FAIRMONT — The president of the Northern Appalachian Coal Mining Heritage Association on Wednesday asked Marion County Commissioners for their support in establishing a coal heritage area.
“Our mission of course it to educate the public and preserve our coal mining heritage in this area, particularly the Fairmont field which is six counties,” said Mike Rohaly.
Rohaly was looking for ideas from the commission and hopefully get their support in establishing the coal heritage area.
“That can be done, I believe, on many different levels. Informally, we can establish that. Formally, is what we’re looking for,” he said.
He said he hopes that the coal heritage area can first be established on a state level and if that is successful he hopes it can be established on a national level.
“By doing that, that opens doors to funding — funding focused on our coal heritage but also in lots of other ways to benefit depressed towns and villages that have seen their heyday in the coal mining booms of the past but they’re now struggling,” he said.
When said a lot of these towns have a rich heritage to share and preserving some of the remaining psychical sites would benefit the communities and the areas in general.
“It’s not the cure to all the world’s problems but it’s just our thought to help make our little corner of the world a better place,” he said.
He said he mainly came before commissioners to get their support on the matter. He hopes to get support from each of the five surrounding counties and start a cohesive effort.
Commissioner Ernie VanGilder said he doesn’t know how far Rohaly is in his planning or what the cost of a contribution would be. He said it seemed the plans are still in the preliminary stages.
“If it would provide enough tourism to pay for it, I’d be all for it but I’d have to take a really close look at the numbers myself. I think we’re pretty far from that point from what we heard today,” he said.
VanGilder said he was very proud of West Virginia’s coal heritage and always has been. He said he sees coal at the end of its run in about 30 years.
“We can always protect our heritage but I don’t know if we want to continue to invest a lot of money when there are so many other important things to do,” he said.
VanGilder provided an update on the North Central West Virginia Airport, which Harrison and Marion counties co-own. He said it’s a great place to tie schools together and provide workers. He said there’s several companies nearby that are looking to expand.
“They are in a position where they’re a tremendous asset to the community and they’ll provide a lot of jobs,” he said.
Two new flights are being added at the airport, VanGilder said. Starting May 26 and June 3 flights to Chicago Midway International Airport and to the Gulf Coast of Florida will begin service.
“Those flights will have a tremendous opening cost of $39 to $49 a flight, so they’re going to be very affordable. They’re destination flights and I encourage everybody not only in Marion and Harrison County but all the surrounding counties to try to utilize the CKB Airport,” said VanGilder.