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Cement deal to bring jobs, water to county

January 20, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County officials applauded an agreement announced Thursday with Capitol Cement Corp. that will create jobs and allow for a major expansion of the company's Martinsburg facility in exchange for access to groundwater from two new area sources.

More than two years in the making, the agreement gives Capitol Cement the green light to proceed with a planned $320 million expansion and modernization project at its 50-year old plant, enabling the company to increase production from about 2,300 to 6,000 tons per day of processed material, called clinker, used in making cement, according to a press statement released Thursday from the West Virginia Development Office.

Hailed during the Berkeley County Commission's weekly meeting Thursday by commission President Howard Strauss as a "historic day," the agreement will help provide the county with a major source of groundwater into the next century, Strauss said.

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Berkeley County Public Service Water District Chairman Bill Stubblefield said it was water that sealed the county's deal with the cement manufacturer.

"From day one, water was one of the major negotiating issues," Stubblefield said. "If we could not have worked out a deal with the water, the deal would not have gone through."

Stubblefield said as much as 2 million gallons daily of water will be available for the county's use as a result of the planned expansion and the agreement with the company. The deal also could give water officials access to water reserves at the Blair Quarry site, Stubblefield said, adding the agreement will help allay ongoing water availability concerns throughout the county.

"It's a plumb for Essroc and a plumb for Berkeley County," Stubblefield said.

Commissioner Ron Collins called the deal a "tremendous boon" to the county to have access to the water at the company's plant.

"You can't put a dollar value on the water that we're going to have access to," Collins said.

Stubblefield said the agreement will not affect water availability for the city of Martinsburg, which also draws water from the site.

The deal calls for Capitol Cement:

· To convey ownership of equipment from the plant's modernization project to the West Virginia Economic Development Authority.

· To retain 150 jobs there afterward in exchange for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

It also will reduce the company's tax burden to the county by as much as 75 percent.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the agreement is good for Berkeley County.

"The commission and the development authority have always taken the position that you can have 100 percent of nothing or you can give, and get something in the long run," Hammond said.

PILOT agreements are alternative revenue arrangements that taxing jurisdictions can enter into with businesses, with payments made in lieu of property taxes owed on equipment purchases and improvements.

Under the terms of the agreement, payments to the county could increase incrementally if the company's employment rolls dip below 150 workers, and the PILOT percentage could increase to 50 percent if the company fails to meet the agreement's criteria.

About 190 workers currently are employed at the plant, a company official said following Thursday's announcement. As many as 250 construction jobs will be created as part of the expansion, according to Thursday's development office press release.

Collins said the county can anticipate receiving as much tax revenue from the company as it did before the expansion.

Capitol Cement was purchased by Essroc Cement Corp. in 2002 and is part of Italcementi, a major cement producer, with sales of about $5.4 billion in 2004, according to the company's Web site.

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