 364 acres. • Site B — Cumberland Road Farm. The site is located east of I-77 approximately three miles from Exit 1 at the end of WV Route 290/1. This site is located immediately adjacent to an active rock quarry. The site has approximately 772 acres. • Site C — Route 460 East Properties. The site is located approximately 1.5 miles east of I-77 on U.S. Route 460. Currently an access road to the site is available directly from Route 460. The site has 352 acres. • Site D — West/Craft Farms. The location is east of I-77 at Exit 14 approximately 1.5 miles north of Exit 14 along Eads Mill Road. The site has approximately 649 acres. • Site E — Gardner Properties. The site is at Gardner, west of Exit 14, off I77. It includes land currently used for farming, homes, a mobile home park and dirt track racing; and it has wetlands. The site is approximate-

ly 1,026 acres. • Site F — Leatherwood Farms. The location is along U.S. Route 460 at the West Virginia and Virginia border. A large part of the property is in Tazewell County, Va. There are sinkholes on the property, according to the report. The property’s farm portion was previously proposed for commercial development. The site has approximately 971 acres. “The West Craft property is still the number one selection,” Bailey said. “It has all the infrastructure in place. They may need to add natural gas. Gardner would probably be the second selection. We have another site that is being proposed but I don’t think it has been evaluated yet.” If the West Craft, or Exit 14 property, is ultimately chosen for the multi-purpose center, the project could help to spur additional economic development and growth near the Interstate 77 exit. “I think you will see Exit 14 be

as busy as Exit 9,” Bailey said. “I think it will be your next exit to grow. There is going to be a lot of continued growth there. Jobs are what we look for and the creation of businesses.” Bailey said the equestrian park committee hopes to have a final site selected for the multi-purpose facility by fall — if not earlier. Once a site is selected, finding funding for the project will be the next challenge. “Funding will be the next hurdle after we select the site,” Bailey said. “We place an option on the site then we approach the state and approach investors. It will be a combination of private and public partnership funding. Anytime you have a venture like this it is difficult. You never know what your funding sources will be. But we’ve managed to come up with a lot of different funding sources in the past. Our board feels the same. But the first thing we have to do is select a site.”

An updated market and financial analysis report on the proposed multi-use center was presented to the development authority in June by Susan Sieger, president of Crossroads Consulting Services. Bailey said the summary of the market analysis report showed the market demand is still strong and that equine activity still represents a growing market for the region. The updated market report also found the project still presents a unique opportunity to generate significant economic activity to the local and state economy, as well as resulting tax revenue for the jurisdictions, Bailey said. Bailey said the multi-use center — and its equestrian component — has the potential to attract visitors to the region while also serving as a catalyst for additional economic development and recreational opportunities. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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4 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

Indian Ridge Industrial Park Officials look to bring positive change to McDowell County By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph WELCH — When the first inmates arrived at the new Federal Correctional Institution McDowell in the fall of 2010, the event marked the culmination of years of planning for McDowell County officials. Work on the industrial park began years earlier by county officials with an ultimate goal of attracting a federal prison near the planned interchange site of the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway in Welch. “What happened was we first started looking because they were going to put the big major landfill there that would take in 300 tons a day,” Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission, said. The county was ultimately able to acquire 6,300 acres of land located near the mountainous border of McDowell and Wyoming counties. The purchase paid for itself thanks to a timber lease agreement, Lambert said. “We flew along with the Wyoming County Commissioners to Washington to see (the late) Sen. (Robert C.) Byrd, and ask for some help to put something in there,” Lambert said. “That is when we started out with developing an industrial park. There just happened to be three or four seams of coal underneath that.” Soon, in addition to the timber leased from the land, the county had reached an agreement with current Greenbrier Resort

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

Indian Ridge Industrial Park site. owner Jim Justice also to extract coal from the site of the future industrial park. “We put very little money into it,” Lambert said of the project. “What was wonderful was he (Justice) gave value to the coal

underneath. If it hadn’t been for him we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We owe him a great deal of credit.” With the opening of the federal prison in late 2010, the cornerstone project of the industri-

al park was realized. Both the county and the city of Welch are now seeing economic benefits from the federal correctional center, including additional traffic and tax revenue. Lambert said efforts to develop addition-

al parts of the industrial park are continuing. He said housing remains a priority concern for the county at the moment. “It (the prison) will do even more once we get housing for the people who work there,”

Lambert said. “That’s where we dropped the ball. We didn’t do housing.” Both the federal prison, and teachers employed by the statecontrolled school system, need housing. “But that is all changing now,” Lambert said. “That is what is so great about Reconnecting McDowell. About 40 major companies are coming in and helping us change a lot of things.” The new Reconnecting McDowell initiative was launched earlier this year in a bid to help the still struggling school system. The public-private campaign involves more than 40 organizations that are focusing on jobs and economic development, housing and transportation and technology services for students and families in McDowell County. It was announced in June that a five-story building in Welch that once housed a furniture company would be converted into a housing complex for teachers as part of the Reconnecting McDowell plan. The housing complex will include TV lounges, exercise rooms, work areas and even a restaurant. Lambert said getting teachers and federal prison employees who work in McDowell County to live in McDowell County is important. Those who choose to live outside of the county do not provide tax revenue to McDowell County. “We have about 40 people who work there (at the federal

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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 5

Oakvale water project: A key to prosperity By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph PRINCETON — A new multimillion dollar regional water project currently under construction near Oakvale could hold the key to future economic development and growth in Mercer County. When work on the $8 million water project is completed later this fall, it will essentially open up the U.S. Route 460 corridor east from Princeton all the way to the Virginia line in Giles County. The area extending east from Princeton and toward Oakvale already has electricity and sewer service available, and with the addition of water the area will be primed for growth, according to Robert Farley, president of the PrincetonMercer County Chamber of Commerce. The hope is that once the water from phase four A of the Mercer/Summers Regional Water Project is available along with the existing electricity and sewer infrastructure, pockets of new economic development and growth will occur in the area extending between Princeton and Oakvale. “I think what they say now a days is businesses like to be close to exits and intestates,� Farley said. “They like getting the transit business as well as the locals. I think most businesses — even like your Lowe’s — they seem to like to be near exits and intestates. But with all of that said, going east on Route 460 toward the Virginia state line the power line infrastructure is in there, but we don’t have the water yet. But when that water is completed down toward Oakvale, I think you will start seeing some interest and some action because there is a lot of property on both sides of the highway down there that is already available. I understand in just talking to some people in the community that Target and Home Depot has looked at some property closer toward Princeton. I think we might be on the verge of something good happening as soon as the economy completely breaks and things get better.� Ground was broken on the $8 million project on Sept. 22, 2011.

