September 1, 2023 - Projects to rehabilitate and reuse two former Wise County, Virginia coal sites will divide more than $4 million in grant funds.
Last week the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facilities Authority received $2.5 million from the Virginia Department of Energy’s Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) grant program for something called Project Thoroughbred, located in the city of Norton.
In a separate ceremony, the Wise County Industrial Development Authority received $1.7 million from the Virginia Department of Energy’s AMLER grant program to prepare sites near the town of Wise to host light manufacturing.
The Norton site was a former coal storage facility that will now store grains grown by Appalachian farmers to be used in the craft beverage market.
“It’s great to see how our agricultural sector in Southwest Virginia will benefit from the redevelopment of an abandoned coal loadout facility,” said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th. “The funds awarded to Project Thoroughbred will allow for the development of a Southwest grain terminal, positively impacting the agriculture base and craft beverage industry in the region.”
Project Thoroughbred will reclaim the historic coal loading facility into a grain processing, storage and distribution terminal. This facility will allow local farmers to expand their growing season and bring in more income. Specialty grains sell at a rate of 30-percent more per bushel than feed quality grains.
“Two of the industries that Southwest Virginia is built on are coming together in Project Thoroughbred,” said Virginia Energy Deputy Director Will Clear. “An old coal loadout facility is getting a new life and Virginia’s farmers are gaining a new opportunity in growing these specialty grains.”
Appalachian Grains is selling and marketing the grain grown in Southwest Virginia counties. Because most of these specialty grains are imported from out of state, locally sourcing the product greatly reduces food miles, costs and carbon footprint. With the distribution facility located in Norton, it will serve as a central location from which malt producers, breweries and distilleries throughout the Southeast United States will source specialty grains.
“This regional grain terminal is essential to Southwest Virginia’s plan to capitalize on the craft beverage industry’s need for locally sourced specialty grains,” said Appalachian Grains founder Will Payne. “Aggregating the region’s grain at this facility will not only give our farmers confidence that there is a market but allow us to scale production to meet growing industry demands.”
Project Thoroughbred also creates an ongoing workforce training program at Mountain Empire Community College. Working with the growers to set the curriculum and offering internships at the terminal, students will leave with a grains certification to be able to continue their career as more grains are grown to meet demand.
Near Wise, the Elam Farm Industrial site is a former mining area that is being repurposed.
“The redevelopment of abandoned mine land has the potential to bring new business and jobs to Southwest Virginia,” Griffith said in a separate statement. “This $1.7 million grant will do just that, helping to build infrastructure on the Elam Farm Industrial site, ensuring it is pad ready. Once complete, the site should attract large scale economic development projects, positively impacting Wise County for years to come.”
The future development is located within the Lonesome Pine Regional Business and Technology Park. The grant will allow the county to build an access road and install important infrastructure such as public water and sewer and natural gas utilities.
“Flat developable land with infrastructure is an issue in our coalfields when finding homes for new business,” Clear said. “Wise County leaders recognized that need and found the opportunity to create multiple developments that will produce new job opportunities for the region.”
The Elam Farm Industrial Site is located on a coal mine that closed in 1975. Once construction is completed, the county will be able to market multiple developable sites for light manufacturing facilities.
“The development of business-ready sites is a necessity for localities to be competitive in attracting new industries,” said Wise County IDA Executive Director Brian Falin. “This project will speed up the construction to open-for-business timeline from years to months. We are proud of our relationship with Virginia Energy, and we are grateful for the support from the AMLER program for this significant project.”
The AMLER program originated in a federal omnibus bill in 2017, Virginia Energy has received $10 million annually for economic development on abandoned mine lands The program is administered by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. The grants are managed by Virginia Energy’s Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program.