Poor road conditions hurting businesses in Preston County

BRUCETON MILLS — Some businesses in northern Preston County say road conditions are hurting business.

In three years, Screech Owl Brewing, at 2323 Ralph Livengood Road, 5 minutes from Interstate 68,  has grown from one employee to nine. Owners Roger and Crista Johnson have added a cafe and more production space, and their brews are sold throughout the area.

Visitors from across the U.S. and several other countries visit the brewery. In July they were featured in Forbes magazine. State and national officials have taken notice and stop by.

But two wholesale suppliers refuse to bring their trucks to Screech Owl. Twice a week the Johnsons drive to Sam’s Club to get supplies. Roger Johnson said the companies are “just afraid of tearing their trucks up,” and bouncing the cargo on the rough road, damaging it.

Customers understand that.

The entrance to Screech Owl Brewing.

”When people come in from out of state and you have to call a roll back for them, because they tore a wheel off their car, or they have to call AAA to come and repair their vehicle before they leave, I think it might be a problem,” Johnson said.

“The governor promised me personally back in April something would be done. Haven’t seen a thing.”

Mark and Sheila Jenkins, owners of Mountain Creek Cabins/Canaan Valley Cabins, have emailed the  Preston County Commission for more than a year about the condition of the roads to their business.

Recently they passed along a negative review from a customer. The customer said the review was because, “The roads to get into the cabin are the worse roads I have ever seen in my life.”

In May, Mark Jenkins said in an email to the commission, an Ohio resident who had booked three cabins for the weekend cancelled her family reunion in Preston County. She, “drove out this past week to see and said the road conditions were so horrible that she couldn’t ask her relatives to bring their cars in. Another tourist and income lost for WV and Preston County,” he wrote.

The Johnsons had planned to spend $9,700 a year to put a billboard on I-68 and to get the Spent Grain Cafe added to signs on the interstate that direct people to services at exits. They decided against it because of the roads.

“We’re drawing people from all over the world,” Johnson said, pointing to signatures from the Philippines, Madagascar, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere on the guest book. “And this road is their first introduction to West Virginia after they get off the interstate.”

The North Central Caucus on Roads, which is comprised of county commissioners from all counties in the Division of Highways (DOH) District 4 , is looking at the problem. At its meeting last week, Preston County Commissioner Craig Jennings asked the caucus to compile a list of roads that “need immediate repairs because the current condition of the roadways are impeding economic development and/or tourism.”

Members were asked to bring a list from their areas to the October meeting.

District 4 Engineer Don Williams asked how do you compare the value of a road to a business to that of residents along a much heavier traveled route? In the past, he said, if a business needed the road upgraded, “in many cases they have or seek additional funding sources through grants, etc.”

Johnson said he met with DOH officials, who put  $400,000  as his share on improving a section of  Hazelton Road.

“We pay taxes now,” Johnson said. “You give me a tax break like zero for 10 years, I’ll do it.”

The roads were in “a lot better shape” when Screech Owl was created, Johnson said.  “All of District 4’s administration should be replaced.”

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