â??â??â?? When work on the $8 million water project is completed later this fall, it will essentially open up the U.S. Route 460 corridor east from Princeton all the way to the Virginia line in Giles County. The area extending east from Princeton and toward Oakvale already has electricity and sewer service available, and with the addition of water the area will be primed for growth, according to Robert Farley, president of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to helping to open up the Route 460 corridor between Princeton and Oakvale, the new water system will bring public drinking water and better fire protection to 325 Oakvale-area households. The project also includes new fire hydrants that will help lower the cost of homeowner’s insurance to residents in the service area of the project. The new water system is on target for a late fall completion, according to Pamela Browning, general manager of the Oakvale Public Service District. “I think they are scheduled for completion in November or December of this year,â€? Browning said. “They are on schedule.â€? Browning said many families who will receive county water from the project are currently dependent upon contaminated wells as their primary water source, and are in a desperate need of clean drinking water. “It was a health hazard that allowed us to get the Bureau of Public Health grant,â€? she said. “It will help a lot of folks with urgent need.â€? Browning said the water project begins near Princeton and ends at the Virginia state line. “There is a fire hydrant up on Hilltop Drive, near National College, and it follows the mountain down,â€? Browning said. “It crosses 460 at White’s crossing. It goes on down and then follows 460 and crosses again at Goodwin Chapel Road, and it follows Goodwin Chapel into the town of Oakvale. It also picks up Possum Hollow Road, a small section of Cheesy Creek and a small section of Greesy Ridge

out past Walmart. It stops at Weiss Trucking. Then we had some bid under run money that is going to allow us to extend it toward Kellysville Church of God.� Browning said Giles County in the state of Virginia also has expressed an interest in linking up with the project at the state line border near Glen Lyn, Va. “With us getting that close to the Virginia border, it makes it more possible for them,� Browning said. Opening up the area east of Princeton to new economic development is important because there is little space remaining at Exit 9 in the Princeton area, according to Farley. He estimates that only “four or five lots� remain available for development near Exit 9, including the old Kmart property. That’s why additional growth is projected to occur east of Princeton on Route 460. When the water project is completed, Farley expects to see the initial growth to occur just east of Exit 9 in Princeton. “I would think they would want to be near Exit 9 to start off with,� Farley said. “But then as the growth continues the only way would be expanding east on 460. That is one of the reasons National College built down there is because a lot of their students come from Giles County. You will draw from Giles County.� Farley said a Target, or a Home Depot, would be a good starting point for the area just east of Exit 9. “They would be great,� Farley

Staff photo by Jon Bolt

Laying pipe... Work continues on a new multi-million dollar regional water project currently under construction near Oakvale.

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6 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

Airport remains grounded in Mercer County By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph BLUEFIELD — When commercial air service was suspended at the Mercer County Airport five years ago, a critical economic development tool was lost for the region. In late 2007, Colgan Air ceased all passenger service at the airport, creating a void in commercial service for the region. The facility also lost its Essential Air Service federal subsidy leaving the airport grounded with the exception of private and corporate air traffic. In the years that followed, state and local officials lobbied for an air-taxi service, but that idea was impeded by the onset of the Great Recession. Today, more than six years later, some local officials remain hopeful for a restoration of commercial air service, or at least some form of limited air-taxi service. “We are in support of anything that can help with the airport, and with the air traffic and growth,” Mercer County Development Authority Director Janet Bailey said. “I think it is very beneficial to have air traffic with economic development and growth. I really believe eventually it (an air-taxi service) will happen.” Charlie Cole, who was appointed to the airport authority board in April, said the facility has great potential. But he is advocating for various changes and upgrades, including improvements to restroom facilities, the pilot’s lounge and the addition of a courtesy car. “I’m a pilot and I do have an aircraft that I keep at the Mercer County Airport,” Cole said. “I’m also partners with my brother in another airplane we keep at it.

Staff photo by Jon Bolt

In the hangar... Competition pilot Luke Lee watches as Randall Hash inspects his plane in one of the hangars at the Mercer County Airport. Though it houses planes for multiple owners and serves as a stopping-off-point for pilots like Lee on their way to competitions, light traffic continues to bedevil the facility. The future of the airport is going to be a general aviation airport. The airport is never going to be a commercial air service airport. We lost our commercial air service, and it is unlikely that it will come back. There is not enough demand to make it realistic that any other carrier will come in. The reality is that is not the future of the airport. But the airport can be successful as a general aviation airport. So I think the area needs to focus on how

to make it the best general aviation airport. There are plenty of airports that are thriving that don’t have commercial air service. I think the future of that airport somehow determines the future of our area. Any business that wants to relocate (to the area) needs to have a functioning airport.” Cole said the airport authority needs to aggressively seek out regional corporate traffic. The more pilots that use the airport,

and the more hangers that are rented out and fuel that is sold, the stronger the facility becomes, Cole said. “I think the airport is in pretty good condition, but there are some improvements that need to be made to the terminal buildings, mainly to the bathrooms that haven’t had any money spent on them in years, and they are pretty sad,” Cole said. “This is one of the things I pointed out to the board members. During

one of my first meetings, I ran in to use the bathroom, and I was appalled by the condition of them. We are currently working to get quotes to restore the bathrooms. One of the points I made to the board members is that then Gov. Manchin and now Sen. Manchin has been to the airport several times, and you would be embarrassed for him or his wife to use it (the restrooms). Of course those funds would have to come from someplace. So we are looking into seeing if there is a grant out there to see if we can use it to remodel the bathroom. The pilot lounge is something that needs some improvements made to it as well. Many times it’s the pilots that determine where the plane is going to end up. In another words it might be a pilot, or a corporate pilot that has to get their executives to some local area, but they could also fly into Beckley. So our airport has to be competitive with services. And one of those services is a pilot lounge. Typically, when they fly in they drop their passengers off, and their passengers do whatever they need to do. During that time, the pilot needs a computer to check the weather, bathrooms and a courtesy car. And about all airports have a place where you can get a car. But most airports have a courtesy car, or a crew car. It is typically a car you can use for no charge, and it is typically to run out to a restaurant, or to get to a place to eat. Mercer County doesn’t have a crew car. My brother Tom at Cole Chevrolet is also a pilot, and he has offered the airport the use of a free car. He will provide a car at no charge. All the airport has to do is insure it.” Cole said Airport Manager Randall Earnest is currently

