- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Joyce Clark still has the pen Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gave her in April 2012 after signing Senate Bill 362, which authorized a $28 million bond issue to build a lodge at Beech Fork State Park in Wayne County.

At the time, Clark was a member of a grassroots lobbyist group called HubCAP, which had pushed for the project for more than two years.

On Thursday, Clark, now a member of Huntington City Council, said she just felt tired.

Tomblin’s Chief of Staff Charles O. Lorenson recently wrote a letter to six state legislators who had requested an update on the project stating the bonds would not be issued now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Clark received a copy of the letter Wednesday.

“We worked really, really hard,” Clark said. “We were told this had passed and everything was going to happen. The bonds were supposed to be sold, ground was supposed to be broken and the lodge was supposed to be open by 2016. This is quite a shock and a disappointment.”

The project has been championed by state Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who was one of the six legislators to receive the letter.

“It’s very disturbing,” Perdue said. “This indicates to me that the project is in deep trouble.”

The push for a lodge at the park goes back more than three decades, and it seemed the project would finally happen in 2012 when Rick Thompson, who at the time was the Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, was able to secure $5.5 million in federal funding for infrastructure costs.

A year later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a feasibility study for the project, another key hurdle.

Lorenson’s letter states decreasing state lottery revenues will likely lead to a decrease in coverage ratios for bond issues. It goes on to say the state hasn’t seen the revenue it anticipated from lease agreements in the oil and natural gas industry to pay for the project.

“Given the current uncertainty as to the viability of the funding sources … a clear timeline cannot be established for further progress on the project,” Lorenson wrote.

Lorenson did suggest a public/private partnership might be one avenue to pursue in furthering the project.

Perdue said that route was already being explored when the state agreed to issue the bonds.

“When we got the bond issue, it was clear that was the direction we were going to go and all of the private partners backed away,” he said. “To start that up again would delay this project another three years.”

“I think this is a poor effort to excuse a lack of effort toward this project.”

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed similar concerns.

“I’m obviously disappointed and not happy that it’s not under construction now,” he said. “I’m frustrated that we got the information the way we did.”

Still, Plymale said he believes a public/private partnership can be pursued.

“We do have plans. We have all the documentation to try and put something together,” he said. “It’s just frustrating that we lost a couple of years on it.”

Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s director of communications, said Thursday the concerns in 2012 are the same concerns that the state has today, and that issuing the bonds would hurt the state’s financial standing.

“This is a worthy project, and something the governor would like to see done,” Stadelman said. “But we can’t put government agencies at risk. We just had our bond ratings reaffirmed, but we continue to monitor those.”

At a legislative forum Thursday evening in Ceredo, Clark told residents she thought Wayne County was finally going to get something good.

“How good is (Tomblin’s) word?” she said. “How good is your signature on a bill?”

Perdue, also at the forum, told residents to continue to be aggressive and push for the project, which he described as “on life-support.”

The project would have consisted of a 75-room lodge with restaurant, indoor swimming pool, meeting facilities and recreation centers at Beech Fork.

A feasibility study concluded in 2012 estimated that the lodge would inject almost $2 million annually into Wayne County’s economy and generate 28 jobs. There would be an indirect impact of $2.6 million more and an additional 34 jobs, according to the study.

Currently, the only profitable state park is Chief Logan State Park, which has a lodge that the Beech Fork lodge would be modeled after. Beech Fork is the number one attended park in the state.

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Reporter Taylor Stuck contributed to this story.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com


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