WILLIAMSON, W.Va. – Christmas came early for one organization in Mingo County.
At 11 a.m. Thursday morning, U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) held a special press conference at the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority in Williamson on the Aquaponics on AML project funding which was announced this past Wednesday.
He was joined by Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA) Executive Director Leasha Johnson, Refresh Appalachia President Ben Gilmer, Coalfield Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Brandon Dennison, Dr. Christopher “Dino” Beckett, Mingo County Commissioner Diann Hannah, Kermit Mayor Charles Sparks, Mingo County Grant Writer Leigh Ann Ray, Delegate Justin Marcum, Senator Mark Maynard and several other invited guests.
“The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and Refresh Appalachia are extremely grateful for the opportunity to develop such an innovative project that will promote long term sustainable agricultural initiatives. Without the support of Congressman Jenkins and the West Virginia DEP’s Abandoned Mine Lands Division, this project would have been nothing more than a dream, but through their leadership and support, we’re better positioned to diversify our rural economy and to create employment opportunities in coal impacted communities,” said Leasha Johnson, Executive Director of the MCRA.
“Because we’ll be utilizing geothermal energy from an abandoned mine portal, effecting both the remediation of two hazardous AML portals and creating an energy efficient model that can be replicated throughout southern West Virginia, this project represents the very best of environmental reuse and sustainable economic development,” Johnson added.
The project will receive nearly $3.6 million in federal funding to build an aquaponics farm in Kermit, allowing them to grow sustainable, commercial quantities of fish and vegetables. The project’s goal is to grow sustainable food while employing displaced workers. It is a collaboration among the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, Coalfield Development Corporation and Refresh Appalachia.
The funds are part of a $90 million abandoned mine lands reclamation pilot program that Rep. Jenkins and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers secured during the committee’s appropriations work for fiscal year 2016. The pilot project aims to help redevelop and repurpose abandoned mine lands in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania to create jobs and economic opportunity. The $90 million is split equally among the three states.
(Editor Kyle Lovern contributed to this article)