A host of state and local officials attended the ceremonial grand opening of an agricultural lime plant at Boxley quarry in Mill Point last Thursday. Agricultural lime is used by crop and cattle farmers to reduce the acidity of soil and improve plant growth. Lime from the plant also will be used by the Department of Natural Resources to reduce acidity in rivers and improve aquatic habitat.
West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick cut a ribbon to officially open the new plant. Other officials in attendance included State Senator Greg Tucker, Delegate Denise Campbell, Delegate Bill Hartman, Department of Agriculture Eastern Operations Director Mike Teets, West Virginia Conservation Agency Executive Director Brian Farkas, Greenbrier Valley Conservation District Chairman Tim VanReenen and County Commissioner Jamie Walker.
“It will serve many, many counties – 15 or 16 counties – which will enhance the quality and the growing potential for this section of West Virginia.” said Helmick. “We see it as enhancing
the land, the quality of the land, giving us the opportunity to grow products that we haven’t been able to, in a lot of instances, and it’s much better for the grazing land, as well.”
One Boxley employee has been upgraded from part-time to full-time as a result of the plant opening.
Helmick said more jobs will follow.
“As far as job creation, the thing that some people are missing is that, as we enhance the value of that land, you’ll see more agricultural activity and you’ll see more job creation. So, the immediate impact will not be hugely significant. However, in the long term, it’s one of those projects that is 100 percent positive for West Virginia. Certainly, it’s good for here in Pocahontas County. We think it will promote economic development for many, many years to come because, at the end of the day, agriculture’s here to stay. Other things will come and go, but agriculture’s here to stay.”
Local farmers previously traveled as far as Roanoke to get lime, incurring high transportation costs.
“We import a number of products,” said Helmick. “We import basically all of our food products in West Virginia. There’s so many things that we import, but in this case, we won’t have to now. We can get it here locally.”
Construction of the plant was made possible by a $500,000 loan to Boxley through the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation. The loan money originated from a former Marlinton floodwall and levee fund.
“It was originally put in there for a state match for a Marlinton floodwall,” said Farkas. “The Marlinton floodwall became a project that grew 10 times more expensive than what was originally envisioned. The decision was made to take that money back out. As the State took the money back out, it agreed to leave the interest that was earned on that money, sitting in a Conservation District account, to help finance this lime plant.”
Between 2000 and 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers completed plans for a floodwall and levee system for Marlinton. Fourteen percent of the $200 million project cost was to be paid by the state and the remainder by the federal government. Between 2007 and 2012, the state deposited $8.25 million with the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District (GVCD), the cost-share sponsor for the project. The GVCD invested the money in various interest-bearing accounts.
But the state government, facing budget problems, saw the Corps of Engineers not moving forward with the project.
In October 2013, State Budget Office Director Mike McKown ordered the GVCD to return the project money to the state, along with $570,000 in accrued interest. During its meeting on November 21, 2013, the GVCD board voted 3-2 to return the money, as directed by the Budget Office. Two Pocahontas County representatives on the GVCD board, Jerry Clifton and Tim Van Reenen, voted against returning the funds. Clifton and Van Reenen advocated for part of the flood money being used for economic development in Marlinton, where a fire had devastated the downtown area less than two weeks earlier.
VanReenen, the Chairman of the GVCD, said the federal government never made a deposit to the flood protection project account.
“We were the ones who actually held the checkbook for that money,” he said. “We were the stewards of it, so to speak. It was all state money. Our state Legislature worked extremely hard to get the money for the project and were very successful in getting $1.5 million to set up our portion of that program. The Corp of Engineers never had any money set aside for that – which is the very sad part for the citizens of Marlinton and the county.”
Teets said the idea for a loan to Boxley resulted from a partnership.
“I think it was a combination of Boxley looking to expand and a need for agricultural lime in this area,” he said. “The two came together and the only thing that was lacking was a way of making it happen financially. In conservation, we say that we’re a partnership. That’s what happened here – a partnership involving the Commissioner, the Conservation District, Boxley, and involving the Governor, because the Governor had to make decisions as to how the money would be allocated out.”
Boxley Vice President of Aggregate Operations Bill Hamlin said local officials approached the company about the need for lime.
“We were first approached by the soil conservation guys, because some of the other sources of lime had stopped producing and they were in bad need of lime for the pastureland, the grazing land, that type of thing,” he said. “We learned a ton, working with those guys, trying to work up the justification for it. The soil conservation guys and the soil conservation district down in Lewisburg – those guys are great – and truly knowledgeable. It gave us enough information to start the justification process.”
Helmick said better soil means a better economy.
“It’s very good for any aspect of the economy and quality of life you look at in Pocahontas County,” said Helmick. “The value will be the enhancement of the land, which means that we can do more with agriculture. Over time, the job creation will be significant. It will stabilize where we are now and enhance the potential for economic development for years and years to come.”