January 1, 2019 - Farewell 2018. Welcome 2019! Following a year of continued economic recovery and renewed hope here in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, optimism for the new year is unusually high.
We are entering the new year with momentum, but a few challenges await as well.
Hundreds of new coal mining jobs were created across the region in 2018, and that trend is expected to continue well into 2019. Of course there is still the issue of the new coal operation in Mercer County that is impacting the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.
Negotiations between all of the involved parties, including the trail authority and the coal company, are continuing. With hope we will see a successful resolution to this issue. In the meantime, officials with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail are still working to develop a new trail in Mercer County that will move the ATV riders away from the active coal mining operation to ensure the safety of all individuals.
The plethora of ATV resorts, shops and campgrounds in our region will be watching this issue closely, as will we. It is imperative for the region’s robust ATV tourism engine to keep rolling.
The new year also will bring the long-awaited resumption of construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County. Yes, if all goes as planned, our “Bridge to Nowhere” problem will be resolved beginning this spring. The $57 million contract will create a usable segment of the future Interstate 73 corridor in Bluefield while extending the four-lane corridor 3.8 miles toward Route 123 and the Mercer County Airport.
Dominion Energy also is expected to make a final decision later this year on a proposed $2 billion hydroelectric pump station project that is being considered for East River Mountain, near Bluefield, Va., in Tazewell County.
The company says a decision on whether the clean-energy facility will be located in Tazewell County will be made toward the end of 2019, after all the feasibility work and related environmental studies have been finished.
The project would take 10 years to complete, creating more than 2,000 jobs during the construction phase with about 50 permanent jobs once it is complete. It would also generate about $12 million a year in new tax revenue for the coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia.
Other projects, including the new $2.5 million Bluefield Commercialization Station and the new $1.3 million transfer station project in Bluefield, also hold great promise for the future. In the city of Princeton, work on phase two of the new municipal hall project will be getting underway this year along with continued work on the new $3 million emergency shelter and education center project planned by the Princeton Rescue Squad. And in another win for the region, school officials in Mercer County are hoping to finish construction on the new $12 million Mountain Valley Elementary School project this summer.
We have much to be excited about in 2019. The future is looking brighter, and that is something everyone can be happy about.
Today, we celebrate the start of a new year. It is an opportunity for a new beginning. A chance to better our neighborhoods, communities, states and nation. It is a time for hope.
Happy New Year!