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Town Council hear both sides of the Rockwool story during special meeting

By Staff | Aug 31, 2018

Rockwool North American President Trent Ogilvie speaks during the town meeting at the War Memorial Building. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Chanting phrases like “Rockwool go home,” over 125 protesters lined the sidewalks of German Street, facing the Shepherdstown Community Center, on the evening of Aug. 23. The protesters watched council members and Rockwool representatives enter the building, and followed them up to the second floor meeting room, as the meeting commenced at 6 p.m.

Announced by Mayor Jim Auxer, the meeting’s purpose was to allow Shepherdstown’s Town Council to listen to Rockwool representatives and local environmental activists discuss the environmental impact Rockwool’s plant may have on Shepherdstown.

Shepherdstown resident Than Hitt asked the council to vote on a resolution of opposition to Rockwool, based on the information received at the meeting and in emails sent to Auxer, who is forwarding all Rockwool-related emails he receives from the community to the entire Town Council.

According to Jefferson Medical Center nurse Shaun Amos, Harpers Ferry’s town council released a statement in opposition of Rockwool on Aug. 21. Amos read the statement during the Shepherdstown meeting, which said Harpers Ferry will support legal action if it is taken against Rockwool. Charles Town’s town council has also released a statement in opposition of the building of Rockwool’s plant in the former Jefferson Orchards location.

As Auxer opened the meeting, he encouraged community members to represent Shepherdstown in a civil manner, before explaining the purpose of the meeting.

Katie Cpsick, left, of Bolivar, and Sara McCann, of Ranson, hold up signs in protest of Rockwool's plant before the beginning of the meeting at the War Memorial Building. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

“The idea is to get information now. That’s why we’re here, to let the council get information,” Auxer said. “For those of you who might not have the opportunity to speak, you can email me.”

Rockwool North America President Trent Ogilvie spoke first in the meeting, followed by four Eastern Panhandle Protecters representatives. Ogilvie and Senior Vice President of Group Operations and Technology Bjorn Andersen spent the remainder of the hour-and-a-half meeting, responding to community members’ questions.

“We have to be very careful about our facts. We do treat all of our gases before we emit them into the air,” Ogilvie said, explaining all gases and particulate matter will be treated before being released into Jefferson County’s atmosphere. Ogilvie said the water involved in the production process will be recycled back into the production process, rather than being released into the water system.

According to Ogilvie, a third party will assess air quality monitors which will be set up around the plant in three to four months, the results from which will regularly be released to the public. Currently, Rockwool is waiting for the completion of a Health Risk Assessment requested by the Jefferson County School Board, which, once it is finished, Ogilvie hopes will assure the community of the plant’s safety for children’s health.

Eastern Panhandle Protecters member Jennifer Wilkerson said she believes Rockwool’s environmental and health standards, which meet those set out by the Department of Environmental Protection, are not strict enough to ensure the safety of her son, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and asthma. The Health Risk Assessment’s results may help Wilkerson determine if her son’s health will be compromised by the plant’s emissions.

“I think it’s important we know more of what this will do to affect our children, especially to our more delicate ones. When I read about the sheer volume of particulate matter the plant will release, I am very concerned,” Wilkerson said, mentioning that, as a widow, she cannot afford to move her son and twin daughters out of Jefferson County.

“Because his breathing is already impaired by disease, my son can’t take any lower lung function,” Wilkerson said. “All children in our county should have dreams and opportunities — that’s why I’m here.”