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Tazewell County leaders address concerns with Project Jonah

Tazewell County leaders address concerns with Project Jonah

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Tazewell, Va. – A Bluefield woman’s questions about Pure Salmon have been answered by county officials.

Connie Bailey-Kitts posed several questions at the board’s September meeting and received her answers just prior to the Oct. 5 meeting. County Administrator Eric Young addressed the issues on behalf of the board and sent them in written form.

Young outlined the seven year history of the project and the competition between the local site and ones in South Carolina and Michigan. He said incentives offered by the state and region was a deciding factor but the county’s only role was to help identify grant and loan sources.

The county currently has three obligations to the project.  The company gets a grant from the county equal to the first three years of real estate and personal property tax when it creates 238 jobs.  The taxes have to be paid in full before the grant would be awarded. Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan County each agreed to lend the company $1 million for operating expenses with amortization and interest not starting until they hire the first 100 people.

The county cosigned notes totaling $1.5 million with the Tobacco Commission in 2013 to cover engineering, site selection and market research. That money turns into a grant if Pure Salmon invests $130 million in construction and creates the 238 jobs by the end of 2023.

The county would have to repay the loan if Pure Salmon failed to do so after not meeting the goal. The money is pro- rated and the company could be given credit for a portion if it fell short of the goal. The county does have a lien on some of the real property owned by the company.

The county has voted to use money from the American Recovery Plan act to assist with upgrading water and sewer for the project. Young explained that upgrading water and sewer lines will improve service to all PSA and town of Richlands customers while also helping supply badly needed employment opportunities.

 He went on to say that the intake and discharge volumes for water at the project are within the limits set by the Virginia Department of Health and the department of environmental quality.  Kitts also questioned the soil erosion and storm water plans for the project.

The document states the DEQ reviewed both for several months and many changes were made before they gave final approval.    The county hired Gress Engineering of Bluefield to monitor that part of the project.

Kitts expressed concerns the county would left holding the bag for millions if the project failed. Young’s answer is that the county has no obligation to fund in shortfall in the construction budget of the company.

The project was vetted financially by VCEDA, Virginia Economic Development Partnership and other agencies.  The technology was vetted by Virginia Tech when the idea was a presented in 2013.

Young said the fact 8F, the investor corporation, and other private investors put hundreds of millions of dollars in the project and banks are willing to lend more is an indicator the project is viable.

He said the board does not believe these groups would make a commitment if they did not believe the market was good and the technology worked. He said the company provided the state proof it has the funds to build the project and that is evidenced by the fact they are building it.

Kitts questioned why the county did not partner with an American Aquaculture company rather than a foreign one. The answer was that the county is not building a fish farm.  “We were approached by the company.

They wanted to build this facility in the United States and were looking for a location.  The state steered them here due to low cost of land, low labor costs, proximity to eastern and Midwestern markets and available workforce.

They picked us we did not pick them,’ the letter said.  Young also addressed Kitts’s complaint about the board meeting in closed session to discuss the project after it has been announced.

He explained that the Freedom of Information Act allows closed session on any matter involving contract negotiations so as not compromise the county position.

  

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