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looking for insurance quotes for the proposed courtesy car. Another area of concern for the airport is the lack of proper snow removal equipment, according to Cole. “One thing that is supposed to happen shortly is to get a truck replaced,” Cole said. “Two years ago, when we had the pretty brutal winters, the airport was actually closed more than it was open. And it was because the airport had a non-functioning plow truck that needed about $12,000 worth of repairs, and it has needed that for some time. And for whatever reason that money has not been spent. It wasn’t a big deal for several years because the winters were not that bad. But fast forward to the winters of 2009 and 2010, and we did have a pretty brutal winter, and we didn’t have the equipment to sufficiently plow the runway. So all of that corporate traffic that could have used our airport is gone, and it is hard to get them back. But it is my understanding that those funds are forthcoming to get a new truck. You can’t have a functioning airport if you aren’t open. It’s very frustrating to pilots that have aircraft at the airport that can’t get in or out. Two of your main sources of income at the airport is hanger rentals and fuel sales. If the aircraft is rented out there, half of the time or more you are going to get all of the fuel sales. When the airport is not open, you aren’t getting any fuel sales. And furthermore the pilots who are currently paying hanger rent may choose to locate their aircraft somewhere else. I believe the airport should make a big effort (to attract) all of the aircraft based in a 50-mile radius.”

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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 7

Roads to nowhere Construction on King Coal Highway, Coalfields Expressway By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph BLUEFIELD — When ground was broken more than a decade ago on the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, optimism was high that the future four-lane corridors could be completed in the not too distant future. Perhaps area officials were a little overly optimistic at the time. Flash forward to today. A good 12 years has passed, and construction on both roadways remains largely stalled. Bitter bipartisan gridlock in Washington, and the demonization of federal earmarks — the primary source of building roadways up until just a few years ago — has left construction on both the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway in limbo. The search for federal funding also continues for the Shawnee Parkway, a scenic two-lane roadway proposed to extend 22 miles between Raleigh and Mercer counties. Adding to the quandary is the apparent inability of Congress to pass a new long-term Surface Transportation Act, or federal highway bill. The last long-term highway bill expired in 2009. Nine short-term highway extension bills have been passed since then. The last short-term extension expired on June 30, at which time another two-year extension was approved by lawmakers. The two-year extension includes no funding for the King Coal Highway, Coalfields Expressway and Shawnee Parkway. While hopes were high earlier this summer that the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway would be awarded a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the King Coal Highway wasn’t selected for the grant funding — despite the fact that the federal agency had a pool of $100 million to award. The Coalfields Expressway did receive a TIGER grant — but only $5 million. The Coalfields Expressway Authority had requested $100 million in TIGER funds. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.,

King Coal Highway bridge announced the $5 million TIGER grant for the Coalfields Expressway on June 19. “With the increasing competition we see with the TIGER grant program, demand is far outpacing funding availability,” Rahall said. “It is taking its toll even on the size of the awards. All this points to is the need for a multi-year, fully funded transportation bill, which the House Republican leadership has repeatedly failed to pass. In fact, with the House Republicans trying to cut overall highway funding, and stripping the Congress of its authority to earmark funds, they have severely limited the ability of members to serve the needs of their districts.” It will now take the passage of a new, long-term federal highway bill before significant federal funds can be allocated for the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, according to local highway supporters. “Our work has stopped except for acquiring right of ways,” Sen. Richard Browning, DWyoming, said. “We are currently waiting on the passage of the federal highway bill in Washington. As I understand it the Republicans have been stalling because they don’t want it. Going from general to specific, it is very frustrating to see what is going on in Washington. When you put politics ahead of what is best for the country, something is wrong.” Browning said construction on the Coalfields Expressway in southern West Virginia has come to a halt near Mullens in

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Wyoming County due to a lack of federal funding. “We are basically dead in the water until Congress gets together and comes back (with a new long-term highway bill),” Browning said. “It’s very frustrating for me. It is frustrating to see this. We don’t have these problems in West Virginia because we work together in a bipartisan way. I belong to the majority party, but we also have to have the minority party to do things.” Although some work continues in Mingo County, the King Coal Highway project also remains largely in a holding pattern, according to executive director Mike Mitchem. “We are still waiting on the transportation bill to come out,” Mitchem said. “We have talked to Congressman Rahall. He has assured us he will try to put some money into it for us. Once that transportation bill is in, we feel like we will receive some money.” Mitchem said construction on the new coal gasification plant in Mingo County, and its close proximity to the King Coal Highway corridor, is another incentive for the completion of the highway. Mitchem said the plant will be using an estimated 7,500 tons of coal a day — creating ripple economic benefits for surrounding counties such as McDowell, Wyoming and Mercer. “Things are still going on, but we would definitely like to get some Mercer and McDowell County working going,” Mitchem said.

The King Coal Highway is proposed to travel 95 miles through Mingo, Wayne, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties with the Tolsia segment from Williamson to Huntington extending another 55 miles. It

will interchange with the Coalfields Expressway in Welch near the Indian Ridge Industrial Park and the site of the new federal prison. The King Coal and Tolsia Highways represent the West Virginia cor-

ridors of Interstate 73/74/75. It is estimated that more than 21 percent of the entire U.S. population will utilize the future I-73/74/75 corridor. The Coalfields Expressway — also known as U.S. Route 121 in Virginia — is proposed as a four-lane highway stretching 51 miles from Pound in Wise County through Dickenson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia line. It will extend an additional 65 miles in West Virginia through the counties of McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh. The Shawnee Parkway — a scenic two-lane roadway — will extend 22 miles from Ghent in Raleigh County to the mountaintop ridges of Mercer County before it ultimately connects with the King Coal Highway near Crumpler in McDowell

Roads, 13

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 Section Vl Sunday, September 30, 2012


Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section Vl 9


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10 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

