WV Press Staff Report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Joint Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism heard on report a state program to help counties with dilapidated properties during this week’s Interim Legislative Session.
Environment Advocate Ed Maguire with W.Va.’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) presented an overview of dilapidated properties, explaining the process by which individual counties can request state funding assistance to remove dilapidated structures through the REAP (Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan) program.
“They (counties) have to place a lien on the property before we give them permission (to demolish a structure),” Maguire said. “They have to show proof of the impairments, then we give them permission to proceed and the building is taken down. When they get their final invoices, they’ll submit those to us for payment.”
Next to address the committee was Planner and Executive Director Kim Reed, of the Nitro Land Reuse Authority, who began by saying, “Nitro [is the] number one recipient of funds from the DEP REAP program.”
While Nitro has received more funding than any other municipality in the state for the removal of dilapidated structures, according to Reed, the city has also “put our money where our mouth is.”
“We invested over the years, putting money into our land bank, ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, sales tax – you name it,” Reed said. “We put it together so that we could acquire problem properties – specifically in our downtown corridor.”
Reed said that the DEP’s mission “definitely lined up with what we were trying to do,” and that trying to fund Nitro’s program without assistance from the REAP program would have taken “many, many years.”
“We needed this program at this time in order to make this impact,” Reed said.
An overview of the Brownfields program, from DEP’s Deputy Director for Remediation Casey Korbini, was the next item on the committee’s agenda.
“In 1995 the EPA created the Brownfields program, and they started putting out pilot-grants,” Korbini explained. “In 1996, the West Virginia Legislature actually passed the Volunteer Remediation program, [which] created the Brownfields Assistance program.”
As defined on epa.gov, “A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
According to Korbini, the Brownfields Assistance program affords protections to potential land-purchasers to help facilitate the sale of previously undesirable property.
“Examples of brownfields include manufacturing plants,” Korbini noted. “They can also include abandoned gas stations.”
Mitch Carmichael, West Virginia’s secretary of Economic Development, was last to address the committee, and spoke regarding the impact his department has on the state.
Carmichael began by applauding the legislature for investing more than $6 billion into the state’s various business and tourism programs.
“Kudos to you, and for everything that’s been put together to enable this type of growth,” Carmichael said. “The West Virginia economic miracle – employment and growth of over 125,000 jobs added in the past 38 months, which is the fastest growth in the history of West Virginia.”
“Personal income rise is greater than the national average,” Carmichael continued. “It’s important to note that because – as we see all this growth, and the jobs, and the investment – in some form or fashion it has to relate to how much a person earns. For years, every time the nation was coming out of a recession, West Virginia always lagged behind the U.S. growth rate in terms of our personal income. This is not the case now.”
Carmichael further noted that there have been “over 140,000” new broadband fiber optic connections installed throughout the state since 2020.
According to Carmichael, West Virginia’s centralized geographic-positioning plays a major role in the state’s recent economic successes.
“We have this great geographic location within a one-day’s drive, 500-mile radius of 50% of America’s population, and 30% of the Canadian population,” Carmichael said. “As supply chains shrank during the pandemic, people became more aware that they wanted to be close to their suppliers. WesVirginia is perfectly positioned for that, and we highlight that fact.”
“It’s fun to win,” Carmichael added. “The state is winning, and we just want to continue the momentum that we’ve built. I think the future is very bright for our state.”
The Joint Standing Committee on Economic Development and Tourism will meet again during next month’s Interim Legislative session, scheduled for Oct. 15 – 17.