January 23, 2014
Thursday, January 23, 2014
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Site work at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre may be one step closer to getting underway after language included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 was signed into law last week.
Congress approved the language, which basically rejects the Army Corps of Engineers’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act, according to information from 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt’s office.
Bills that were introduced in August in both the House and Senate were combined into an amendment to the budget bill, according to Hurt’s office. The amendment states that officials trying to determine the environmental impact of development cannot deny a permit just because a site lacks a final plan, an identified end user, industry or industrial classification, according to online information.
“Oh wow. That’s encouraging,” Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said of the approval of the language, initially introduced in August by U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and U.S. Reps. Hurt, R-Chatham, and Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.
During discussions, members of a congressional committee stated they were “aware of at least two recent instances in which local economic development organizations have applied for permits to prepare sites to attract new economic activity,” but the Corps “has denied or otherwise frustrated those efforts,” according to an email from Hurt’s office.
One such effort has been underway at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre in Henry County. There, the Corps’ interpretation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act has held up the required permits for site work, largely because end users had not been identified, according to previous reports.
“Although the local organizations have established precedent by providing several examples of where similar applications were approved, the Corps now claims its regulations require the identification of a specified end user of a proposed development so it can review final design plans and other exact specifications of the proposed development in order to issue a permit,” Hurt’s office stated.
The committee discussing the issue “strongly rejects this new interpretation of Clean Water Act requirements. The Corps is not a local land-use planning agency, and the Clean Water Act provides neither the directive nor the authority for the Corps to assume such responsibilities. The committee encourages the Corps to work with these permit applicants, and any others with similar applications, to reach a better balance between allowing desperately needed economic development while still safeguarding important environmental resources,” the statement of Hurt’s office said.
Local officials such as Hall and Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County EDC, have maintained the sites had to be prepared before an end user could be identified, partly because of the length of time it would take to do the needed site work.
“We’ve said all along the bills are not specifically about Commonwealth Crossing,” Hall said. Rather, “it is about allowing localities to pursue economic development in concert with preserving and protecting the environment, and that’s what we want to do.”
Hurt also said, “I am pleased that language passed rejecting the Army Corps of Engineers’ interpretation of federal law which is currently holding up permits allowing economic development sites like the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre to proceed. This language encourages the Army Corps of Engineers to work with these permit applications to balance the need for economic development, while safeguarding environmental resources. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance this effort to bring much-needed jobs to Central and Southside Virginia.”
The Commonwealth Crossing project saw another positive development earlier this month when the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission approved a $6.5 million grant request to prepare two sites there for building construction. Two end users were identified by code names in the grant proposal.
A Corps official said at that time that the permit process was moving forward. No timeline was given for a final decision.
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