Appalachia boundary adjustment proposal heads to court review

Mike Still • Nov 15, 2019 at 3:21 PM

WISE — In an evening filled with public hearings, a joint hearing between the Wise County Board of Supervisors and Appalachia Town Council means a boundary adjustment heads to a court review.

The council convened Thursday at the BOS meeting to seek public comment on a plan to expand the town’s southern border by roughly 550 acres.

The original plan, presented to the supervisors in September, would have added approximately 1,000 acres along Appalachia’s southern and southwestern border to give the town additional land for economic and industrial development.

The adjustment also would have encompassed the town’s Powell River Trail, most of which lies in county territory between Appalachia and Big Stone Gap.

Mayor Teddie Collins told the supervisors Thursday that Appalachia is “closed in” by mine company land, national forest land and rail.

Vice Mayor Chase Christian said the adjustment plan, in addition to putting the Powell River Trail inside town limits, would allow development of the George Washington Rock site along Alternate Route 58 near Jefferson National Forest attraction Roaring Branch. The rock site had been a parking area several years ago, Christian said, and could be developed into a parking and link between the trail and Roaring Branch.

“This is our only shot in the future,” Christian said.

Council member Travis Anderson said the former Westmoreland Bullitt Mine complex site — 27 acres now managed by A&G Coal Co. — offers a dual advantage as a commercial-industrial property with existing water and power service that can also accommodate a new fire and emergency services station.

Since the Bullitt property is also an abandoned mine site, Anderson said, federal abandoned mine land funding could cover all of the cost of a new fire station. Having the facility at that site would increase Bullitt’s attractiveness for economic development and provide faster response times to more remote communities which town firefighters and rescues squad crews help serve in Wise County.

Carlos Smith, director of development projects for Penn Virginia Operating Co., represented the company’s interest in approximately 450 acres on Appalachia’s southwest border. Smith said the company saw no problems with George Washington Rock — which Penn Virginia owns — being included in the adjustment plan. He said the 450 acres may see later mining by the company and called its inclusion “premature.”

Council members met during a recess of the BOS meeting and came back with a proposal excluding the 450 acres and a small residential area south of town. Supervisor Fred Luntsford Jr., who is also Appalachia town manager, said Town Attorney Michael Abbott determined it was proper for him to offer a motion for board approval of the adjustment plan, which passed on an 8-0 vote.

Town council members also approved the plan 5-0.

Wise County Attorney Karen Mullins later said the next step will be to present the two governing bodies’ resolutions and an accurate map of the adjustment to Wise County Circuit Court in a petition to approve the plan. She said the petition could be ready before the end of the year.