Charleston Gazette-Mail: Environmental Restoration Creates Jobs, Grows WV


Photo by West Virginia Division of Tourism

By Evan Hansen and Jennifer Newland

With West Virginia’s budget deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year and jobs so scarce, new economic development approaches are needed. A strategic partnership between Downstream Strategies and the Canaan Valley Institute offers an approach that links environmental restoration with economic development.

We work with partners to build on each community’s strengths, develop action plans and implement on-the-ground projects that clean up pollution and set the stage for new economic development.

Our work is part of a growing, statewide restoration industry that transforms liabilities into assets.

Restoration projects employ local people, diversify the state’s economy, support other economic sectors and improve our quality of life.

Brownfields are examples of liabilities found in many West Virginia communities. They are former industrial or commercial sites where future use is hindered by real or perceived environmental contamination. They sit unoccupied, a source of blight.

Tapping into federal funds allows us to assess and clean up contamination so that new businesses will move in. In Thomas, for example, we have assessed six sites across the town, including several dilapidated buildings, and we are working to assess and revitalize the town’s Riverfront Park, which straddles the North Fork of the Blackwater River in the historic downtown business district.

Some of the crumbling old buildings have already been removed or are now being renovated, complementing other revitalization efforts and improving safety and attractiveness of the downtown. Once the project is completed, the Riverfront Park will be fully developed with trails and a new pedestrian bridge connecting the downtown to trailhead showers and bathrooms, a fishing pier, sculpture gardens, and an outdoor amphitheater.

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