Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Rob Hinton seeks the city's approval to partner on constructing a new industrial access road in the Brushy Fork Road area that would lead to a new medical cannabis growing and processing facility.

Council mulls partnering with UCDA on access road to new medical marijuana processing facility

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council on Thursday pushed the pause button on a proposed partnership with the Upshur County Development Authority that would have seen the two entities teaming up to build an industrial access road to one of the city’s first medical marijuana growing and processing facilities.

Following a presentation by Upshur County Development Authority Director Rob Hinton on two up-and-coming medical marijuana growing and processing facilities that may open in Upshur County as early as mid-2021, council members said they needed more details – and more time to mull the financial aspects of the project – before committing to partner with the UCDA.

Hinton asked council to apply for an industrial road access grant on its behalf that would pay for the construction of a 200-300-foot road leading to one of the city’s first medical marijuana growing and processing facility that would be located on Development Authority property along the Brushy Fork Road.

The city’s contribution would be in-kind, meaning city crews would purchase the material and perform the labor and then, subsequently, be reimbursed through the grant, if awarded.

The growing and processing facility at the center of the discussion is owned by Buckhannon Grow, LLC and Buckhannon WV Processing, LLC, which are based in Columbus, Ohio, according to information on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website.

Prior to making the request, Hinton briefed council on his successful efforts to recruit two medical cannabis growers/processers to Upshur County. Only 10 growing and 10 processing permits were awarded statewide, and both that wished to open in Upshur County received permits from the West Virginia Office of Medical Cannabis, which operates under the W.Va. DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.

The two successful applicants are Buckhannon Grow LLC, owned by a Columbus, Ohio area entity, and Armory Pharmaceutical. While while Armory Pharmaceutical will set up headquarters in the old armory, Buckhannon Grow/Buckhannon WV Processing LLC plans to construct an entirely new facility off the Brushy Fork Road on Upshur County Development Authority property, Hinton told council.

“We were very excited to see that both companies got both grower and processer permits, which means they’re going to have greater capacity and impact on what they’re going to be able to do in their business and obviously, the job count and overall investment is going to be larger as well,” he said.

Each entity brings with it the potential to add 80 to 100 jobs each, Hinton predicted.

“That’s a big addition to a small town like Buckhanon and Upshur County as a whole,” Hinton said. “[Jobs offered] are going to range anywhere from low-skill to middle-skill to high-skill jobs for people with advanced degrees who can work in laboratory positions. So, there’s a lot of opportunities for jobs for folks who are out of work right now – that’s a positive side.

“The other positive side is how fast this is probably going to happen,” he said, noting the growers/processers have been allotted a six-month time frame to certify they’re ready to commence operations.

To that end, Buckhannon Grow is in the midst of receiving bids on the construction of its brand-new facility.

Hinton said several months ago, he and city officials discussed collaborating to build a short industrial access road that would lead from Brushy Fork Road to the new home of Buckhannon Grow. Hinton asked the city to apply for funds that would pay for building the road through the W.Va. Division of Highways Industrial Access Road grant program.

“I’m very confident that we would be able to get it because of the cost-efficiency involved with the city performing the [in-kind construction] work,” Hinton said. “It is possible for the city to apply and perform the work and get reimbursed for the cost, so that’s good.”

Hinton said it would be “easier and simpler” for the city to be the grant applicant that for the Development Authority to be the applying entity; however, he said he’d be happy to assist/complete the actual grant application.

The UCDA director also told council that city engineer Jay Hollen, who was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, had estimated the cost of the 200-300-foot industrial access road to range from $100,000 to $200,000.

“It’s all going to depend on the new Buckhannon Grow facility and what the layout of that is,” Hinton said. ” We haven’t seen that yet, but they’re going to be sending it forward.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said he supported the city applying for the grant, given the economic benefits the new industrial could bring.

“I would like to remind everyone that this property is within the city limits. These jobs would be inside the city, and this company would be inside the city,” Skinner said. “I think it’s our responsibility to create the infrastructure to create business development.”

Public works director Jerry Arnold said he wanted to clarify the city’s financial commitment to the project.

“If successful in obtaining the grant, the city would not be out the $200,000, but if not, we would potentially be on the hook for the $200,000, and the materials, to do the road — that’s the commitment, correct?” Arnold asked.

Hinton said yes but countered that it’s highly likely the grant would be awarded to the city.

Councilman Jack Reger asked about engineering costs, including a geotechnical evaluation, and told Hinton he’d like to see more details.

“You want us to make a blind commitment with no information,” Reger said. “I am pro-business, and I am going to be a ‘yes’ vote for this, but I would at least like to know [quotes from] the engineering companies on a [geotechnical evaluation], and what they’re going to cost.”

Councilman Jack Reger at Thursday’s meeting.

“I don’t want to cast stones, but when you come to council, I think it would be good to have some quotes or estimates that we can look at,” Reger told Hinton. “I’m not comfortable approving things blindly – that’s just me … I feel that this is … a rush.”

Hinton said he wasn’t trying to rush a decision.

“You guys can make a decision as to what you want to do,” he replied. “I’m bringing 200 jobs to the county and the city, and I’m just sitting here saying, ‘we could work together to build a road’ – that’s it.”

Reger said he wasn’t opposed to the project but simply “frustrated with the process.”

Skinner said given the fluctuation in the oil and gas industry and job losses over the past five to six years, he believed the medical marijuana industry would be “a nice shot in the arm of a couple hundred jobs … that would do us a world of good.”

“This a new and upcoming industry – it’s not going to go away,” the mayor said. “It’s only going to continue to become more interwoven into the fabric of what our economy is in America.”

“I think we should have a red carpet out to anyone who wants to come and set up shop and create jobs in our town, and we should do everything we can to make that an easy process because we’re not the only town that businesses can come to,” Skinner added. “I think we should get behind this; this is important to our future.”

City recorder Randy Sanders said he wished Hollen would have been there to present his findings so council had some cost estimates to examine, and Hinton replied that the cost would be at most $200,000.

Councilwoman Mary Albaugh said she also wished council had more information.

“Something could have been put into the packet about this … when you’ve got this big of an issue, you need to put in some pictures and facts and give us something tangible,” she said.

Ultimately, Skinner said it didn’t appear council was comfortable with committing to be the grant applicant at Thursday’s meeting. He asked Hinton to collaborate with Hollen and Arnold to put something “concrete on paper … in the event that we do not get the [industrial road access] grant.”

“So, if we could have a proposal for next council meeting in the event that we do not receive the grant, [we would like to see] what the city is being asked to contribute,” Skinner told Hinton. “It seems to me that that would make everybody feel better and more comfortable.”

Hinton agreed to come back to council’s Dec. 3 meeting with a more specific budget.

News Feed

Subscribe to remove popups, or just enjoy this free story and support our local businesses!