We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The subject of Rockwool has come up again in recent statements by local political figures. Delegate John Doyle did a segment on local radio last week dedicated to Rockwool. Doyle came out of retirement in 2018 to run for the West Virginia House of Delegates in the 67th District. He defeated the incumbent Republican, Riley Moore and credited the Rockwool issue as the reason for his victory. Delegate Doyle is currently running for re-election (disclosure – this author is his opponent) and he is apparently banking on squeezing still more political mileage out of the issue. He just might be chasing his own tail.

The thing is, John Doyle and the Democrat controlled legislature he served in at that time, created and enacted the laws and policies that made it possible for Rockwool to acquire the land on which they are building their plant. The Democrats then launched a public relations scam during the 2018 elections to smear their political opponents for following the laws they themselves created. The public bought it. Hook line and sinker. It took Republican Senator Patricia Rucker to take action and fix the problem.

Last time around, Doyle and other Democrats such as Delegate Sammi Brown and Jefferson County Commissioner Ralph Lorenzetti made the Rockwool issue central to their campaigns. Each pledged to “stop Rockwool”. Not only is Rockwool still here, but it is here because of what Democrat legislators did years ago. Delegate Doyle working in tandem with then State Senator Herb Snyder (current Democrat State Senator John Unger was also in the mix) created legislation that made it possible for Rockwool to acquire the land for the plant now under construction.

Democrats are big fans of municipalities – they like urban settings – they are creatures of the city. In West Virginia they work with the West Virginia Municipal League to transfer power and jurisdiction away from county governments in favor of municipal governments wherever and whenever they can. Urban areas tend to be more liberal than rural areas. If you want your rural community to become more like New York City and Chicago – vote Democrat.

Back in 2001, then Senator Snyder sponsored SB 202 a bill described as “clarifying” the ways in which a municipality can annex land into city limits. Those ways included annexation by election (with a very low bar of 5%) and annexation without election involving a petitioning process. The third method was called a “minor boundary adjustment”. This latter option was the preferred method for both Charles Town and Ranson because of the ease of use and led to the “pipe stem annexations” that eventually caused a public outrage. One pipe stem annexation by Charles Town involved a “minor boundary adjustment” that ran along Route 340 for miles as the stem of the pipe out to where the Aldi, Tractor Supply and the Sheetz are now. The public became alarmed by this and it caused quite a stir.

The building of a housing subdivision along with the retail establishments caused a significant public outcry because of their visibility. But sliding in under the radar was the annexation of the land that used to be an orchard out along Route 115. That was annexed by Ranson in 2004 – 3 years after the passage of SB 202. That is the land on which Rockwool is now building its plant. Once the land became part of the municipality of Ranson, the Jefferson County Commission lost control of the process. The zoning regulations of Ranson apply. The opposition to the Rockwool plant complained about this – you can read about it in their PDF release here – but they fail to put the blame where it belongs: squarely on the shoulders of local legislators Delegate John Doyle and former Senator Herb Snyder.

The PDF release also states that pipe stem annexations were made illegal in 2008. Actually, the year was 2009. The tag team of Delegate Doyle and Senator Snyder were at it again. Doyle introduced HB 2845 and Snyder’s bill was SB 256. They were essentially the same bill and it was SB 256 that eventually became law. It was touted as the fix to the monumental blunder they committed 8 years prior. It was anything but…….

The legislation was a complete scam. While claiming to prevent pipe stem annexations, it used those pipe stem annexations as a stake in the ground; it drew a line around the land already annexed and called it an Urban Growth Boundary. The West Virginia Municipal League was very pleased with it. Urban Growth Boundaries were drawn for Charles Town, Ranson and Shepherdstown. Clearly the vision was to allow these municipalities to become urban centers – larger suburban cities. Hagerstown anyone?

In March of 2017, Charles Town revealed its ambitious plan to annex territory, some 2600 acres, within the Urban Growth Boundary citing the legislation – SB 256 – and the Envision Jefferson 2035 Comprehensive Plan. If you don’t know what the Comprehensive Plan is you can find it here. It is required in state code for any county that has a zoning ordinance to have a Comprehensive Plan and to update it every 10 years. There are 55 counties in West Virginia; the only county I am aware of that has a Comprehensive Plan other than Jefferson is Fayette County.

In May of 2017, Charles Town elected a new mayor – Scott Rogers – a Democrat. The annexation plans continued under his administration, and initially Mayor Rogers embraced the Rockwool plant and its plans to come to the city of Ranson. US Senator Joe Manchin (D – WV) was at the ceremonial ground breaking event – shovel in hand. It wasn’t long before Rogers did an abrupt about face – apparently someone tapped him on the shoulder and let him in on the plot the Democrats were hatching to use Rockwool as a wedge issue in the upcoming 2018 elections.

The Democrats quickly realized that the anti-Rockwool crowd didn’t care how Rockwool got there, or who was to “blame”, they just wanted the plant gone. And since the rule of law doesn’t mean much to them, with the added bonus that the local Republicans do care about the rule of law, they used the Rockwool plant as a weapon in the 2018 elections – and it worked. The only Republican who won was Jane Tabb – who flip flopped on the issue so many times that the Democrats thought she was one of them.

Much was made of the so-called payment in lieu of taxes agreement – the PILOT. Most people wouldn’t understand what that is or why it is. That’s a discussion for another day. But it was another subterfuge the Democrats used to subvert the facts. The vote had no bearing on Rockwool, it was about the payment (in lieu of taxes). If the county commission voted for it, the payment went to the county. If they voted against it, the payment went elsewhere, decided by the state. It would have against the interests of their constituents – the taxpayers - to vote no. For their part, the Jefferson County Board of Education approved the tax payment arrangements – and then spent a quarter of million of taxpayer dollars suing Rockwool to condemn the property. That was also a failure. An expensive on at that. You can’t make this stuff up.

While all of this was going on, Republicans actually took steps to address the root of the problem; the problem created by Snyder and Doyle. The Jefferson County Commission led by Republicans Peter Onoszko, Josh Compton and Caleb Hudson voted to sue the city of Charles Town to prevent their annexation of the 2600 acres within Urban Growth Boundary. Onoszko was the president of the County Commission at the time. For his trouble he was booted out of office – he lost to Ralph Lorenzetti. Mr. Lorenzetti recently attended a candidate forum where he stated that he roused himself out of retirement to run against Mr. Onoszko because Rockwool made him angry. His sole purpose for running was to stop Rockwool. He failed, but he’s running for reelection anyway. At the forum he claimed to have stopped Rockwool from using coal and that he reduced the stack by 80 feet. I haven’t found any evidence to substantiate those grandiose claims….

The court case to stop the Charles Town annexation is being adjudicated as I write this, but some feel that at this point, the case is moot. Senator Patricia Rucker, (R - 16th, the district that includes all of Jefferson County and is the seat formerly held by the aforementioned Herb Snyder), during the last legislative session introduced SB 209. It passed and has been signed into law. It essentially removes the annexation by “minor adjustment” option and requires the municipality to get the approval of each individual property owner in order to annex. Problem solved.

Jefferson County WV Rockwool Delegate John Doyle Elections Zoning
Elliot Simon

Elliot Simon

I'm a retired executive and consultant. My wife and I have lived up on the mountain outside of Harpers Ferry since 2002. We have six cats. It would be nice if we could all agree on everything, but lately we... [More...]