History crumbles City skyline evolves as Colonial Intermodal Center remains priority By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph BLUEFIELD — The skyline of Bluefield’s historic downtown district continues to evolve. First the city’s old brownstone structure, or the old People’s Bank Building, partially collapsed on Nov. 19, 2008. The entire structure, along with portions of adjoining buildings, was later razed. Then the near century old-six story Matz Hotel collapsed during the early morning hours of Feb. 27, 2009, leaving a sea of debris along Princeton Avenue and downtown Bluefield. The collapse of the Matz also destroyed the marquee and front lobby of the Colonial Theater, a structure built in 1916. The Matz Hotel — a landmark that occupied a prominent position in Bluefield’s city skyline for 98 years — was originally erected in 1911. Then the old Princeton Avenue Parking Garage, a structure built in 1975, was demolished in early June after months of debate by city officials over whether the structure should be renovated or demolished. Crews with Empire Salvage and Recycling Company tore the old parking garage down in a mere matter of days in early June. The company completed the demolition project free of charge, and also agreed to pay the city $10,000 as part of the demolition contract, according to earlier reports from Mayor Linda Whalen. Then in late July, the city demolished the old Scott Street Parking Garage — the last of the city’s two downtown parking garages. With the exception of the weekly downtown flea market, the old Princeton Avenue Parking Garage had been largely under utilized in recent years. It was built in the mid 1970s, but only enjoyed a few years of maximum usage before the opening of the Mercer Mall in 1979. At that time, several large businesses — including J.C. Penney — relocated from the downtown to the newly opened Mercer Mall

❏❏❏ With the exception of the weekly downtown flea market, the old Princeton Avenue Parking Garage had been largely under utilized in recent years. located outside of the city. The old physician-owned Bluefield Sanitarium also relocated to its present location on Cherry Street in 1980, adding to the growing downtown woes. In the absence of the once grand four-story parking garage, the city has been left with another empty lot — and its skyline was once again forever changed. But the five elected members of the Bluefield Board of Directors are still hopeful that the proposed Colonial Intermodal Center can be constructed in its place. The city was awarded a $600,000 federal grant in 2009 by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., for the initial planning and preliminary engineering for the project. However, it is estimated that another $13 million in federal funds will still be needed to construct the actual transit center. And so far, the region’s elected lawmakers in Washington have been unsuccessful in coming up with additional federal funding for the project. “We are hopeful that the money will come through,” Whalen said. “But in the meantime, we are not just sitting back waiting on that to happen. We are pursuing other options for the property.” If a company capable of creating jobs for Bluefield would request to locate at the old parking garage site, the city would certainly welcome the jobs, Whalen said. If that were to happen, it doesn’t mean the Colonial Intermodal Center would not be developed. The original goal was to build the transit center at the former site of the old Colonial Theater and Matz Hotel — not at the parking garage itself. “We are just working every angle we can,” Whalen said. “It (the Colonial Intermodal

Center) is still a long-term project.” Whalen said the old parking garage property is a prime site for future development. “We are still in contact with Congressman Rahall’s office on a regular basis,” Whalen said. “But it is a process, and a very involved process. We are still hopeful that we will get the money for the project and Congressman Rahall continues to be hopeful.” Whalen said the parking garage wasn’t torn down because of the Colonial Intermodal Center. It was demolished because it would have cost millions of dollars — money the city doesn’t currently have — to renovate it and bring it up to modern standards, she said. Greg Shrewsbury, the city’s new economic development director, said the transit center remains a long-term goal for the city. “I think anything that comes into the city that can spur economic development and growth (is welcomed), and an investment that can be made of that size, the city would certainly utilize that,” Shrewsbury said. Bluefield’s project — dubbed the Colonial Intermodal Center — envisions a central downtown transit hub with connected pads or lots for prospective business tenants. The project aims to increase foot traffic in the downtown. The preliminary master plan for the transit center was unveiled in 2011 by Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm from Lexington, Ky., selected by the city to develop the plans for the project. According to the master plan, the intermodal center, contained in an area between Princeton Avenue, Federal

History, 13

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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 11

Jobs... Continued from 1 Virginia also continues to grow at the Virginian Industrial Park. “It is growing by leaps and bounds,” Bailey said of Recycle West Virginia. “And even more than we anticipated, and possibly more than they anticipated. They recycle everything.” Bailey said interest in the new Hatfield-McCoy Trail in Bramwell also continues to grow. “It is going to help all of Mercer County,” Bailey said. “Bramwell is going to find many opportunities that become available. We have had quite a few people contact us wanting to buy land (near Bramwell). We research and tell them what is available. There is interest.” Bailey said the national attention the new Bramwell segment of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail has received from the popular television program Fisher’s ATV World also is helping in drawing more visitors to Mercer County. “I think we’ve got ourselves in a good position,” Robert Farley, president of the PrincetonMercer County Chamber of Commerce, added. “Our state legislators still need to look at our tax situation in the state. We’ve been very fortunate — even through the economic recovery over the past few years. We’ve had two Sheetz go up. We’ve had a renovation of all of our fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s and Hardee’s. I’ve heard IHOP is looking at some property. Country Inn and Suites has a couple of out parcels they would like to rent.” The national Boy Scouts Jamboree coming to neighboring Fayette County will help Mercer County as well, Farley said. “We will see some spin-off benefits from that,” Farley said. “You are talking about 40,000 kids, and thousands of parents. They’ve got to stay somewhere. Our hotels benefit from this as well.” The 2013 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County will bring an estimated 40,000 Boy Scouts to southern West Virginia. During their stay, the Boy Scouts will be participating in community service work throughout the region. Mercer County had few project proposals at first, but an extension of the deadline for submitting projects helped boost the numbers. The current challenges facing the Bluefield end of the county are not insurmountable, according to Marc Meachum, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce. “There are opportunities in Bluefield,” Meachum said. “There are people looking everyday. The number of inquiries in our office is probably as good now as they have been for the last few years. There are small things happening like Tom Cole’s new (trucking) company. They are not as visible as what you may see at Exit 9, but there are things happening.” Meachum said Sheetz is still exploring options in Bluefield, and the city will soon be relocating its transit system to John Nash Boulevard. And with the demolition of the old Princeton Avenue Parking Garage last June, the city now has an ideal site to market to prospective businesses, according to Meachum. “I think the city does have a good opportunity now with the piece of land there,” Meachum said. “It is an amazing job that Empire Salvage has done with

