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INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County supervisors voted to provide the county’s share in a security bond for a Virginia Department of Transportation grant to construct an industrial access road to the future Wildwood Commerce Park in Carroll County, but one supervisor stood in the middle of the road in the decision, and abstained from the 4-0 vote.
Wildwood — a joint venture between Grayson and Carroll counties and the City of Galax to boost job creation in the region through constructing a business “megasite” — recently received a $650,000 grant from VDOT to create the 2,500-foot access road into the park from Virginia 620. The localities plan to use another grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to make up the total project cost of $1.8 million.
Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority (BRCEDA) Director Ken McFadyen told supervisors at the July 2 meeting that the VDOT grant requires that Wildwood attract an investment of at least $3.25 million by 2017. Otherwise, the three localities would be responsible for paying back the grant money.
However, part of the board’s vote on July 2 was also to request a partial reimbursement of $110,000 from the Carroll-Grayson-Galax Solid Waste Authority. Carroll County and Galax had recently approved the same request to the authority.
After explaining the situation, McFadyen opened the floor for any questions.
“Have we got any businesses in at Wildwood?” Wilson District Supervisor Eddie Rosenbaum asked.
McFadyen replied there were none at the time.
“We’ve spent millions and millions of dollars on it, and we’ve got nothing but stardust in our hands,” said Rosenbaum. “And you still want more money?”
“Yes, sir,” McFadyen answered. “We have a $650,000 grant, and it’s a grant we don’t want to lose. We can backstop at the Virginia Tobacco Commission funds, but we’d rather use the VDOT funds.”
“Where’s the tobacco funds going to come from? Grayson County or come out of Carroll County?” asked Rosenbaum.
McFadyen answered that the tobacco commission had awarded the project almost $13 million in grants at no cost to any of the localities. “We’re marketing Wildwood to Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “They do not consider a site unless utilities are there.”
McFadyen pointed out that potential investors require access roads, a quality water and sewer system and other foundations in place before considering a location.
“They don’t take our promise that we will deliver the infrastructure in 18-24 months if they decide to locate there,” McFadyen said. “So we have to get the site ready first, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
A walkthrough inspection was scheduled July 1 for Wildwood’s road, water and sewer, according to McFadyen. He added that the fiber optic system was complete, and that the last remaining piece was to install natural gas lines.
“Once that is complete, Wildwood Commerce Park is truly a site-ready industrial park, and then we will receive attention from the prospective industries that we’re attracting,” he said.
Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet added that millions have already been spent and millions more are slated to be spent on the site.
“But what good is it spending this money if it doesn’t go through?” asked Rosenbaum.
Sweet answered that a third of both the spent money and the grant money received is Grayson County’s.
“We own just as much of the property as [Carroll County and Galax],” Sweet said. “We look at this as grant money coming into Grayson County, and we’re expending it on that premise.”
Sweet reminded Rosenbaum that the Virginia Tobacco Commission funds for the project were intended for a megasite, and Grayson would not have qualified for funding without the help of Galax and Carroll County.
“Grayson still benefits as much as Carroll from an investment standpoint,” Sweet assured.
Rosenbaum asked how long it might take for an industry to locate at Wildwood.
“This is a megasite, so it’s also a mega-project and requires a lot of money,” said Sweet. “We’ve worked very hard putting together the money necessary to develop something like this where it wasn’t a burden to the taxpayer.”
“We’re real close,” Sweet continued. “Probably by the fall, all construction will be complete.”
McFadyen added that the access road was slated to be completed July 1, and that the natural gas lines should be added to the site in a matter of months.
“I think an important note there is you all have doubled our layers of protection,” said Grayson Supervisors Chairman John Brewer. “We’re not using trash fees to build roads. That’s the simple, cut to the chase point of it. And we’ve spent literally millions, but without a road you don’t have anything.”
Sweet also noted the county is using caution to avoid risks and additional expenses to Grayson County concerning Wildwood.
McFadyen added that BRCEDA was harvesting timber from the site for additional funds.
“At this juncture, it’s not really about the merits of the project one way or the other,” said Brewer. “In my opinion, we’re in for a penny, in for a pound. We’re there, and the decision has been made for the Wildwood project, so now we’ve almost got to see it through.”
The 4-0 vote followed discussion, with Rosenbaum abstaining from the vote. He offered no explanation for his abstention.
In other action, the board:
• approved a resolution to allow the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office to use $550,000 in grant funds to upgrade its emergency communications system in order to provide 100 percent radio coverage between 911 centers and first responders. The current system only covers 75 percent of the county, leaving approximately 100 square miles without any coverage.
• approved a resolution to authorize the county administrator to submit an application, along with Carroll County and Galax, to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to modify Carroll County’s enterprise zone and designate portions of Grayson County and the City of Galax as a joint enterprise zone.
• approved a resolution for personal property tax relief for certain vehicle owners. Call the Grayson County Treasurer’s Office for more information at (276) 773-2371.