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Johnson: New Federal Guideline Delays Aquaponics Project at Kermit

A new federal guideline implemented by the funding and oversight agency for all Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Pilot projects has slightly delayed the aquaponics project at Kermit.

This bit of discouraging news was delivered to Mingo County Redevelopment Authority board members by Executive Director Leasha Johnson during this month’s regular MCRA meeting.

According to a new property acquisition component to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) guideline, all properties that are to be acquired for the purpose of developing an AML Pilot project must be appraised by a state certified appraiser.

“We had been proceeding under the assumption that the appraisal which was provided to us by the DEP’s appraiser would meet the Office of Surface Mining’s guidelines, but unfortunately, it did not,” Johnson said. “We’ve since contracted with a state certified appraiser to have the two properties appraised, and we expect that appraisal to be completed within the next 30 days.”

Once the fair market value is established and the acquisitions are approved by the OSMRE, the project will move from the administrative phase to the bidding and construction phase, Johnson said.

“Both the design and bid specifications are already complete,” she said. “So we anticipate being able to advertise the project for bid by mid to late July.”

The nearly $4 million project is to be developed on abandoned mine land just outside Kermit that, when completed, is initially projected to employ about 12 people.

Officials said the facility will also provide training and employment opportunities for other people in Mingo, Wayne, and surrounding counties.

Specifically, it will be constructed on five acres at First Burning Creek and will use geothermal energy from the portal of nearby former Burning Spring Collieries.

Officials said funding for the project, announced in late 2016, was provided by the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot Program and the DEP.

Aside from an immediate employment and training source for the county, when operational the 20,000 aquaponics facility and training center will provide 150 kilowatts of solar power, provide healthy and fresh food for local and regional consumers, and represent a model that can be implemented in other coalfield communities, officials said.

In another update to the board, Johnson said while she wasn’t at liberty to disclose the identity of a new business prospect for Mingo County, she has been communicating with an agriculture firm that’s interested in pursuing the industrial production of Atlantic salmon at a site in West Virginia.

She said company officials have been seeking a suitable location that has approximately five to 10 acres on which to build and operate the necessary facility.

“In the beginning of our discussions, I was marketing to them a site at the Wood Park,” she said. “But when I advised them about our former hatchery and the success we’d had utilizing water from an underground mine to grow Arctic Char, their interest then shifted to the potential for expanding upon the existing hatchery infrastructure.”

Johnson said the potential business’s production units are based on a “closed-loop system with optimized process logistics” that lowers operating costs.

“This reduced footprint makes them perfect for large-scale, sustainable, onshore fish farming operations,” she said. “The prospect is interested in West Virginia because of the state’s geographic location which facilitates access to markets all along the east coast, as well as the lower cost of electricity.”

Johnson said she is currently seeking both coal and land company input with regard to the land and mine water availability, as well as the permitting and regulatory requirements that would be associated with the expansion of the former hatchery facility into a full-scale fish farming operation.

“This opportunity would represent the very best of economic diversification in Mingo County and would be consistent with our mission of taking the natural assets we have and growing them into value-added, job-creating opportunities,” she said.

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