After nearly a decade of delays, Twin Branch ready for races to begin
Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) May 27, 2022
Following years of trying to overcome what officials described as having numerous roadblocks, the first long-awaited racing event at the Twin Branch Drag Strip at Myrtle could be held as early as the Fourth of July weekend.
That announcement came Thursday, May 19, during the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority’s regular meeting.
Executive Director Leasha Johnson said the years-long delay — which was spent getting the necessary state agencies on the same page regarding the release of the access road and giving the public access to the mountaintop race facility — has finally been successfully mitigated.
Johnson said the main regulatory agencies — the WV DEP and the WV DOH — as well as the governor’s office and a host of behind-the-scenes state and coal company officials were able to finally work out an agreement that officially released Twin Branch access road from the DEP’s surface mining permit jurisdiction.
Over the years, four different companies have had mining operations there, Johnson said, with the latest, Coal-Mac, also having been very instrumental in getting the road’s release from DEP jurisdiction.
Johnson said on May 6 the DEP approved the jurisdiction release of the road, as well as that of additional property making up and surrounding the drag strip.
Pursuant to an order by the WV DOH Highway Commissioner that was signed on May 11, Johnson said the Twin Branch access road, which is now identified as County Route 119/11 and that is 1.46 miles in length, officially became a state-controlled public road.
“I would be remiss not to say that the stars lined up for us when Secretary (WV DEP) Harold Ward assumed his post at the DEP and Jimmy Wriston (WV Secretary of the Department of Transportation) assumed his post at the Department of Highways,” she said. “The two of them worked so well together to make sure that collectively they could get that access road released for us. We’ve just had incredible partners who have been instrumental in getting us to this point.”
Along with Ward and Wriston, Johnson also credited Jonathan Rorrer of the Department of Mines and Minerals (WV DEP); Jason Foster, project engineer of the WV Division of Highways; Mitch Potter, owner of Coal-Mac, LLC; Adam Bryant, project engineer for Coal-Mac LLC; Gary Foster with the Division of Natural Resources (DNR); and Brian Abraham, Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff.
The mountaintop racing facility was originally intended to be an oval racetrack during the facility’s early development but was later transitioned to a drag strip, Johnson said, which itself was then essentially completed in 2015.
In 2018, the MCRA entered into a lease agreement with Pete Scalzo, a drag strip owner and operator in Florida, to further develop and operate the racing facility once the road was released and the public was given access to it.
In the days following the road’s release from DEP control, Johnson continued, the WV DOH completed the upgrade to its drainage structures, as well as repaved the entirety of the road from its access point at U.S. 119 to the top of the mountain and the drag strip facility.
“They will be adding guardrails to the road, but that’s not on the top of the list of their priorities right now … they basically just wanted to get the paving and drainage work completed, which brings those two criteria up to Department of Highways specifications,” Johnson said. “It was a really good road already, but it’s even a better road now.”
Although most of the upgrades have been made to the road, Johnson said the WV DOH requested that the MCRA affect a formal conveyance of its right-of-way to that state agency.
The Board of Directors voted unanimously to give Johnson authorization to sign the right-of-way
conveyance deed on behalf of the MRCA.
Another action item regarding the access road’s release and that was passed unanimously by the board was a resolution indicating the MCRA’s agreement with the conveyance, which requires the endorsement of each member of the board and then is sent to the WV Board of Public Works.
“Initially, the DOH didn’t think that our conveyance would have to be approved by the Board of Public works, only the DNR’s conveyance since it would be from one state agency to the other,” she said. “But the right-of-way chief thought that, since we are a unit of county government, that we should go ahead and enter into this resolution signed by all the board members just as a precaution.”
Board Chairman Paul Pinson suggested that a formal ceremony be held, possibly in conjunction with the facility’s inaugural race, to formally recognize and thank those agencies and Coal Mac for their combined efforts in getting the road’s release from the bond.
“This might be something that would be better held in Charleston,” Johnson said. “Perhaps even the governor’s office would allow us to have something small at the mansion.”
Johnson said Scalzo has been contacted regarding the road’s release and informed that he can go ahead with whatever preparation work he needs to complete before the first race event can be scheduled.
“Pete has indicated in the past that it would take him probably a month to get the lighting and timing systems up and running, as well some maintenance work on the track itself completed before the first race can be held,” she said. “But I believe that by July, he should be positioned to hold the first racing event.”
While the MCRA still has ownership of the facility, board member Terry Sammons suggested that the agency consider selling it at some point down the road.
“It seems to me at some point in the future, not today of course, but at some point in the future because I think the one thing we don’t want to do is own a race track,” he said. “I just feel that is something we really should consider down the road because, really, we’re not in the business of running a racetrack.”
Both Johnson and the other board members agreed with Sammons that the MCRA should seek out buyers for the facility at some point after it becomes operational.
In other action, the board also approved a reimbursement request for the waterline extension project at the Twisted Gun Golf Course.