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‘In this together’: Rockwool protest results in 24 arrests

By Staff | May 24, 2019

Mothers protest with their children in a play area above the protesters along Route 9 on May 16. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — As Rockwool continues to move ahead with constructing its plant in the former location of Jefferson Orchards, local opposition to the company continues to find creative ways to raise awareness of their fight.

On the afternoon of May 16, people from across the Eastern Panhandle region gathered to protest Rockwool on the side of W.Va. 9 Bike Path in Kearneysville close to the Northport Avenue exit, near Rockwool’s construction site. The protest, led by Resist Rockwool, was followed the next morning, with a prayer service held at Saint Johns Baptist Church.

Protesters walked up the path to the protest site, or were dropped off at the location by a River Riders bus, which picked up protesters from two designated parking lots at the Kearneysville Flea Market and North Jefferson Elementary School.

As protesters arrived at their destination, a number of police cars could be seen lined up nearby. The police had been notified beforehand of the protest, and 24 of the hundreds of protesters had signed their name to a list, saying they were willing to participate in a demonstration of civil disobedience. The 24 people sat down in a row at the Rockwool end of the Northport Avenue bridge, symbolically blocking the road from being used, and were then arrested.

“The 24 people trying to get arrested are willing to make that stand,” said Catherine Jozwik, of Harpers Ferry. “The election showed that a majority of residents are against Rockwool, and some of the people are risking sacrificing their liberty for this cause.

Rockwool protesters hold up signs along Route 9 on May 16. Tabitha Johnston

“We have gone through all the accepted procedures,” Jozwik said, mentioning the ways Rockwool’s opposition has tried to stop the company from opening its plant. “We have voted out the officials who gave Rockwool permission to move here. We have gone to the courts and appealed to the elected officials. A lot of us go to two to three local government meetings a week on our own time. Several of us bought stock in Rockwool and went to a shareholder meeting.”

While the recent attempt by the Jefferson County Board of Education to purchase Rockwool’s land for its estimated value ended with a U.S. Federal Court’s setting a preliminary injunction against the board, many of the protesters said they supported the board’s actions and hoped that, eventually, the board would try to buy the land again.

“We hope the school board appeals that,” Jozwik said. “The state has a chance to make a difference in this. If the federal courts can overturn imminent domain so easily, that puts a lot of state projects at risk.”

Some people attended the event with their children, leaving them to color and play underneath a rainbow tarp. For others, they came alone, or with their friends or spouses.

For husband and wife Herb and Dawn Dinius, of Inwood, this was the first protest they had participated in. The couple has been intending to join one of the protests, but this was the first that worked for their schedules.

Rockwool protesters hold up a row of signs for vehicles on Route 9 to see, during the protest on May 16. Tabitha Johnston

According to Dawn, the reason they wanted to participate in the protest, is their concern for the future of West Virginia.

“If the political powers-that-be keep on allowing these manufacturing plants to come to West Virginia, it won’t be Wild and Wonderful anymore,” Dawn said.