This was a rallying cry at the June 19th anti-Rockwool press conference at the WV State Capitol, which OVEC staff attended in support of Shepherdstown area residents whom are opposed to the proposed Rockwool site in their community, near an elementary school. This guest blog contains the account of one of the leaders of this group. Pictures are by OVEC intern, Evan Gilland.
A Trip to Charleston by Gail Kohlhorst, Harpers Ferry, WV
Citizen groups opposing Rockwool in Jefferson County, WV, had been planning a trip to visit the WV legislature during a Special Session. The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate to the government that there is serious opposition to the construction of a Rockwool manufacturing plant in Ranson, WV. (Please read articles on the Toxic Rockwool site for facts about the hazards of Rockwool Manufacturing in the midst of Jefferson County, WV). Citizens planned to go in May but the Special Session didn’t materialize. They scheduled a bus, filled with riders for Monday, June 17, but the teachers then planned a big rally that day and they didn’t want to take away from teacher efforts. So, they changed the date to Wednesday, June 19 and the trip was on.
Most bus riders left home at 4:30 am (or before) to be sure to catch the bus at 5 a.m. in Charles Town. Another group of five was picked up in Martinsburg. It was a slow trip down and the bus finally arrived at the Capitol about 12:30 pm. There the group met up with others who had driven to Charleston or who joined in from local organizations such as OVEC, WV Rivers Coalition, and WV Citizens Action Group. Altogether, the group numbered approximately 65 individuals wearing yellow shirts which read: “Say No to Toxic Rockwool.”
The first order of business was to visit the offices of every delegate and senator. A cover letter with information fact sheet was distributed with each visit and the group looked forward to speaking with legislators to voice concerns about what was happening in Jefferson County. Most delegates were on the floor discussing and voting upon the education bills being considered. Where possible, the group talked to officials they found in their offices or left information on desks. Most of the senators had gone home since the Senate was not in session. Every effort was made to contact every legislator. Opposition to Rockwool is not a political issue, but those who promote it will most likely be voted out of office in 2020.
A press conference was held at 2:30 p.m. in the rotunda of the Capitol. A key speaker was Tim Ross, retired meteorologist and member of Jefferson County Vision, who gave a good overview of the Rockwool protests to date as well as the dangers posed by the plant. Delegate John Doyle of Shepherdstown also spoke briefly to a very receptive crowd of citizens and press.
Other speakers included leaders from group sponsors including Eastern Panhandle Sierra Club, Jefferson County Green Coalition, OVEC, WV Citizens Action Group, WV Rivers Coalition, and the Eastern Panhandle Women’s March of WV. The conference received radio, TV, and news coverage by the press, most of whom were local to the Charleston area.
After the press conference, the group proceeded down the hall to the Governor’s reception room carrying anti-Rockwool signs and chanting “Go Away Rockwool, Go Away.” Their spokesperson, Catherine Jozwik, asked to speak with the governor to present a petition with over 13,000 unique signatures opposing the construction of the Rockwool plant in Ranson. Though the Governor was unavailable, his assistant for constituent services did meet with the group and accepted the petition on the governor’s behalf. He thanked the group for their efforts and promised to share the document with the Governor. Accompanying the petition was a folder containing the many anti-Rockwool resolutions passed by City governments and organizations within Jefferson County, and some submitted by nearby governments and organizations in Maryland and Virginia.
Next stop was the governor’s mansion where the group hung 200 paper anti-Rockwool tags on the fence surrounding the building. People gathered at the main gate for a group picture and admired the beautiful paper tags with pictures and messages on them. At the request of security, the tags were later removed from the fence and some were passed along to legislators.
It was a beautiful, hot day in Charleston. Anti-Rockwool protesters were received graciously by many of the teachers they met in the Capitol hallways. Teachers seemed to know about the fact that Rockwool was building its plant directly across from an elementary school and within two miles of three other schools. How about the legislators? How many will look at the white paper on Rockwool (see below)? How many will stand up to support WV citizens instead of Rockwool’s toxic manufacturing?
The very tired group arrived back in Charles Town about 11:30 p.m. and then made their way home. Follow up correspondence with delegates and senators is planned for the future in the hopes that Jefferson County voices may be heard from 300 miles away. Jefferson County is currently prosperous and fast growing. Will legislators help to keep it that way?
A question for all OVEC members and supporters: Will you help us support groups like the Rockwool protesters from Jefferson County, and also help us keep similarly toxic industries out of the Ohio and Kanawha River Valleys? If so, please join OVEC and contribute to our current campaign.