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Rockwool hosts open houses to provide answers

By Staff | Aug 31, 2018

Peter Regenberg, vice president of operations, U.S., for Rockwool, answers questions posed by county resident Ann Mountz at the company's open house held last week. Photo by Toni Milbourne.

HARPERS FERRY — Over a few days, Rockwool hosted open house sessions at the Jefferson County Community Center to share information about the plant they are constructing at the former Jefferson Orchards property in Ranson.

Stations were set up around the gymnasium at the community center, with information about everything from the history of the company to the plans for the new facility.

Just outside the building, hundreds of protestors were gathered with anti-Rockwool signs. Many Eastern Panhandle residents oppose the project, citing environmental issues and it being a “bad fit” for the area.

Megan Hartlove is one of the administrators of a Facebook group called Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool, which is over 8,000 members strong. According to Hartlove, what began as a Facebook group has now been incorporated into a nonprofit business known as Jefferson County Vision. While she said Rockwool is the current focus of the group, the mission of the nonprofit is “to protect and preserve quality of life in Jefferson County.” Jefferson County Vision is anti-heavy industry in the area and Hartlove said that the group has grown tremendously over the past few weeks.

When asked if she had learned anything from the Rockwood officials at the Open House, Hartlove made it clear she had not attended the information session.

“I have attended public meetings and forums and don’t feel [Rockwool] have given me any solid answers, so I wouldn’t get any today,” Hartlove said.

Answers to questions inside the building covered the subject of pollutants, one of protestors’ main concerns with the Rockwool facility.

Jeff Twaddle, a principal consultant with ERM, described the process by which emissions from the proposed plant would enter the atmosphere. To produce the insulation product, the process involves the melting of rock, spinning of the melted rock into fiber that is then joined with a binder of resin or glue that is then curd, cooled, cut and packaged. During the process, the particulates are run through multiple filters before leaving the factory through two stacks.

The company received approval of their operations and compliance with legal standards from both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of West Virginia.

However, many of the protesters said those standards are not high enough. Opponents to the project also cite federally unregulated pollutants, such as formaldehyde, which will be emitted. Formaldehyde is also unregulated by the state, according to Tom Wickstrom, of ERM.

“West Virginia does not regulate formaldehyde, but other states do,” Wickstrom said. “Virginia does regulate and Rockwool is using their standards and falls far below those standards.”

Political hopeful Sammi Brown, who is seeking a delegate seat in Jefferson County in November and is a staunch opponent to the Rockwool project, agreed with protesters’ beliefs that federal and West Virginia environmental standards need to become stricter.

“Rockwool did do everything by the law,” Brown said outside of the open house. “The change needs to be made at the state and national level.”

Brown also did not venture into the open house to speak with Rockwool officials, citing time constraints and other commitments, but said she hopes to meet with officials one-on-one to get further information about the plant.

Other concerns brought to the experts Saturday included questions about water quality and the potential for groundwater pollutants.

Tine Henningsen, senior environmental engineer for Rockwool International, said no “industrial waste water or ‘process’ water will go to Charles Town’s water treatment facility.” Water for employee use, for things such as drinking, toilets and kitchen areas will funnel to the wastewater treatment plant, while the “process” water will be recycled for use within the plant.

Several hundred individuals gathered information over the course of the open house schedule, something Vice President of Operations, U.S. Peter Regenberg saw as a good thing.

“We are listening to the community and doing what we can to address concerns. We should maybe have started with something like this open house earlier in the process,” Regenberg said, mentioning he did not anticipate such opposition to the plant being built in Jefferson County.