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Resisting Rockwool: Community stands up to protest Ordinance 2017-302

By Staff | Jun 26, 2020

Protesters hold large signs in front of Ranson's town hall before the town council meeting on Tuesday night. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Over 130 people attended the Ranson Town Council Special Meeting on Tuesday night. The meeting, which was held in Ranson’s Town Hall and available for the public to view on Zoom, gave time for Rockwool and its local opponents to present their cases regarding the passage of Ordinance 2017-302.

For the hour before the meeting, about 40 local residents stood outside of the Town Hall to protest the ordinance, which would rezone the area around Jefferson Orchards for heavy industry, so Rockwool’s insulation factory can begin production. The ordinance, which had its second reading during the meeting, would alter the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which had designated protected areas in the town, including Jefferson Orchards, for residential and light industry use.

“The community that is fighting here is large and strong and committed to fighting this heavy industry — we’re here for the long haul!” said Shepherd University alumna Annie Young, of Charles Town, as she held a sign protesting the ordinance’s passage across from Town Hall. “We’re coming up to two years of fighting, but we knew this would be a long fight.

“If this ordinance passes, I guess the next step will be some litigation, because Judge David Hammer showed us there was error done by not giving proper notice. So there’s room to keep fighting,” Young said, referring to Hammer’s May 5 judgement that Ranson failed to provide enough notice to its residents about the construction of Rockwool’s heavy industry plant.

During the meeting, Rockwool’s representatives denied the potential environmental impact of its plant and emphasized its financial benefit to the town.

Shepherdstown resident Tracy Danzey, left, protests with Rainbow Montessori School owner Annie Young, of Charles Town, on Tuesday night. Tabitha Johnston

“Two hundred seventy-five full-time construction workers are employed at our construction site on a daily basis. That’s on top of the $1.5 million spent in taxes and permitting fees today by Rockwool,” said Rockwool Public Affairs Manager Paul Espinosa. “We anticipate that our need for local services will generate $5 million in local services, and the amount of taxes we pay in the future may be $1 million per year.”

However, the majority of community members, or 98.3 percent, who reached out to the Ranson Town Council before the meeting were in opposition to the plant.

“When you have lost your way, you need things that guide you. That is why we have the Comprehensive Plan,” said Jefferson County Foundation, Inc., member Christine Wimer.

According to Wimer, the revenue and jobs Rockwool would bring to the area would be less than those in agriculture, tourism and horse racing lost because of the plant’s environmental impact.

“We would need 59 Rockwools alone to replace the jobs taken by Rockwool,” Wimer said.

A couple of local residents wave to passing cars on Tuesday night. Tabitha Johnston

While many of the protesters who spoke during the meeting asked for the Ranson Town Council to vote against the ordinance, they gave other options for the council members to consider, if they couldn’t vote against it.

“I’m a skeptic on the Rockwool plant, but my biggest issue is the politics and economics [connected with it],” said Shepherd University alumnus Samuel Greene, of Ranson. “I know many of you are planning to vote for this ordinance. What I am asking for you to do is to hold an election. There are more people on this Zoom call than voted in the last election. I would remain skeptical, but I would be much happier if it was elected by the residents of Ranson.”

Harpers Ferry River & Trail Outfitters General Manager John Gonano agreed with Greene, mentioning his greatest concern regarding the plant, is its potential effect on his family. His six-year-old son attends a school near the plant, and his wife has respiratory issues, which could become worse once the plant begins releasing particulate matter through its smokestacks.

“I urge the council members to vote ‘no.’ But if you cannot vote ‘no,’ I would also support a referendum of the issue,” Gonano said.

A couple of local residents protest the approval of proposed Ordinance 2017-302 on Tuesday night. Tabitha Johnston

A protester holds up a sign across the street from Ranson Town Hall. Tabitha Johnston