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Asphalt firm's land rezoned over objections by environmental groups

February 07, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The Northwest has the spotted owl; Jefferson County has the spotted turtle.

A 3-2 vote Thursday by the Jefferson County Commission to rezone a 34-acre tract owned by Jefferson Asphalt on W.Va. 51 west of Charles Town might threaten the habitat of the turtle and some rare plants in the Altona Marsh, according to spokespersons from the Nature Conservancy, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the Conservation Fund

Commissioner Walter Pellish, who made the motion to grant the rezoning, was supported by Patsy Noland and Jane Tabb. Commissioners Lyn Widmyer and Dale Manuel cast opposing votes.

The rezoning, from rural to residential, light industrial and commercial, was sought by John and Mike Thomas, owners of Jefferson Asphalt, which has operated on the site for 45 years. John Thomas said he and his brother will one day move the asphalt plant and shop off the property, but might want to develop what’s left after the machinery is gone.

Altona Marsh is about six-tenths of a mile from their property along Evitts Run, John Thomas said.

According to the Division of Natural Resources, Evitts Run feeds three important wetlands, including the Altona Marsh, the 37-acre Harewood Marsh and in between a smaller eight-acre unnamed wetland.

Listing concerns about the rezoning were Kiernan O’Malley from DNR, Joseph A. Hankins from the Conservation Fund and Amy L. Cimarolli of the Nature Conservancy.

Cimarolli said special soils in these wetlands are home to more than 30 rare plants and provide habitat for breeding and migrating birds species such as sandhill cranes, Virginia and King rails, wood ducks and others. Imperiled animal species include the Eastern cricket frog and the spotted turtle. She also worried that the rezoning could bring development that could threaten the flow of water or add pollution to Evitts Run.

Henry and Faye Davenport, owners of Altona Marsh, signed an agreement years ago to put part of it in a conservation easement.

Widmyer argued that the rezoning would not protect the wetland. Manuel, “torn” over his vote, said, “I won’t play Russian roulette not knowing how the rezoned land would be used.”

“The sky is not falling,” said Pellish, adding that he “wasn’t bothered by the comments of three people who give the impression that the company has disregard for the wetlands or that it wants to harm them. They want to be good neighbors and they’re good stewards, who are trying to protect the land.”

Tabb said upcoming regulations to protect the Chesapeake Bay would guarantee that the Evitts Run watershed would be protected as well.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission recommended the rezoning be approved.

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