❏❏❏ ‘We’ve been very fortunate — even through the economic recovery over the past few years. We’ve had two Sheetz go up. We’ve had a renovation of all of our fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s and Hardee’s. I’ve heard IHOP is looking at some property. Country Inn and Suites has a couple of out parcels they would like to rent.’ — Robert Farley President of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce

removing that property and cleaning up. I think we would be remiss not to take advantage of any possibilities we have.” Meachum said the Leatherwood property in Bluefield, Va. — once the site of a proposed shopping center complex several years ago — is still in the running for the proposed multi-purpose center formerly referred to as the equestrian park project. “Leatherwood is ranked third,” Meachum said. “We had some concerns with a thing they said (caused) it to score poorly on which was a lack of hotels and motels within five miles.” When such a large-scale facility is developed, hotels and motels will normally follow, Meachum said. “Again that is what happens,” Meachum said. “It is just like the businesses that follow Walmart. The same thing would happen. While it is not one of the top two ranked areas, it doesn’t mean it is out of (the running).” Meachum said the current challenges facing the Interstate 77 Exit 1 in Bluefield are not a handicap to future growth. “The big problem coming north from Wytheville is billboard restrictions from I-77 be it Bland County or wherever,” Meachum said. “When you think about it there aren’t any billboards in that area. Businesses would want to notify folks to get off at that exit. Otherwise you would be right by the exit before you realize there is anything there. That’s the main thing with Exit 1 as you come through the tunnel if you aren’t looking for that exit in particular you will miss Exit 1.” However, there is both land and utilities available at Exit 1. “The utilities are there,” Meachum said. “The industrial park is almost full. There is a lot there. Although not as much as it appears because a lot of it goes up the mountain. But there are some positives. A major positive is Enersys. They bought the Noland building. They’ve been a big coal show supporter and exhibitor in our coal show for a number of years. That is a business that has chosen to stay in Mercer County and is growing. That is the kind of jobs we really need — the manufacturing jobs. Retail and service sector jobs are good. But manufacturing jobs are typically higher paying with good benefits. Don’t get me wrong. We need both. But we need more of a mixture. I think the country as a whole is still in a bit of a tough time. We are hearing from businesses that they are not quite ready to expand and move to a new location. The biggest thing that is stopping businesses is uncertainty mainly coming from government. Regulations of all sorts are just stifling the economy to the point where businesses that might want to expand aren’t going to They might just sit on their money until they have some certainty.” Meachum said West Virginia is making some improvements in

its tax code, including the gradual elimination of the food tax. “It is significant and if nothing else a psychological plus to have the food tax almost eliminated by this time next year,” Meachum said. “Corporate income tax and business income tax are coming down. In another few years we will be competitive with Virginia. So all of those things do make Mercer County better than it has been for a while. But there is a lot of competition for very few businesses.” Mercer County also is receiving inquires about the Tazewell County-based bottling plant. “With the Bluefield Bottling Company over in Virginia, we have had several people to contact our office, and we’ve referred them over to my counterpart in Virginia — Margie Douglass. In economic development there shouldn’t be boundaries. What is good for Bluefield, Va., is also good for Bluefield, W.Va., and the region.” Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer said marketing efforts at the old bottling plant continue. “Well we have had some inquiries, and we actually had a company from South Carolina we met with twice that officially made an offer to Kroger to buy the facility,” Spencer said. “We are waiting to hear back to see if their offer is accepted. Representatives of the county and the town of Bluefield met with the company. So it’s up to Kroger — as the owner — to see if it is something they will accept. We’ve also had state representatives to help. Whether it ends up being another bottling company, or another business, we are going to do everything we can to aggressively market it. It is a prime location and a beautiful facility.” Spencer said other businesses in the Bluefield, Va. Industrial Park have expanded in recent months, including at least one new site that is being developed at the park. For the most part, existing industrial parks in the eastern and western ends of the county are full. That leaves the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park — a new industrial park in the Eastern District — with the only remaining sites. “They are pretty full,” Spencer said of the existing industrial parks in Bluefield and Pounding Mill. “But we are blessed that there are some private developers who own land who are trying to develop their properties as well. We are still getting inquiries. We are aggressively marketing.” The new Spearhead Trails — a project of the Southwest Virginia Regional Recreational Authority — also is nearing closer to reality for Tazewell County. “We’ve got 53 miles of trails mapped,” Spencer said. “We’ve got $100,000 in grant money to start building trails. And we are waiting on agreements with two land owners so we can start building the trails.”

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The Spearhead Trail project hopes to connect with the existing Hatfield-McCoy Trails near Bramwell. In addition to the Spearhead Trail, the new “Back of the Dragon” motorcycle trail also is proving to be very popular for Tazewell County. “You can ride that (the Back of the Dragon) on any day,” Spencer said. “You see a lot of motorcycles coming through our area so recreation is big business.” Located along Route 16 between Frog Level in Tazewell County and Marion in Smyth County, the 32 mile route was first unofficially dubbed as the “Back of the Dragon” by local motorcyclists because of the unique geography of the mountain and its 15-mile per hour curves. It was later officially declared the “Back of the Dragon” by the county Board of Supervisors at the urging of the county’s Tourism Committee. A similar trail located in Deals Gap, N.C., is called the “Tail of the Dragon.” Spencer said the Claypool Hill section of Tazewell County has seen a lot of retail and service industry growth in recent months — and there is more room to grow in the area. Recent additions to the Claypool Hill area have included a new Tractor Supply Company store, a new Hibbett Sports store, and a new Gamestop. “Claypool Hill is a growth area,” Spencer said. “But one of the things is having available sites. As you know infrastructure plays a very big part in that. You aren’t going to grow if you don’t have public utilities, broadband and things like that.” Spencer said efforts to recruit new tenants to the recently finished Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park also continues. Two sites are currently ready for occupancy at the park with

water, sewer, roads, broadband and other necessary infrastructure for prospective industries. Of the original 680 acres at the park, Spencer said at least 180 acres have been designated for business lots at this time. Tazewell County officials announced earlier this month that a new dental school will be the park’s first tenant. “We are interested in growth across the entire county, not just one region,” Spencer said. “Also keep in mind that education-led economic development is very powerful. We continue to see good things happen at Southwest Virginia Community College and Bluefield College. You have to have a creative workforce, and both have been charged with doing that. I think that is key.” When word came down earlier this year that Bluefield Beverage would be closed, Spencer said the supervisors were quick to schedule job fairs in both Bluefield and Richlands. He said the board is now hoping to make the jobs fairs an annual event. “Then throw in what Supervisor (Mike) Hymes brought up the other night about the micro loan program through the IDA (Industrial Development Authority) to help start up businesses,” Spencer said. “I think that is a good idea to do anything we can to help cultivate or start-up businesses. Seventy-five percent of our businesses employ 5 percent or

less. I think it is something that is good, and is a good idea. We are excited about it because it gives us another tool and another arsenal to try to attract business.” Spencer said the new VMAP, or virtual marketing program that can be reached from the county’s website, also is proving to be a great tool for the promotion and retention of existing businesses in the county. “Economic development is the most competitive aspect of local government there is,” Spencer said. “It is tough because you are competing not only locally and statewide, but also nationally and internationally. The national economy is up and down on a bigger scale. You have highs and lows. Our local economy doesn’t see those spikes so bad. For example, I live in Deerfield, and even during the housing debacle we had, they continued to build houses. Our real estate market has stayed strong.” Spencer said Tazewell County officials will keep fighting for jobs. “You’ve got to know when opportunity is knocking,” he said. “Everyday there are opportunities out there. And we’ve got to be aggressive. Not only to see what they are but to aggressively go after them. Our citizens deserve the best effort we can give and that’s what we try to do on a daily basis.” — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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12 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

