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Mon Commission troubled by rumblings on Harmony Grove interchange

MORGANTOWN — Members of the Monongalia County Commission can see the writing on the wall.

More accurately, they can hear the ringing phones in their pockets — courtesy of their friends in Westover.

Mountaintop Beverage is expected to begin production in March.

The 330,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art aseptic, shelf-stable food and beverage packaging facility will pull as many as 100 heavy trucks each day straight through Westover and down DuPont Road to the Morgantown Industrial Park.

So the commissioners were understandably alarmed to learn that the new I-79 Harmony Grove interchange planned to provide direct interstate access to the expanded industrial park could still be four years out. 

They spoke about it publicly during Wednesday’s regular meeting.

“In general, I did want to make sure we talked about the Harmony Grove interchange because we got a report last week from Mon County Day at the Legislature that the DOH mentioned that project is four years out,” Commissioner Sean Sikora said. “That sent ripples.”

When asked, Sikora said the source of that information didn’t want to be identified.

Both Sikora and Commission President Tom Bloom said they appreciated Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who reaffirmed her commitment to pushing the project in Washington during the recent West Virginia Association of Counties gathering in Charleston.  

Even so, Bloom noted, people are getting nervous.

“I received a call last night from the owners of the Mountaintop bottling company who are going on their own to specifically ask the questions,” Bloom said, adding “There’s a lot of questions and concerns. … This is not going away.”

Mountaintop Beverage is the development through which the industrial park expansion and creation of a new Harmony Grove TIF district was leveraged. The promise of direct interstate access, among other things, is how Mountaintop’s commitment to the industrial park was leveraged.

The Dominion Post reached out to Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Bill Austin about the commission’s concerns. Austin said he met with Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston last week while in Charleston for Monongalia & Preston County Day at the Legislature. 

“I have heard that the project is moving forward and that there is work still needed to finish up the environmental/design study,” Austin explained. “I haven’t been given a specific time period for the construction of the project.”

Last April, the price estimate for the interchange was put at just over $41 million, though the actual cost in state and/or federal dollars would be $10 million, with the Harmony Grove TIF paying down the rest.

Comparing the project to others receiving support out of Charleston, Bloom asked why the interchange would be put on the back burner when most of the funding will be generated locally.

The answer may have been preemptively provided by Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, during a legislative gathering thrown by the Morgantown Area Partnership back in January.

“When we stand up on the floor or in those committees to speak on behalf of some of the things we’re needing and wanting here in Monongalia County, that look that comes across everybody’s face is ‘You guys are the people with the golden spoon in your mouth. How dare you come and ask us for anything. You have everything you need now.’ ” Statler said.

 He continued.

“For instance, we all know we have Mountaintop going into production very soon. We still don’t have a plan in place for the interchange that’s going to take that traffic out of Westover. And I can tell you, when all those trucks start rolling through Westover, we’re going to hear about it.”

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