April 6, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Henry County’s struggle of several years to get an environmental permit needed to develop Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is over.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday it has granted a final permit for grading and other site-preparation work to begin for the industrial park, planned on a roughly 740-acre tract on U.S. 220 south of Ridgeway near the North Carolina line.
“This has been a long road, but today (Friday) we can officially say that (the park now) is under development,” said H.G. Vaughn, Ridgeway District representative and chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.
County Administrator Tim Hall does not yet know how soon the project can get started. He said a meeting will be scheduled soon with the contractor, Blythe Development Co. of Charlotte, N.C., to “get a path forward.”
A groundbreaking ceremony also will be planned soon, Hall said.
Plans are to initially develop between 140 and 170 acres where companies can locate. County officials have estimated it will take 18 to 24 months to get the space developed.
Local officials were elated at receiving the permit.
“To say that we are excited ... is an understatement,” Vaughn said.
Commonwealth Crossing “has the potential to change lives in Henry County and the city of Martinsville,” he said, “by providing new and exciting job opportunities for our citizens.”
The county and city have agreed to share revenues from companies that locate in the industrial park.
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the park is “just going to be good all the way around” for the community.
Along with the revenue it will generate and the jobs it will create for county and city residents who need them, Towarnicki said, companies in the park likely will hire some workers from outside the community. They could move to the community and stimulate the local economy by buying houses and shopping here, he said.
Commonwealth Crossing required a federal permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The permit authorizes the county to provide infrastructure, transportation and site improvements to accommodate construction needed to attract two businesses to the industrial park, a corps release stated.
By issuing the permit, the corps authorizes the county to mitigate impacts to wetlands by purchasing stream and wetland credits in “mitigation banks” and through off-site stream preservation, according to the release.
After months of negotiations between local, federal and corps officials, the county received a draft permit early last week. The draft then was signed by Len Dillon, chairman of the Henry County Industrial Development Authority, which owns the property, and returned to the corps’ Norfolk District.
Col. Paul Olsen, the district’s commander, notified county officials Friday that he signed the document and a final, hard copy was on its way to them.
The permit shows that the county has until April 1, 2024, to do the planned site work.
In the release, Olsen called Commonwealth Crossing “one of our nation’s most complex current regulatory actions.” He did not elaborate.
However, he said, “our mutual signing of the permit demonstrates that we can collaborate to strike an agreement that balances the area’s pressing economic needs with its pristine natural resources."
While pursuing the permit, county and Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) officials communicated with two companies that showed interest in locating at Commonwealth Crossing, Hall said.
The corps had been averse to issuing the permit because no companies had publicly committed to coming to the industrial park. Yet companies will not commit to sites that have not yet received permits, officials have said.
“We remain in discussions with multiple clients” that are potentially interested in coming to the park, Hall said Friday.
But because no sites have been graded, talks with firms have been “short conversations,” said EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Heath.
They basically said, “If you ever get it graded, we’d like to talk about” coming, he said.
“There’s been lukewarm interest to this point” in Commonwealth Crossing, Heath said. Now that the permit has been granted, he said, hopefully more interest will be shown.
“Now we have something tangible, something viable, to show” companies, Hall said.
“We already are going full speed” to try and interest companies in the site, Heath added.
The county began buying land for Commonwealth Crossing in 2007. It has since spent about $2.6 million on land purchases, plus about $250,000 on costs such as legal, consulting and engineering fees, according to Hall.
The Harvest Foundation has committed a total of $10.86 million toward developing the industrial park.
“We know the effort that has gone into securing this permit, and we are absolutely elated” that the project now will move forward, said Harvest Executive Director Allyson Rothrock.
“This project is essential to Martinsville-Henry County’s long-term growth,” she said, “and The Harvest Foundation is excited to be involved.”
Another $15.62 million has been provided or committed by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
“Commonwealth Crossing could not have gotten past the discussion stage” without the tobacco commission’s help, Hall said.
He credited three commission members — Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville; former Del. Don Merricks of Pittsylvania County and Butch Hamlet of Henry County — for encouraging the commission to help fund the project.
The Virginia Economic Development Corp., Mid-Atlantic Broadband and the U.S. Small Business Administration also have been part of the project.
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