Southwest Virginia

Large-scale road projects close in on completion By CHARLES OWENS Bluefield Daily Telegraph GRUNDY, Va. — Several largescale road construction projects in Southwest Virginia remain on target for completion in 2013 and 2014. One of the largest highway construction projects in the region is the U.S. Route 460 relocation and widening project in Buchanan County. Construction on both phases II and III of the project are continuing. Phase II, a $36 million project, is scheduled for completion in May 2013. It involves a widening of Route 460 from the recently completed downtown area to Route 615. Phase III of the Route 460 widening project began in the spring of 2011 at a cost of $23.3 million. It is scheduled for completion in April 2014. The 1.18 mile project extends from Route 615 to Royal City. When both phases II and III are finished, the four-laning of Route 460 from Claypool Hill in Tazewell County to Grundy in Buchanan County will also be completed, according to Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Earl. “Phase III began last spring,” Earl said. “We are widening what we could call the existing roadway. It goes from Route 615 to Royal City. The contractor for phase III is Kanawha Stone out of Nitro, W.Va. That’s a 1.18 mile section.” Earl said the project contractors continue to work five to six day a week on the widening project. “On phase III we are seeing more traffic delays because it is on that existing roadway,” Earl said. “They (the contractor) are pretty much working either five to six days a week on both of these projects. With phase II we do have some blasting work. A lot of blasting work is taking place so far to bring the road down to grade. They stop traffic. They go and inform the businesses it is about to occur. It’s been a challenge, but there have been numerous precautions made.” Earl said periodic blasting is expected to continue at least through the fall.

Contributed photo

In progress... Virginia Department of Highways Crews work on Phase II and III of the U.S. Route 460 relocation and widening project in Gundy Va. According to Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michele Earl, the project, which is scheduled for completion in May 2013, is one of the largest highway construction projects in the region Both projects are a part of Corridor Q, which is a part of the Appalachian Development Highway System. The relocation and widening projects are both linked to the recently completed multi-million dollar flood proofing project in Grundy. More than 75 families, non-profit organizations and businesses were recently relocated to the new redevelopment site across the Levisa River. A Walmart supercenter, and other adjoining businesses, are now open at the new Grundy Town Center. In addition to the Route 460 widening project, preliminary engineering work also is contin-

uing on the Coalfields Expressway project in Southwest Virginia. The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted earlier this year to allocate another $120 million in state and federal funds toward the development of the Coalfields Expressway in its six-year transportation plan. The funding to be allocated over the next six years will go toward preliminary engineering and construction of the future four-lane corridor in Southwest Virginia. The ongoing work includes the Doe Branch section of the Coalfields Expressway that will tie into the

U.S Route 460 Connector Phase II, the Pound Connector and the recently completed rough grade road bed portion of the Hawks Nest section of the roadway. “Our first section, Hawks Nest, was created last August to rough grade, but it hasn’t been turned over to VDOT yet,” Earl said. “We anticipate having pubic hearings for the Pound Connector, which is Dickenson and Wise counties, and the Doe Branch section, which would touch Buchanan and Dickenson. The Doe Branch section ties into the Route 460 Connector Phase II. That next phase of the connector is currently being negotiated with

coal companies for a coal synergy approach — similar to how we did Hawks Nest.” When completed in Southwest Virginia, the Coalfields Expressway will extend 51 miles through Buchanan, Wise and Dickenson counties. It will link with intestates 64 and 77 in neighboring West Virginia where the future four-lane corridor will extend another 65 miles through McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties. Also still under construction in Southwest Virginia is a $3.1 million bridge repair project in Tazewell County. The project contract was awarded this past spring to DLB, Inc. of Hillsville

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to repair the Business Route 460 bridge in Richlands, which is located adjacent to the intersection of Route 460 near McDonald’s. “A major portion of the traffic traveling on Route 460 turns onto Business Route 460 through the town of Richlands,” Earl said. “Approximately 13,000 vehicles per day travel this stretch of business Route 460.” Construction also is expected to get underway soon on a $8 million road renovation project to increase access to the Pocahontas State Correctional Center in Tazewell County. A public hearing was held in July to receive public input on VDOT’s plan to reconstruct a 1.82 mile section of Route 696, also known as Big Branch Road. Earl said the new improvements on Route 696 are needed to make the prison more accessible. The project involves a widening of the road to accommodate heavy traffic flow and to improve access to the state correctional center. Drainage improvements also will be made to the road. The proposed roadway will have 11-foot-wide lanes with 6foot-wide shoulders. The shoulders will be 9-feet-wide in areas where guardrail is installed. Improvements also will be made at the intersection of Route 102 and 696. Earl said a mix of state and federal funds will help cover the costs of the project. Also in Tazewell County, the Hockman Pike replacement project in Bluefield, Va. is nearing a completion. The $2 million project was launched by VDOT in July 2011. “The purpose of the project is to remove the bridge in the flood plain by relocating an approximately half-mile section of Hockman Pike,” Earl said. The road carries about 2,000 vehicle a day.” The construction began in the spring of 2011 at the intersection of Hockman Pike and Fincastle Turnpike, or Route 720. The project ends at the intersection of the existing Hockman Pike and Parkview Street. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com


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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section VI 13

History... Continued from 10

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

Proposed site... This area in Bluefield is the proposed sight for the future Colonial Intermodal Center.

