MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission on Wednesday drew a capacity crowd to a public hearing on the creation of a new Harmony Grove TIF District to support the expansion of the Morgantown Industrial Park.
And while the item on the agenda was about park expansion, the turnout had easily as much to do with the new I-79 Harmony Grove interchange project that’s tied hand-in-hand to it.
Comments were primarily split between those touting the economic opportunities of a larger industrial park and those worried that they’ll either be uprooted by the interchange project or live in the shadow of continuous truck traffic — truck traffic that currently accesses the park’s only entrance/exit by driving through Westover and down Dupont or River roads.
Sharlene Fortney lives on Master Graphics Road, which will likely feed traffic from the interchange to a western entrance of the expanded industrial park.
“We’ve talked a lot about progress and how great it’s going to be, but I’m retired. My and my sisters thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to have our retirement there.’ But no, I’m going to have traffic there,” she said.
Others lamented a lack of specific information about the interchange project or worried what being included in the TIF district would mean for the future of their property.
Glenn Adrian, co-owner of Enrout Properties, which owns the industrial park, said design information is not available at present.
“There hasn’t been a lot of information out on the design of the interchange yet, regardless. Those things are all under study at this time,” he said, noting that both he and the department of highways want minimal impact to the area and its residents. He said his goal is to have the interchange built with no private property being impacted.
“Farms are not going to be taken away. Everything that people have in the way of the ownership of their property remains the same. You can keep it in the family as long as you would like,” he said, adding, “Nothing is going to happen to your property taxes as it relates to the formation of this TIF district. You can do with your property as you so please.”
While some speakers, including Westover Mayor Dave Johnson, spoke to why the interchange is needed — he predicts an 85% reduction in truck traffic through his city — others spoke to why a larger industrial park is a needed counterbalance to the decline of coal and forthcoming loss of some 1,500 jobs at Mylan Pharmaceuticals (now Viatris).
“As the area’s economic developer, I really want to emphasize that this expansion of the park is really going to drive hundreds of millions of dollars of additional investment, but more importantly, hundreds of jobs,” Russ Rogerson, president and CEO of the Morgantown Area Partnership, said.
The commission voted unanimously to submit an application for the new Harmony Grove TIF District to the West Virginia Development Office.
Adrian noted that public hearings specific to the interchange project will be held when a design is finalized.