March 30, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Henry County officials’ struggle for nearly three years to get a permit to develop Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre soon may be over.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated in a news release on Friday that it had forwarded a “proffered permit” — basically, a draft permit — to the Henry County Industrial Development Authority for the industrial park planned off U.S. 220 south of Ridgeway near the North Carolina line.
“We’re excited,” County Administrator Tim Hall said of county officials.
But they will save most of their excitement until the permit is finalized, he said.
In dealing with federal regulators, Hall said, “we’ve learned not to shoot off the fireworks until we make sure it’s not raining,” so to speak.
A proffered permit “essentially is a draft permit,” he said.
Reached by phone while he was out of town on Saturday, Hall said he had not yet been able to examine the permit in depth, so he does not yet know what conditions the Corps has attached to it.
However, he said county Engineering Director Tim Pace and consultants working for the county have been examining the permit and “they told me at first glance ... there isn’t anything of significant concern” to them.
Tom Walker, chief of the regulatory branch of the Corps’ Norfolk District, stated that Henry County Industrial Development Authority officials may accept the initial proffered permit or ask the district engineer to modify conditions.
County officials will meet Monday to examine the permit in depth before contacting the Corps, Hall said.
Col. Paul Olsen, the Corps’ Norfolk District director, stated in the release that the draft permit is “an important step toward full approval (of a final permit) and demonstrates our commitment to balance our passion to build with our responsibility to sustain our natural resources.”
Olsen said that when all parties agree on the terms, he will finalize the permit and authorize the industrial park project.
Walker stated that the Corps has “worked closely” with the county on the permit request.
Corps and county officials had several conversations last week, he stated.
“We believe we’ve developed a permit that’s acceptable for all parties,” Walker said.
The release said the proffered permit was “an important milestone in the federal permitting process for the proposed Commonwealth Crossing Business Center.”
According to Walker, Commonwealth Crossing must have a federal permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharge of dredged and fill materials into the nation’s waters and wetlands.
The legislation states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for making individual permit decisions, he said.
Corps officials have said they considered the project speculative because no users for the site have been identified. Yet companies will not consider a site that has not yet been graded, county officials have said.
U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Robert Hurt and Morgan Griffith, both Republicans, have been pushing the Corps to grant Commonwealth Crossing a permit.
The park is a joint project of the county, Martinsville and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
Initial plans were to prepare 200 of the roughly 800 acres at the park site for industry. Hall said in October, though, that the Corps wanted the county to redesign the 200 acres and prepare a small portion for industries.
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