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Ranson council hears concerns over Rockwool
August 10, 2018

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RANSON -- Ranson officials cleared their agenda during a regularly scheduled council meeting on Aug. 7, to hear citizens' concerns over the new Rockwool facility to be built within city limits.

Rockwool is building an industrial facility on what was once the Jefferson Orchard property, which was annexed into the City of Ranson several years ago. Rockwool will produce stone wool used for insulation in housing and other construction projects.

The Denmark-based company has drawn the attention of protesters in the county over the past few weeks, as citizens have realized the facility will release millions of pounds of pollutants a year, which could harm the health of the Jefferson County community.

According to Ranson Mayor Duke Pierson, in 2016, Ranson was contacted by the Jefferson County Development Authority regarding the interest of a company to locate within the city limits. The name of the company was not disclosed. A common practice in recruitment proposals, the discussions referenced an indistinct project name, "Project Shuttle," which was announced as Rockwool in July 2017.

Pierson said officials in Ranson, as well as members of JCDA, the Board of Education and the Jefferson County Commission all signed nondisclosure agreements during the project negotiations, something Pierson said is standard procedure as well.

The plant secured a Clean Air Act permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, issued on April 30.

"We have reviewed the permit process," Pierson said about the plant's securing of the permit. "We find no errors of law. We do not have jurisdiction to change the DEP legislation."

Despite the securance of the permit, many community members are concerned by the amount of pollutants the plant will release. The Rockwool property is located within two miles of four public schools and two daycare centers, a location that has many fearing for the safety of the children in the county.

A citizen group, Concerned Citizens About Rockwool -- now nearly 5,000 strong on Facebook -- has distributed information which says, "the facility has been approved for heavy toxic emissions, with two smokestacks about 21 stories high. Emissions are estimated at 470 tons of volatile organic compounds and 239 tons of nitrogen oxides a year. Citizens are also concerned about particulate matter 134 tons a year which are linked to all kinds of health issues." These details were taken from the WVDEP permit application.

Lee Smith, one of 40 individuals who spoke during the meeting and a member of the citizen group, said her family relocated here from Northern Virginia two years ago.

"We wanted this to be our hometown, but if Rockwool comes, that will not happen. I am not willing to roll the dice with my child," Smith said, one of several community members who plan to leave the county if the plant is built.

Cheryl Levine, a teacher and Summit Point resident of 42 years, said she stood this year at the teacher's strike, and she would stand now to protect childrens' and community members' health.

"If you had done the research that these people [members of the protesters in the room] have done in the past two weeks, you would know there is a risk," she told the city officials. "There is a risk. Why would you do this to these children?"

In addition to concerns over the pollutants' effects on humans, more than one person discussed how the pollutants could harm the health of horses, bees and agriculture.

According to veterinarian and equine surgeon Christine Weimer, equine experts had told her about the pollution's potential negative effects on race horses' performance.

"This will slow down and limit the performance of race horses," she said, referring to the racing industry located within the county.

Pierson said city, county and state representatives would meet with Rockwool executives on Aug. 8, and would discuss citizens' concerns about the plant's safety.

A rally planned prior to the council meeting outside of City Hall was canceled due to the death of council member Jay Watson earlier in the day.

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