Valley leaders watching megasite developments closely

The Top Story by Chris Graham

If the much-talked-about industrial megasite in Augusta County is developed down the road, it is not just Augusta County that will be impacted by the addition of thousands of jobs to the regional economy and thousands more new residents to the regional housing market.

“All elected officials in the Valley have been watching it with some interest – because if it does develop, it will have an impact probably on the entire Shenandoah Valley region, I would think. It’s a large industrial site – and whenever you have that size a site, it’s going to have not just a local impact in the Augusta County area, but it will have a regional impact,” Billy Kyger, the vice chair of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, told The Augusta Free Press.

The Weyers Cave site being studied by the Augusta County Board of Supervisors is rumored to have attracted the interest of Toyota, which is said to be looking for a location for a new automobile-manufacturing facility somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast or Midwest.

County leaders have been mum on what might be in the works – but that hasn’t stopped officials in neighboring localities from speculating about how the project could impact on their own decisionmaking in the future.

“If it’s a really large industrial site, I have many concerns – which I hope are addressed in this study. And they include everything from traffic on I-81 to environmental concerns to water-usage concerns to the preservation of the visual and rural heritage of the Valley,” said Bruce Elder, a Staunton businessman who was elected last month to a term on Staunton City Council.

“We’re looking at a terrific amount of growth here in Staunton. There have been over 2,000 building permits requested for building new homes within the borders of Staunton. Obviously our planning people, our firefighters, our rescue-squad people, our police, have all been gearing up to plan for that kind of impact of that many new citizens to our town,” Elder said.

“I think about Weyers Cave, and I think all of the surrounding localities will be affected by new requirements for housing, for schools and for infrastructure that all of this brings to bear,” Elder told the AFP.

That is foremost on the mind of Waynesboro mayor Tom Reynolds as well.

“There would probably be some effect to employment in Waynesboro – as people who are working here now look for jobs. Housing is going to be impacted throughout the region – and that may create a greater demand for services, depending on how many residential units and the makeup of the families who come here, that kind of thing,” Reynolds said.

“Anything that happens within our region is going to have a ripple effect throughout all the localities – and we certainly would stay on top of what’s going on, because we need to be proactive like we are on anything that comes to the area on any situation that arises so that it doesn’t sneak up on us,” Reynolds told the AFP.

That is an additional point of agreement among leaders from across the region – that everyone in local government in the Valley will have to keep up with the latest developments with regard to the megasite story so that they can be ready to plan for the impacts that will be expected at the appropriate time.

“The entire Valley community needs to be a part of this,” said Lorie Smith, the current chair of the Waynesboro School Board who will begin a term on Waynesboro City Council next month.

“I do understand the restraints that are on the board of supervisors in terms of not being able to diverge a lot of detail at certain points in this process – in terms of causing possible negotiations to break down. I understand that. But I think that there needs to be a way to engage the community in a way where maybe options can be looked at to gain balance between the various sides to this,” Smith told the AFP.

Rockingham County administrator Joe Paxton doesn’t see that as being a problem.

“The localities share information through the Shenandoah Valley Partnership on development that occurs as far as when it’s going to occur and number of employees and the type of investment and those types of things. Once that becomes public, I would see no reason why this project, if it occurs, would proceed differently,” Paxton told the AFP.

Kyger sees another part of the process that should not proceed differently than what he would expect.

“As far as I’m concerned, being a neighboring supervisor, I trust what Augusta County does in their political jurisdiction. I trust that whatever they do is good for Augusta, and if it’s good for Augusta, certainly it will be good for Rockingham,” Kyger said.

(Originally published 06-12-06)

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