JULIAN, W.Va. — State Adjutant General Jim Hoyer says there’s momentum building in connection with plans to use the Rock Creek development project in Boone and Lincoln counties as a defense mobility training site.
The 12,000 acre site used to be home to the Hobet surface mine. Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had hoped Rock Creek could become a large industrial park. Hoyer said during an appearance Monday on MetroNews “Talkline” the focus on the military piece of the project is “not a wholesale pivot” on Rock Creek by the administration of Gov. Jim Justice.
“This is all part of what we had originally proposed for the Guard and military role on the site. It does not prohibit any industrial development outside what we are proposing,” Hoyer said.
Gov. Justice expressed excitement about the project in a statement released Monday afternoon.
“We’re going to get started out there next month, we have a wonderful chance to bring in millions of dollars in investments from military contractors and we are preserving all possibilities for future industrial uses at Rock Creek,” Justice said.
But state Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone) said Monday he fears the change will take away the momentum from the plans to bring manufacturing jobs to southern West Virginia.
“I don’t want there to be a total replacement of the original project which would bring high-paying manufacturing jobs into just military training,” Stollings said on “Talkline.” “In order to have a robust, diversified economy down here it can’t be either or. It has to be military and manufacturing jobs.”
But the industrial park plans appear to have been dealt a severe blow with a Justice administration decision not to build a 2.6 mile four-lane highway to the site from the intersection of U.S. Route 119/Route 3 intersection. That’s bad news, Stollings said.
“That’s what I understand has been pulled and that of course really worries me because we need to maintain the momentum for this project,” Stollings said.
Gov. Justice confirmed the decision to instead do a multi-million dollar upgrade to the current haul road.
“Investing $30 million is significant and will allow us to achieve what we need there for the near term,” Justice said in a news release. “When we get to the point that additional work has to take place then we’ll address it. But this will more than make the location accessible and ready.”
The state Division of Highways sold $58 million in Garvee bonds for the highway last December. DOH spokesman Brent Walker said at the time the money could not be used for any other project.
Hoyer said there’s unlimited potential at Rock Creek for military training especially in the area of mobility.
“To train on terrain in four seasons that mimics terrain that we would potentially have service members deployed to around the globe,” he said. “Teaching driving techniques for the Bradley fighting vehicles, teaching driving techniques for a Humvee (and others).”
There’s also going to be the development of a sand pit to help military personnel train for desert driving.
Hoyer said active duty military units from all branches of service will begin training at the site next year. Hoyer said Rock Creek could be another Camp Dawson or larger. A recent economic study said Camp Dawson supports 399 jobs.
“If we in West Virginia can generate that in the southern part of the state under a construct that trains service members to be better prepared to go do their mission and come home safe to their families—why would we not want to accelerate that?” Hoyer asked.
He also believes there’s a chance to attract defense contractors to the site.
Stollings said he’s in favor of military training but southern West Virginia, hard hit by the change in the coal industry, needs more.
“What we need to do in my opinion is put some infrastructure up there and put it (the site) on a map. Absolutely there’s been interest shown (by manufacturers),” Stollings said. “That’s been my real concern is that we are going to lose momentum.”
Stollings met with Justice administration officials last week about the shift at Rock Creek. State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said Monday the state is pursuing industrial development for Rock Creek.
“We are going to continue to work to make sure it is utilized to its highest and best use,” Thrasher said.