Next week, members of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will be in far Southwest Virginia (SWVA). We emphatically welcome them to our region. 25 Virginia counties and eight independent cities, which includes all of far SWVA, are a part of the ARC’s footprint.
Over the years, ARC has provided millions of dollars in funding to support economic development projects and advance crucial water and sewer and infrastructure initiatives in our region. Without their support, many of those projects would not have been completed. Recently, ARC also joined the fight to combat the substance abuse epidemic in our region by funding Project Amelioration, which focuses on recovery and job training for individuals in SWVA.
In FY 2020 alone, ARC invested $11.1 million in Virginia. We are appreciative of the great working relationship our region’s partners have and will continue to have with ARC.
ARC members are coming to Southwest Virginia at an exciting time. Over the past few weeks, our delegation has been a part of several announcements that we feel should get the attention of ARC members. Last week, we joined The Nature Conservancy and Dominion Energy to announce the Highlands Solar project in Wise and Dickenson counties. This will be one of the first-utility scale solar projects on former surface mine land in the country. Additionally, we announced EarthLink will bring 285 jobs to Norton. Due to an agreement with the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facilities Authority (RIFA), the Earthlink announcement benefits all of the authority’s members — city of Norton, Dickenson, Lee, Scott, and Wise counties.
In keeping with the region’s roots as the energy capital of the commonwealth, we also are on the frontlines of an exciting initiative to continue meeting Virginia’s energy needs while cleaning up the environment. Using the cleanest coal-fired power plant in North America, we are removing millions of tons of discarded hazardous coal waste (GOB) that has accumulated for more than 100 years.
GOB piles are present throughout the ARC footprint from the coalfields of Virginia to Pennsylvania. The highly flammable coal waste contained in these piles pose a threat to clean air, water, and communities. The Appalachian School of Law’s study on this threat to Southwest Virginia’s water quality and air is greatly needed. This is the first time a higher education institution will focus on this decades-long problem for the commonwealth and try to identify and inform innovative solutions.
Lastly, our region is moving towards universal access to broadband—a key issue for our delegation. Our planning district commissions have successfully secured millions from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to deploy broadband over the past several years. With the allocation of ARPA funds for broadband that we were proud to vote for a few months ago, we feel confident that more homes and businesses will get connected in our region through funding applications we are currently supporting through VATI.
We look forward to welcoming the Appalachian Regional Commission to our region during this exciting time, and we stand ready to continue our important work and partnership on projects to make Southwest Virginia an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.