HENDERSON, W.Va. — At a meeting in the Henderson Community Building Tuesday evening discussing the future of ongoing Jellystone Resort construction efforts, project leaders said that if wastewater development organization was not started within roughly the next 30 days, the resort project may need to consider a change in location.
Resort project leaders said they want to make every effort to keep the resort project within Mason County but had also received communications from outside community representatives looking to persuade the project to move, notably among those were reportedly representatives from Gallia County, Ohio, and Ravenswood, W.Va.
According to prospective land developer Lance Thornton, tourism dollars brought new wealth to communities instead of the same money that rotated among the local economy. Jellystone reportedly caters to more well off patrons from the ages of 25 to 45 with children through the ages of three to 11 to fit its camping experience. Jellystone Resort Franchise Vice President of Product Development and Sales Jim Westover said that many of the franchise’s resort areas are over 30 years old and continue to perform well.
“The only thing I have asked for is sewer from the county,” said Thornton. “We don’t want any money from (county) commissioners. Just the sewer.”
Thornton said that as soon as a sewer project was underway, the resort construction could begin.
Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley said that while the county could not afford to spend what has been reported as a $10 million sewer project, commissioners wanted to see jobs and further development in the area and were actively making attempts to contact government officials to see what could be done with funding a sewer initiative. Commissioner Sam Nibert lauded feasibility studies done at the resort target location and how it could affect the area’s further development.
Members of the audience expressed concerns with potential costs to the county, how soon they would see a return on development in the area and were sewer plan suggestions cost effective. Hanover and Thornton said that they were professionals and would not be putting their own money at risk if they did not think the resort would be successful in the region. One member of the public voiced that there were no guarantees with investments. He felt that economic opportunities had come and left the region too often and that the resort project could “really move the needle” for the area and was not something to be passed up.
Thornton mentioned that the resort could place usage fees on individuals attending the resort and mentioned the potential for an occupancy tax for guests, many of whom would likely be from out of the area, all of which would be forwarded to county government as a way to fund sewer service.
“We’re already putting a lot of money into this project,” he said. “We are not prepared to put the money up for a sewer. That’s not typically, in this type of development, our responsibility and most developments like this.”
Thornton noted that local government and state institutions had access to grant funding when the developers did not.
Handley read a letter from West Virginia Region Two Planning Development Council Executive Director Chris Chiles.
“Dear Commissioner Handley, the Region Two Planning Development Council is committed to collaborating with the Mason County Commission to find a source of appropriate funding to provide wastewater sewer service along State Route 817/ U.S. 35 for future economic development. We recognize the vital importance of this corridor for Mason County and its residents,” read Handley from the letter. “As we have discussed previously, region two will continue to seek out additional funding that could be used to bring sewer service to this area. We are currently administering four water and wastewater projects in Mason County. I commend the Commission for its foresight in engaging a reputable engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study on how to provide sewer service to the entire State Route 817/U.S. 35 Corridor, including the proposed Jellystone Campground and Water World site. This shows a common sense and responsible approach by ensuring any county investment is made in an efficient and accountable manner. It is my understanding this feasibility study estimates a total cost of $30 million to provide sewer to the entire corridor (up to Putnam County line) and $10 million to provide sewer to the proposed Jellystone site. Additionally, it is my understanding the County Commission (through the Mason County Public Service District) would be unable to provide $10 million in funding without dramatically raising the rates of current customers.”
Handley, speaking on behalf of the commission and what the county can afford at this time, said commissioners were searching for ways to obtain grants and/or government funding as an avenue to provide sewer service to the area, as the letter confirmed. Thornton stated he had met with state officials last week and they were eager to assist in keeping the resort in West Virginia. Handley indicated he would be going to the State Capitol to see if anything at all could be done to help the county meet the infrastructure needs in the State Route 817/Route 35 Corridor.
When asked by Ohio Valley Publishing what were the biggest misconceptions following the project, Thornton answered that he saw a lot of misinformation be passed around social media and whether the project developers owned the land where the resort was to be built. He said no and that currently the land was “under contract” for potential development, but would only be purchased once sewer arrangements for the resort could be made, allowing the project to move forward.
In order to open up in spring of next year, the project would need to break ground in August of this year and have favorable winter conditions for construction, said Jellystone project organizers.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.