Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A proposed coal synergy agreement being sought by officials in McDowell County is a win-win for all parties involved. It should be approved — and sooner rather than later. The plan would save the state of West Virginia $40 million, keep coal miners working and jump-start construction on the Coalfields Expressway in Welch after nearly a decade of inactivity.
The agreement would save the state $40 million by allowing a private partner coal company to create a rough grade roadbed through the extraction of coal. The planned two-mile segment of the future four-lane corridor would pick up where a 1.4-mile non-paved segment of the expressway ended in 2001.
The work would be completed just south of the proposed interchange of the Coalfields Expressway and King Coal Highway at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park in Welch.
“This will save the state $40 million,” Richard Browning, executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority, said. “We aren’t doing anything except extracting coal as we build the road, and keeping 50 coal miners working longer than they would. The feds are expecting the states and local entities to come up with money on their own. And we’ve got an ace in the hole with coal here.”
Browning says the Coalfields Expressway Authority is in “deep negotiations” with the McDowell County Economic Development Authority, McDowell County Commission, the state Division of Highways, the federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the project. He is hoping an agreement can be finalized soon.
However, the project also will require approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Browning says the authority is working to secure final agreements with all other parties first before seeking EPA approval. The EPA, of course, is already holding up a similar coal synergy construction project on the King Coal Highway in Mingo County.
How sad it is that we can’t build roads in West Virginia anymore — and save the state millions of dollars in the process — without worrying about EPA approval?
“The importance of this project is we want to show the regulators that we can mine coal and build the road at the same time, and still meet their rules,” Browning said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. The county gets flat land out of the deal, the coal operator gets to keep his people working, and the state is getting a highway basically for free.”
We agree. And we see no reason why this project shouldn’t be green lighted by all parties involved.
It is imperative that McDowell County get a four-lane highway. If a coal synergy agreement can help expedite construction, officials should be allowed to proceed with vigor on the plan.