POINT PLEASANT — A public meeting was held this week for all those of Mason County to learn more, and ask questions about, the land development plans for the Morgan Mount Vernon Farm and Mansion of Southside.
Lance Thornton, of The Thornton Group & LandSu Land Development, Inc./co-chairman of Erie Automotive Aftermarket Holdings, wanted to dispel rumors circulating around his project plans. The continuance of the project is dependent upon a public sewer system being installed on the land. Thornton, along with fellow developers Dave Hubba, local builder, Jason Asbury, civil engineer, and Jim Westover, representative of Jellystone Park/vice president of product development and sales, were open for questions.
John Gerlach, county administrator for Mason County, explained he has been on the phone with two different bond companies, four different conversations, trying to figure out how the county commission can make the bond issue work to provide a sewer for this project.
He stated, “One of the things the PSC requires is they require the ability for the customer they serve to pay back the debt. The customers that are to be served are the customers they’re going to locate outside the campground…The county commission cannot promote the building of a sewer with public funds on private land. We would have to work out some kind of an agreement with you to either lease property or have property somewhere, we gotta guarantee to the PSC that all the customers up through 35 and not just at your development have the capability to hook on to that sewer package plan, should the development continue to grow. We’ve talked about the package plan, you can add to it, add to it, add to it. So, in terms of the bond attorney’s opinion…the information that we need to receive the sewer application has to come you. We have to have commitments on the customers that are committed to coming there. I’m talking about documentation for an application. We also have to have documentation concerning your business plan and future ability of the whole development to pay back the sewer loan. The county commission itself is restricted by statute to borrow money beyond our fiscal year at a time. So that money would either have to come through the county building commission…or it would have to come through the PSD.”
Thornton explained to Gerlach if a solution is not figured out, he and his fellow developers cannot start building.
Gerlach along with Commissioners Sam Nibert and Tracy Doolittle explained the Mason County Commission is in support of this project and are doing all they can to assist with its progression.
Doolittle commented they just need the proper documents from the developers, so they can get their side of the work complete. Nibert suggested they all need to come back together in order to discuss what needs to be done to put in the sewer system as a development cannot happen without a sewer system.
Many Mason County residents as well as city and state officials shared their positive thoughts on the project and how they want to see this come full circle and they are willing to help in anyway they can.
Delegate Jim Butler suggested residents call the governor, Jim Justice, and reach out to him on seeing project progression. Jared Billings, Mason County School Board president, suggested residents visit the capitol and make their voices be heard about wanting to see this project progress. One resident shared before the Riverfront Park was built, the project cost $8 million dollars and the residents raised the money and she feels the residents could raise the funds for this project just the same.
“This isn’t a matter of can we afford to do this, this is a matter of how can we afford not to do this,” commented one resident.
A few other concerns of the residents was the project being moved to Putnam County if the public sewer system issue is not resolved at a quick enough pace and if a self-contained sewer system could be an option.
Thornton explained as long as some sort of progression is shown towards working out a plan for a public sewer system on the land, then they will continue the project in Mason County. As for the self-contained sewer system, Thornton explained the only way for this project to be cost effective is if the county provides the sewer system. Westover added many of the Jellystone Park Camp and Resorts have public sewer systems.
Also, concerns of a tax increase were briefly discussed. Thorton said, “Let’s not speculate on that because that’s something the politicians locally and statewide would have to answer for you, but the county has a lot of resources available to them…we’re bringing in serious tourism dollars.”
Hubba suggested there be a meeting between all of the project’s developers and the Mason County Commission within 30 days to figure out the public sewer system issue and move forward with the project.
“The goal is that we all get to the finish line at the same time,” said Hubba.
Thornton added they need to break ground in spring, so a commitment needs to be made soon.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.