Residents from Jefferson County gathered at the West Virginia Capitol Wednesday to give Gov. Jim Justice a petition regarding a stone wool insulation plant they’ve spent the last year protesting.
The petition demands for Justice to put a stop to the Rockwool manufacturing plant that’s under construction in Ranson, Jefferson County.
“We ask that you (Justice) stand with the citizens of Jefferson County and facilitate the removal of Rockwool from our County,” several environmental groups said in the petition, including the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Jefferson County Vision and the Eastern Panhandle West Virginia Sierra Club.
Justice has, in the past, expressed support of the plant.
Both Rockwool and Justice say the facility will bring 150 new jobs to the state. However, residents have pointed to air quality concerns and the plant’s proximity to four public schools.
“We currently have no heavy industry in our county,” said Catherine Jozwik, president of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition and a member of the Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool. “The presence of heavy industry, particularly in this location, would threaten existing agribusiness and tourism jobs in the county."
Jozwik, who was one of several speakers at the Wednesday Capitol event, said the petition to Justice includes at least 13,000 unique signatures, all asking Justice to remove Rockwool from Ranson.
“If they won’t do that, then we need Rockwool to act like the environmentally responsible company that they present themselves as and install electric arc ovens instead of coal burning furnaces,” said Joznik, adding that would significantly reduce emissions.
The Denmark-based company announced plans in July 2017 to build a new Rockwool facility in the Eastern Panhandle.
The group broke ground in June 2018 on the 460,000-square-foot site within miles of four public schools and a low-income neighborhood.
During four open houses Rockwool held for concerned residents in 2018, residents gathered in hordes from cities as far as Winchester, Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland, arguing the plant will affect the air quality of the entire tri-state area.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection approved Rockwool’s air quality permit in April 2018. The company has said it anticipates construction will end in 2020.
Rockwool was cited in October for violating environmental regulations after investigators found sinkholes on the Ranson construction site. Members of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition said on Wednesday they have several ongoing lawsuits against the project.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member