Roads... Continued from 13 County. So far only 1.22 miles of the Shawnee Parkway have been construction in the Ghent area of Raleigh County, bringing the two-lane scenic roadway within striking distance of the Mercer County line. In neighboring Virginia, slow progress continues on the Coalfields Expressway — thanks in part to a successful public-private coal synergy agreement with Alpha Natural Resources. The Commonwealth Transportation Board’s agreed earlier this year to allocate another $120 million in state and federal funds toward the development of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia as part of its six-year transportation plan. The funding to be allocated over the next six years will go toward preliminary engineering and construction of the future four-lane corridor in Southwest Virginia. The ongoing work includes the Doe Branch section of the Coalfields Expressway that will tie into the U.S Route 460 Connector Phase II, the Pound Connector and the recently completed rough grade road bed portion of the Hawks Nest section of the roadway. Funding in the draft-six-year plan goes toward highway, road and bridge projects, as well as rail, transit, bicycle, pedestrian and other transportation improvements across the

Commonwealth. The fiscal year 2013 draft of Virginia’s six-year improvement plan has more than $143 million in projects allocated for the 12-county Bristol district. The current plan also shows more than $568 million in allocations between fiscal year 2013 and 2018. The Virginia Department of Transportation has partnered with Alpha Natural Resources on the development of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia. The company in a unique public-private partnership is helping to create a rough grade road bed for the highway through the extraction of coal. The coal synergy plan has already saved the Commonwealth more than $100 million in construction costs on the project, according to earlier reports from VDOT. Construction on the first segment of the southern West Virginia leg of the Coalfields Expressway began in McDowell County in early 2000. At the time, hundreds jammed Mount View High School in Welch to witness groundbreaking ceremonies for the project. The dignitaries in attendance for the ceremony included the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and the late Gov. Cecil H. Underwood. The first — and to date last phase of the Coalfields Expressway to be completed in McDowell County — was a 1.5 mile non-paved section of the highway constructed just south

Street, Raleigh Street and Scott Street, would feature building pads on which new structures could be built or shell buildings could be constructed. A plaza and a transit transfer center along Princeton Avenue also would be developed for public buses as part of the original plan. The building spaces also could be utilized by public entities or private businesses, according to the preliminary project proposal. Another part of the master plan includes the addition of a climbing wall and an observation platform from which visitors could view the neighboring Norfolk Southern rail yards. Such an observation center for out of town visitors to view the city’s historic rail yards has long been requested of the proposed interchange of the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway. Construction began a few years later in Mercer County on the first local segment of the King Coal Highway. The first segment of the future I-73/74/75 corridor to be completed near Bluefield was the K.A. Ammar Interchange. That construction was followed by two smaller bridge contracts awarded by the state. By 2009, construction on the new $16 million twin interstate bridges — later renamed the Christine Kinser Bridge by the West Virginia Legislature — had been completed. The twin bridges extend across Stoney Ridge, near Bluefield and the Mercer Mall. But construction on the Mercer County segment of the King Coal Highway has remained inactive since that time. Mitchem estimates that it will take another $66 million in federal funds to extend the future four-lane corridor toward Route 123, and the area near the Mercer County Airport, thus creating a usable segment of the I-73/74/75 corridor for Mercer County. “We’ve asked for around $68 million for that section from the K.A. Ammar Interchange,” Mitchem said. “But the cost (of building highways) goes up every year.” Although a decade has passed since ground was first broken on the future King Coal Highway corridor in Bluefield, only a mile and a half of the highway has been completed to

by some in the city. State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox awarded the city $120,000 in toll-revenue tax credits earlier this year to help offset local matching fund requirements for the Colonial Intermodal Center project. The approval of the toll-revenue tax credits allowed the city to expedite the drawdown of the $600,000 in federal funds secured in 2009 by Rahall for the final design of the transit center project. Those federal funds required a $120,000 match in local dollars. The state also awarded $2.2 million in toll-revenue tax credits several years ago for the BIG, or Beckley Intermodal Gateway project, in Beckley. The Bluefield transit project is modeled after the BIG project in Beckley. The idea for the transit center actually dates back to 2007

when a group of local citizens got together to come up with ways to promote economic development in the city. At the time, Whalen said the citizens — John Shott, Norris Kantor, Oretta Hubbard, former City Manager Mark Henne and herself — met to look at ways to promote economic development in the downtown and to increase foot traffic in the area. The idea was then presented to U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, DW.Va., and Rahall. Rahall’s office offered to help, but asked the city to come up with a specific project idea for them to help fund. Whalen said similar transportation projects in Beckley and Huntington led to the formation of the Colonial Intermodal Center concept. The original thought was for the design of the facility to be centered around Bluefield’s railroad history while also

incorporating the existing Bluefield Area Transit system and the Greyhound bus system serving Bluefield. The center as currently envisioned also has the potential to link up with local airline hubs as well as connect with possible future passenger rail service if it is offered by Norfolk Southern. Whalen said transportation helped to build Bluefield as a city. That’s why the transit center aims to pay tribute to Bluefield’s railroad past. The city itself was selected as the headquarters for Norfolk and Western Pocahontas Coal Company in the late 1880s due to the natural gravity of the city’s railroad and soon became a hub for not only the transportation of coal, but also passenger rail as well until the 1950s, according to the newspaper archives. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

date in Mercer County. Another 12 miles of the road — although two lanes only — has been finished in Mingo County. A seven mile stretch of the Tolsia segment also has been construct-

ed. The King Coal Highway Authority and Consol Energy also is working to receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency on a five mile stretch of

the King Coal Highway that would extend from the Delbarten to Belo communities in Mingo County, Mitchem said. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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14 Section VI Sunday, September 30, 2012

McDowell... Continued from 4 Cole said first impressions for corporate visitors are important. That’s why having topnotch facilities are important. “When you think about having the coal show, and the coal symposium every year, there are VIPs that come through here, and you want to put our area in the best light you can,” Cole said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase the area and where we live. And when important people fly into the airport, and we have a terminal that has poor facilities, or at least the restrooms that are, it is truly an embarrassment.” Cole said he actively campaigned, and requested, for his appointment to the airport authority board.

McDowell... Continued from 4 prison) that live in the county right now, and it is increasing all of the time,” Lambert said. “Plus we have people at our own correctional facility to get hired there.” Lambert said many local residents will find employment first at the Stevens Correctional Center in Welch before later moving on to the federal prison. The transition allows additional local residents to seek employment at the Stevens center, an old hospital that was converted into a state corrections facility. Lambert said efforts to develop a larger hotel — possibly a national chain — also continue

Project... Continued from 4 said. “But we are too service orientated. I wish we could get manufacturing. I wish we could get a Toyota plant. They bring in better paying salaries. Manufacturing brings in the employees. We are too service orientated right now. We are retail, motels and restaurants. All of these have part-time employees with no benefits, and that hurts. Even though they are putting people on the payroll, they really don’t have good benefits without being a permanent employee with the higher pay.” In addition to the area east of

