WELCH — For years, it has been difficult for McDowell County officials to recognize the obvious fact that deserted and dilapidated structures countywide represent a negative image for visitors to the county.
“U.S. Route 52 is the gateway to our county,” Harold McBride, president of the McDowell County Commission said during a press conference Friday morning at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch. “It looks like a Third World country,” he said and added that most of the dilapidated buildings are owned by people who live outside the state and “think they have something.”
McBride said that since January, a dedicated group of four county employees have been working to raze as many of the dilapidated structures as possible. “I’m very, very proud to say, we’re doing well,” McBride said. He said that a teacher of his at the McDowell County vocational education school - Carlisle Chewning - gave him sage advice about seeking help. “He said, when you’re looking for a helping hand, look at the bottom or your own arm first.”
Randall Patton, president of the McDowell County Solid Waste Authority said that about a year ago, he entered into discussions with Commissioner Cecil Patterson about the idea of getting some of the county coal mine operators to help.
“When he spoke to XMB Mining, the first words out of the general manager’s mouth were: ‘How can we help?’” Patton said. He added that Bobby Justice of B&B trucking offered the use of his trucks if the county could cover the expense of the drivers and fuel. Patton said that Eddie Asbury agreed to help, and added that the authority has applied for a $13,500 grant.
Bobby Lewis, a Welch native, former Welch mayor and county commissioner, who is the director of community development in the West Virginia Development Office, said how impressed he is with the cooperation between the commission and the authority. “The only thing I can say is this is amazing,” he said.
Lewis went on to explain in greater depth the impact that Eddie Asbury has had on the county through the years by providing Christmas gifts for 1,500 kids in need, as well as to other beneficial projects in the county that few people know about. “Eddie is one of the smartest businessmen I’ve ever known,” Lewis said.
He said that it is difficult to consider that, McDowell County, in 1960 had nearly 100,000 people in the county and it was the richest county in the state. He pointed out that now, McDowell County is the poorest county in the state and the fifth poorest county in the U.S. “Thank God for Eddie Asbury,” he said.
“McDowell County may not be what it used to be, but it can be something and you people are working to figure it out,” Lewis said. He said the county leaders need to change what needs to be changed, be patient, “and pray a lot,” he said.
West Virginia State Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, recognized former State Senator H. Truman Chafin in attendance and expressed his appreciation to a friend. “The man still cares,” Cole said.
Cole told the people attending the press conference how close he feels to them. “This is an incredible program,” Cole said. He said that when dilapidated residences are removed, “all of a sudden, there’s pride in ownership in the county.”
He remarked that McDowell County is rich in natural beauty. “We have beautiful people with big hearts,” Cole said. “It fills my heart to see this,” he said. “We were not good stewards of our coal severance money. Let’s at least learn lessons from it. I’m not willing to give up on West Virginia and southern West Virginia,”
Cole said he hopes to work on legislation that will make it easier to continue the program. “I commit to you that I’m here for you,” Cole said. “I’m proud to say I’m one of you.”
Patterson said the commission would like to have additional C&D landfills in other parts of the county to reduce hauling time and expense. “I think we’ve got a lot of people taking pride in the county,” he said.
Asbury pledged his support to the project. “I was born and raised here and I’ll probably die here,” Asbury said. “I’m willing to help work with this plan.”
Chafin spoke with McBride and Cole after the press conference and recommended that they work with the state to get tax-exempt status for the project and ask for a broader number of people to help explain the project.
“They liked the idea,” Chafin said.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org