Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Public, private agreement allows study of new Harmony Grove interchange

MORGANTOWN — If all goes as planned — and that’s a substantial if — construction of a new Harmony Grove I-79 interchange could get underway in March 2022.

The Monongalia County Commission, Enrout Properties and the West Virginia Department of Transportation crossed the first bridge Wednesday with the signing of a memorandum of understanding that maps out a path to that destination.

Enrout Properties is the owner of the Morgantown Industrial Park. The new interchange would connect to back of the park, opening up more than 100 acres for additional development.

According to Tom Aman, bond counsel for the project, the existing Morgantown Industrial Park TIF will be extended from 25 to the 30-year maximum and the existing TIF bonds will be modified to allow for an additional $1.5 million in funding.

That money will be used to conduct environmental and feasibility studies on the new interchange project.

If the project progresses beyond that point, two things will happen. One, the DOT will finance, design and build the interchange. Two, a second industrial park TIF district will be created. The increment from that district will be used to extend utilities and infrastructure to the park expansion and, secondarily, begin reimbursing the state for the interchange.

Additionally, once the existing TIF bonds pay off in the next five to six years, that increment would also begin going to the state to pay off the interchange.

This is very similar to the public, private agreement between the state, county and developer WestRidge that resulted in the construction of I-79 Exit 153, which was opened in the fall of 2016.

Commissioner Sean Sikora noted that $22 million project is paid for.

“We showed on Exit 153 that we’re willing to put our skin in the game to actually get an interchange. We did that and it’s already paid off,”  Sikora said. “Now we’re asking for help with this interchange and we’re bringing a solution to the table, not looking for a handout.”

Glenn Adrian, who co-owns the park along with his brother, said the last piece that will need to fall in place is what’s referred to as a “bird in hand,” or a significant project commitment that will ensure the new TIF generates the funding needed.

Both Adrian and the commission have indicated that such a commitment is anticipated.

“We’re currently working with one that we believe will be that launch for the TIF, for the county and for North Central West Virginia,” Adrian said.

TIF, or tax increment finance, a development process through which the tax liability of the district is locked in for a period up to 30 years. Additional tax increment generated through improvements are then reinvested in the district in the form of infrastructure.

In other county news, the commission opened bids from Vandevender ($26,485) and Blue Gold Development ($30,627) for the installation of a tow rope system at the Chestnut Ridge Park sledding hill.

The bids will be reviewed by Facilities Director Bobby Doyle, who will provide a recommendation to the commission.

In 2019, the county used about $122,000 from the 2016 parks, trails and recreation levy to purchase a snow machine for the park.