Rockwool came into Jefferson County through a backdoor process led by unelected staff at the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Our local and state government committed to change Jefferson Orchards zoning and to provide tax and infrastructure subsidies to Rockwool during extensive, secret negotiations with the company.
The Journal News reported on July 25, 2017, "Negotiations with Roxul began seven months ago, and the project was code named “Operation Shuttle” to maintain confidentiality. The city, the county and the state officials involved also signed non-disclosure agreements."
While governments do negotiate with businesses in secret, the situation with Rockwool was different. This wasn't Amazon's HQ2, but a deal that was outside the stated mission of the JDCA and outside our Comprehensive Plan, and with only a few jobs paying above the County median. The negotiations included plans for sweeping zoning, roads, sewer, water, and tax changes. The secrecy of Operation Shuttle wasn't to protect Rockwool's operations, but to pre-load a set of policy changes and rapidly pass them onto an unsuspecting public.
Even if there was a temporary need to keep the negotiations with Rockwool secret, there wasn't a meaningful opportunity for public input on the agreement after the negotiations were concluded. In fact, work started on the ground even before the project was publicly announced. And Rockwool didn't hold its first public meeting on the project until over a year later.
Operation Shuttle was a scheme to deny public input and involvement in the Rockwool project.
"All the players involved did a very good job of keeping it under wraps.-- John Reisenweber, JCDA executive director in the Martinsburg Journal
Rockwool was announced to the public on July 6, 2017. At that time, Jefferson Orchard was zoned as an award-winning mixed use "Sustainable Community". Twelve days later, on July 18, 2017, the City of Ranson put forward a set of highly technical zoning changes that converted the mixed use property to allow heavy industry, and banned residential uses. At this time the City of Ranson failed to provide adequate notice to neighboring properties. (This issue is now the subject of pending litigation by Jefferson County Vision.)
On August 3, 2017, the Jefferson County Commission voted to accept their part of the Rockwool deal-- a special tax giveaway called PILOT-- under the code-named agenda item "Project Shuttle".
Here's the video of the August 3, 2017 County Commission vote. The public never had access to the agreement with Rockwool before the vote. Even the people attending the Commission meeting did not receive copies of the agreement:
Commissioner Jane Tabb: "I'm sorry Mr. Reisenweber, I haven't seen this. [the final agreement]
Clerk to Reisenweber: "You had asked me not to put it in the packet."
Reisenweber: "Oh. Oh I didn't mean at the exclusion of the commissioners."
Tabb: "Is it public, is it a public document?"
Clerk: "After you approve it today it will be a public document."
This is clearly a dysfunctional process. First of all, building Rockwool serves no public purpose. This is a private commercial transaction, and it is flat wrong that our government officials are signing non-disclosure agreements, planning zoning changes, and making taxpayer commitments to private commercial interests in secret negotiations.
Second, the process failed to include any consideration of Rockwool's toxic air emissions, or the impact of its trucking and around-the-clock operations on Jefferson County's quality of life.