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VistaGreen promises grant program

As VistaGreen continues its quest to site two coal ash landfills in Northampton County, the company has announced plans to launch a grant funding program to aid community-based projects across the county.

Company officials say they will establish a 501C 3 non-profit entity from where millions of dollars in grants will be disbursed annually.

Clarence Mann Jr. (CJ Mann) said VistaGreen would invest $16 million in a foundation.

“That money will be awarded through grants to each of the five Board of Commissioner districts in the county, $160,000 annually to each district for 20 years,” said CJ Mann, one of the company’s officials.

“We’re going to let the people of the county decide what they want to do with that 16 million dollars,” stated Clarence Mann, the majority owner of VistaGreen. “We will not decide how that money is used; the citizens of this county will decide that.”

Mann Sr. said each district would appoint a committee of local leaders to oversee the receipt of the grants as well as the disbursement of those funds based upon the needs of groups and organizations within those districts.

“We looking for leaders….business people, schoolteachers, etc. in each district to be in charge in assessing the needs of their communities and using this grant money to address those needs,” Mann Sr. remarked. “They will decide what’s best for their individual district.”

He added that those seeking the funds are required to write and submit a grant proposal.

“What we’ve discovered in doing our project advocacy work in Northampton County over the past several months is that the $20 million we will pay the county in host (franchise) fees, none of the people we’ve talked to do not believe that money will impact them,” Mann Sr. noted.

That feedback, he said, was what sparked the idea of establishing the Northampton Grant Program.

“The money can be used for things such as helping churches, purchasing police department uniforms, buying equipment for a volunteer fire department, used for education….whatever the people decide is needed the most,” Mann Sr. stressed. “This money will have a direct impact on the citizens of the county.

“We can’t tell the county what to do or how to spend the host fees or property taxes VistaGreen will pay them each year over the life of the contract should this project become a reality, but we can directly impact the citizens of the county with this grant program,” he added.

When asked if he felt if these grants may be judged as a means by which VistaGreen could leverage support for approval of the coal ash landfill project, CJ Mann voiced his opinion on that matter.

“This grant fund will be started, we will invest our $16 million, when we sign a contract to accept the coal ash….after we start receiving the coal ash,” he said.

“The grant funds are contingent upon having the project approved and we’re up and running,” chimed in Mann Sr. “At that time we will make available all the legal documents regarding this grant program. Everybody will know what we’re doing.”

As far as making a reapplication for a special use permit from the Northampton County Zoning and Planning Department to operate the proposed High Bridge Park, Mann Sr. said his company was looking at an August 2017 timetable.

“We’re seeing a groundswell of support for this project,” he said. “Right now we’re seeing this as a 50-50 situation. We have people on the ground in the county, knocking on doors and talking to folks here in an effort to educate them on what we are seeking to do at High Bridge Park. We should know by August if we have enough support from the county citizens to move forward on our project.”

Through that “boots on the ground” advocacy work, Mann Sr. noted there were many citizens who were unaware of the project.

“Those who were aware of the project, they said all they’ve heard this far is the negative part that other people have told them,” he stated. “Our job through this advocacy outreach is to offer all the facts, to educate the county citizens on this project. That’s why we ramped up our community outreach program.”

Members from the firm recently met with local citizens in Seaboard to listen, answer questions, and alleviate concerns regarding misconceptions about the High Bridge Park project.

Mann Sr. said the outreach team is traveling town to town in the county where they are meeting, educating, and answering questions. They have met individually with over 100 citizens.

“The citizens I speak with get excited when they hear about the job opportunities, economic stimulus and the true facts about the project’s safety, explained Jermaine Cherry, VistaGreen Community Engagement team member and former Roanoke-Chowan area resident who left because of a lack of employment opportunity.

William Lucas, a landowner, taxpayer, and business owner opposed to the project, attended a VistaGreen community outreach meeting held April 25 at Du Dobbs Restaurant in Rich Square.

“Everything I have previously heard concerning the VistaGreen project has been negative. I was very glad to hear the positive perspective, particularly about its construction and operational safety due to the landfill’s protective lining, remote location, lack of visibility from nearby roadways and its on-site rail access,” Lucas said.

“I was impressed that VistaGreen is willing to help the county and even support the towns. Northampton County is one of the poorest counties in the state with one of the highest property tax rates. We should keep an open mind to industry coming into our county. We should at least listen and talk to them,” Lucas added.

“We recognized that there were going to be opposition groups. From the beginning, we have made community engagement and education our top priority,” said Wyking Grant, VistaGreen Community Engagement Coordinator and former Northampton County resident.

“The people of Northampton County deserve the right to be educated about our projects safety mechanisms; therefore, we are committed to reaching out to each resident until we have built their trust and confidence in High Bridge Park as a viable investment for the community as a whole. The opposition is attempting to engender fear within the community by putting out information that is fundamentally false and inaccurate. The citizens deserve the true facts,” Mann Sr. concluded.

VistaGreen, LLC has purchased an 804 acre tract off NC 186 between Seaboard and Margarettsville where it proposes to construct a containment facility for coal combustion residuals (commonly referred to as coal ash) and its recycled use in the form of construction and other products.

Company officials say the site is mostly forested, not visible from roadways, is far removed from water supply watersheds, and maintains on-site class 1 railroad access to the CSX railroad tracks. The site is not located near any federally or state protected species, and there are no historic and archaeological sites near this location.

Solid waste facilities cannot be constructed without local approval in the form of a franchise. Among other things, franchises provide payment of “host” or franchise fees to the local government– on a 1 dollar per cubic yard basis calculated from size of disposal area generating typical host fees of 1 million dollars per year.

CJ Mann said High Bridge Park can be reasonably expect to pay Northampton County more than 15 million dollars in host fees alone through the duration of the projects operational life span.

Additionally, the company expects to pay approximately $920,000 annually in property tax to Northampton County.

​Company officials say High Bridge Park would create numerous construction jobs and approximately 75 permanent jobs.

Once a critical mass of ash has been contained, VistaGreen would then remove the ash for recycling into construction materials (e.g. bricks, cinder blocks) and other secondary uses (e.g. beneficial fill for roads) depending upon the markets that exist at that time. The recycling operations would also create local jobs and revenue for Northampton County.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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