|UPDATE 5/3/2019 - Following years of effort and the awarding of a $240,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission by Gov. Jim Justice in 2017, has apparently gone into the ether permanently.|
The Calhoun County Park had locally raised $60,000 for the Dark Skies Project.
The Calhoun Commission and park officials were awarded a check in 2017, and the park board moved ahead with required planning, hiring a consultant.
Now the board, taking the grant in good faith, is facing a bill from the consultants for $36,000, with no money for the project.
Officials expressed disappointment with the ARC, who reportedly withdrew four WV grants, an almost unprecedented move.
Sources told the Herald that a newly appointed ARC director dropped the grants, related to more money reportedly being shifted to reinvigorate the coal industry and higher ranked economic efforts.
The Dark Skies Project has been designed to bring the nation's amateur astronomers to the area, which is one of the darkest night sky places in the USA not affected by artificial light.
The Calhoun Commission is protesting the charges issued by the consultant, saying the firm said if the project was not a go the fees would be dropped.
Will the answer be in the stars?
By Bob Weaver 4/22/2019
Darkness has fallen on Calhoun's Dark Skies Project.
"The Appalachian Regional Commission grant of $240,000 meant a lot to us," said Calhoun Park board president Donnie Pitts, after years of work.
The ARC has pulled the funds after making the grant presentation to the county at Gov. Jim Justice's office in Charleston in November, 2017.
Community groups and businesses donated $60,000 necessary to match the grant.
Pitts told the Calhoun Commission Monday, "I'm very frustrated with this kind of process," the ARC changing their mind.
Worse yet, the park board launched a necessary development project with a consulting company GAI that has now charged the county $36,000, with no project to pay the funding.
"We have no money to pay them," said Pitts. "If we had known we would not get the grant funds, we would not have hired the company," said Pitts.
Calhoun Commissioners asked Prosecutor Shannon Johnson to look into issues related to their requested payment, the commissioners said they were verbally told that if the project was not a go, there would be no charge.
The ARC did not respond to a Freedom of Information request from the Hur Herald to determine why the decision was made to cut about four West Virginia ARC projects after they were announced.
The Herald was told by an official that the previous ARC director resigned under pressure, and the new director appointed by the Trump organization was told to direct more funds to restore the coal industry.
Pitts said reneging on grants after they were issued was almost unprecedented.
Meanwhile, Pitts said students at Calhoun-Gilmer Career Center are constructing a "Dark Skies Cabin," to be made available at the park.
The Dark Skies project has been an ongoing project for nearly 20 years, with thousands of hours of volunteer services given.
The park is run completely by volunteers and the county government hasn’t been able to significantly help them with finances for several years.
See earlier story ARC $240,000 CALHOUN DARK SKIES GRANT APPARENTLY DEAD AFTER BEING ISSUED - Such Rescinding Not Seen In 35 Years