“There hasn’t been a pilot on the board in quite some time,” Cole said. “I pushed to get appointed to the vacancy we had. And all of my goals and hope is that we have an airport that will attract business to our area, and that we have the best airport we can have. I don’t have any other motivation.” Cole said a future air show also would make sense at the Mercer County Airport. “There is an airshow in Abingdon, one in Tazewell and one in Marion and yet there is not one in Bluefield,” Cole said. “To me that creates excitement. It is something do. It gets kids involved in aviation. I am going to be exploring having an air show, and I think if there were more activity that might attract a pilot or a company that might offer flying lessons. I think it would be neat if people

could take flying lessons at the local airport.” In mid July, Earnest announced the authority had accepted a bid from Matheny Motors of Parkersburg for a new truck equipped with a snowplow. It is being funded by a $160,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant. “It’s a tractor-trailer type cab with a dump bed and a 12-foot snowplow on it,” Earnest said. The new snow removal truck is expected to arrive at the airport by November — and before the onset of winter. The airport authority is also seeking bids for work on the airport’s restrooms, Earnest said. Having a strong airport is essential to existing businesses, and new business growth, according to Marc Meachum, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Bluefield

Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of local businesses use the airport, and a lot of corporate planes fly in and out of there,” Meachum said. “The big companies need that airport. They ask about commercial air service. One of the first things they ask is what kind of air service you have.” Meachum said some type of limited, air-taxi service, would be ideal at the airport. “That would obviously be something we would be very interested in and very supportive of and would certainly help promote it in any way we could,” Meachum said. “But given the economics of this country and the airline business, I think it is more important that we keep the service we have up there and continue to maintain the airport as well.” Meachum said getting an

Essential Air Service federal subsidy back at the airport is unlikely at this time. “The Essential Air Service program has been under a great deal of scrutiny lately,” Meachum said. “They (Congress) just reauthorized it. I think it is going to be looked at very carefully each time it comes up. My understanding is the rules put us out of contention for even applying for Essential Air Service. I’m just kind of a really interested bystander when it comes to the airport. I go to most of the meetings because I know the importance of the airport to the area.” When the Essential Air Service federal subsidy for the airport was lost in 2007, federal officials pointed the blame at local authorities. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-

W.Va., said opportunities were missed on the local level. During a meeting with the Daily Telegraph editorial board in late 2007, Rockefeller said the Mercer County Airport was the only facility in West Virginia that did not apply for a Small Communities Air Service Grant fund. Rockefeller said Mercer County officials also failed to respond to a Department of Transportation report in 2005 that indicated airports in Bluefield and Beckley would no longer be eligible to receive an Essential Air Service federal subsidy because of their proximity to hub airports. While Beckley challenged the ruling and ultimately won, Rockefeller said DOT records showed no correspondence from Bluefield. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

in McDowell County. He said a local developer also is planning to build condos near Welch Elementary School that could house both teachers and employees at the federal prison. Lambert said additional housing projects also could be developed in the future at the industrial park. Lambert said the county commission also remains hopeful that the proposed interchange of the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway will still be developed at the industrial park. “That interchange is right in the corner of our park,” Lambert said. “When that happens our county will blossom.” The Hatfield-McCoy Trail also continues to steer out-of-town

visitors and new tourism dollars into McDowell County. Lambert said a separate Hatfield-McCoy Trail being developed in the city of War also could connect with existing trails in Twin Branch and Wyoming County. “We have to look at developing tourism in our county because we have so much history,” Lambert said. “Sid Hatfield being killed up there, the first municipal parking building, the World War Memorial in Kimball and the highway up there (in Gary) that goes through the graveyard. There is just so much history. And our Stevens Correctional Center adopted that. They keep that graveyard up.” Lambert said efforts to demolish condemned, and

unsafe structures across the county, also is continuing. “We are in Gary right now,” Lambert said. “We have over 100 dilapidated houses to tear down. We just received $100,000 in loan and grant money to tear these dilapidated buildings down. We have maintenance people who can do asbestos inspections and removal. So we’ve got everything in place to do that. The good thing about Gary is when we tear these houses down, we can build new houses in there.” Lambert also hopes to see the suboxone drug treatment facility proposed for the county up and running by this fall. “Like I tell our people, if we don’t take care of our drug problem, we can do all of these other things, and it doesn’t

really matter,” Lambert said. “We’ve got to quit treating people who are on drugs like they are lepers.” Lambert said officials also are working to relaunch the recently closed day report center as the new McDowell County Alternative Sentencing program. The county also is hoping to expand the Stevens Correctional Center by renovating the former nursing quarters at the old hospital. This would allow the commission to close the older correctional facility located adjacent to the McDowell County Courthouse, and consolidate all the state correctional operations under a single roof at the Stevens Correctional Center. Under the plan, Lambert said

employees working at the older correctional center would be relocated to the Stevens Correctional Center. Lambert said the old nursing section of the Stevens Correctional Center would be used to house low-risk inmates who would serve as trustees. “All we are going to do is renovate the old nursing quarters,” Lambert said. “These will be like dorms instead of individual pods and cells. The cafeteria is already in place.” Lambert said the old correctional center at the courthouse could then perhaps be used as a temporary holding facility. The entire plan is expected to take about 14 months to complete. — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

Princeton on Route 460, Farley also believes that Exit 14 on Interstate 77 near Athens is an area also ready to grow. It’s also one of several locations under consideration for the proposed multi-purpose center in Mercer County that is expected to include the long proposed equestrian center component. “I’m on the (multi-purpose center) committee,” Farley said. “When and if that comes to pass one of these days, and if it does go to Exit 14, which looks like it will be a viable spot for it, then that will be the next exit that shoots up. There is all kinds of property there that is available. PikeView High School and the middle school is there. It only takes one thing to get it started.”

Farley said the multi-purpose/equestrian center could be the spark needed to create growth at Exit 14. “A conference center or multipurpose center is going to bring in motels,” Farley said. “When they built the one down in Wytheville, they built two motels right beside of the conference center. And their motels are utilized just for the conference center. And they are within walking distance of the conference center.” Farley said Mercer County is blessed to be located near Interstate 77. “This is not a Princeton or Bluefield thing,” Farley said. “The reasons we are seeing growth over here is because of

Exit 9. I was tickled to death with what happened in Bramwell (with the opening of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail). And

there are times when I go to Walmart in Bluefield, Va. One thing we are really blessed with in my opinion is our highway

system. You can just be anywhere so quickly.” — Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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Sunday, September 30, 2012 Section Vl 15

Bluefield Daily Telegraph STRONG THEN. STRONGER NOW

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16 Section Vl Sunday, September 30, 2012


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