Tazewell, Va. – Project Jonah has another chance at life.
During its April 21 meeting the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors voted to return to the 2015 agreement with the company operating the project. Supervisor Tom Lester moved to amend the agreement with the Tobacco Commission and the company after the issue was discussed in closed session.
Lester’s motion was provided the agreement produced 218 jobs and the investment of $228 million in taxable assets in the county. “This is not an announcement just a housekeeping matter,’ Supervisor Mike Hymes said.
County Administrator Eric Young said the new agreement substitutes a new Limited Liabilities Corporation, (LLC), for the one that signed the original Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds agreement with the county.
“The County wanted to make clear that when the new legal entity builds the facility and creates the jobs their performance counts towards the original grant obligations, which were in the name of the original legal entity. Also, the agreement is modified because the investment numbers have changed from $130m to $228m and the jobs numbers have changed from over 300 to 218. This is due to changes in the growing and harvesting process which the company felt was best based on their research on the American market,’ Young said.
The county’s Industrial Development Authority cosigned for $1.5 million in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funding, (TROF) for the project. “The 2013 $1million TROF grant from the Tobacco Commission and the 2015 TROF grant for $500,000.00 were both for soft costs pertaining to the Tazewell County sites,’ Young said.
The project is still in line for $10 million from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.
“ The agreement there is that Jonah must spend at least $25million in hard costs by the end of this calendar year, not legal, engineering, permitting or other soft costs, before receiving any funds from VCEDA,’ Young said. The company still expects to meet VCEDA's December 2020 deadline which doesn’t change in the new agreement.
The agreement still calls for the county to give the company a $million tax abatement which would covef the first year’s property and machinery and tools taxes.
The project developed in 2013 after Delegate Will Morefield made a trip as to Israel with the American Israeli Advisory Board and begun working with the Virginia Israeli Advisory Board to find economic development opportunities for the area.
Since that time the county, Tobacco Commission, Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership have worked with Dominion Aquaculture in attempts to make the project work.
The original plans called for the project to produce Tilapia and Morefield led a delegation of local leaders to Israel in 2015 to observe the operation of one of those plants and other aspects of the Israeli economy.
Over the last several years the project has languished as Dominion struggled to find financial backing for the private sector portion of the deal. The company purchased 120 acres near the wastewater treatment plant in Richlands and has reportedly taken an option on property owned by the Southwest Virginia Community College Foundation near the college’s campus.
The Tobacco Commission, VCEDA and VEDP have all given the project time extensions on grant or loan funds over the years. In August of 2018, during a visit to Bluefield Governor Ralph Northam indicated the project was still alive and Hyymes said it might involve Salmon rather than Tilapia.