By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
WILLIAMSON — Economic development in Mingo County is moving forward, with the development of a $4 billion coal-to-liquids plant, a new high school, and a golf course and a new highway, as the result of post mine land use and private-public partnerships.
The Daily News recently spoke with the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA) about one of those projects, the King Coal Highway, a four-lane highway with partially controlled access between Williamson and Bluefield.
The KCH will run through McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Wyoming and Wayne Counties along currently existing U.S. Route 52. The highway will ultimately cover approximately 90 miles of southern West Virginia, opening it up to faster, safer transportation.
The highway project is being developed as the result of a private-public partnership between two coal companies, the Department of Highways and the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority.
The KCH was estimated to cost $198.8 million. However, using a private-public partnership, has brought the cost down to $88 million.
Greg Bailey is the Director of Engineering at the West Virginia Department of Highways. He explained that the highway would not have been built without the private-public partnership of coal companies, the state of West Virginia and the MCRA, the project would not be feasible.
Bailey said that the highway budget for West Virginia has steadily decreased in the past five or six years, and the $110 million savings that would be seen using the private-public partnership to mine the land and build the highway would make the project possible.
“Under the budget proposed in Washington, the budget for the entire W.Va. highway department would be $500 million,” he explained. “In West Virginia, $110 million is a huge financial impact.”
The MCRA discussed the 15-mile Red Jacket section of the highway.
Twelve miles of that section are now complete, from Taylorville to Ben Creek, including the two connectors at Taylorville and Horsepen Mountain. The final three mile section from Calico to Twisted Gun Gap is still under an active mining permit, and the mining activity is expected to continue for approximately three more years.
This last three mile portion of the Red Jacket section of KCH will provide direct access to the proposed coal-to-liquids site, a 300 acre site located at Twisted Gun Gap Golf Course.
Once mining is complete, Premium Energy, an Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary, will have constructed the three-mile section to rough grade, and will subsequently apply for permit release, with the road bed being designated as a post mine land use project.
At that time, the Federal Highway Administration and the West Virginia Division of Transportation will place a contractor on the remaining three mile section to complete final grading, paving and guard railing.
The DOT’s contractor, Hinkle Construction, has recently constructed and paved various access ramps to the previously identified development sites along the already completed 12 mile section of highway from Taylorville to Ben Creek.
Leasha Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of MCRA, explained how the Authority is looking forward to when the highway is finished.
“The MCRA is currently working with the land companies which own a majority of the property adjacent to the highway in an effort to market those properties for new commercial and business development,” Johnson said. “We are in the process of developing a housing site across the highway from the MCHS football stadium in an effort to jump start development along the new highway, which we have penned Mingo County’s ‘Smart Growth Corridor.’”
She went on to say MCRA had extended water and sewer utilities across approximately eight miles of the new highway, with plans to extend additional infrastructure facilities once the remaining section is completed.
MCRA is also working with the West Virginia Development Office and the Department of Commerce to refer potential business prospects to Mingo County.
“For the first time in our county’s history of rural economic development, we have a safe and efficient means of transportation, development sites ranging from two to 50 acres, complete with infrastructure, and all of which are out of the floodplain,” Johnson said.
“The Redevelopment Authority is anxious to put these properties to good use as we strive to diversify our economy with the goal of building long-term sustainability and economic prosperity for the citizens of Mingo County.”