LAVALETTE — The first public meeting on the feasibility of building the long-sought Beech Fork State Park lodge is set for 6:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, June 11, at Creekside Golf Course in Lavalette.
The meeting is sponsored by the Wayne County Economic Development Authority and the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research.
This meeting is a precursor to the two public meetings the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources must have by October.
House Bill 3140 allows the DNR director to authorize repair, renovation and rehabilitation for existing facilities, buildings, amenities and infrastructure. During the 2019 regular session, Cabell and Wayne county senators amended the bill to require the DNR to complete a feasibility study for the Beech Fork Lodge by December 2019.
"This gives us an opportunity to come up with a plan that will work," Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said in March. "What they have been concerned with before was what will be your occupancy during the winter months. If we work with Marshall (University) and some other places to start looking at having some conferences and things there, maybe we can get some commitments to do things like that, that would help us get the feasibility to where we get the occupancy rates we need."
The purpose of Tuesday's meeting, according to the Facebook event notice, will be to:
n provide an overview of the history of the project;
n present recent developments and complementary projects that will contribute to the success of the effort;
n gather formal and informal support/commitments from local residents, business and organizations to utilize the lodge and conference center if built;
n brainstorm opportunities and identify ways that the community can get involved in making the Beech Fork Lodge and Conference Center a reality.
Per law, DNR must have two public meetings by October. The two meetings will focus on possible funding for the lodge, including any public and private partnerships, and the feasibility study and any recommendations.
The push for a lodge at Beech Fork goes back more than three decades.
It seemed the project would finally happen in 2012 when Rick Thompson, who at the time was the speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, was able to secure $5.5 million in federal funding for infrastructure costs.
In April 2012, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed Senate Bill 362, which authorized a $28 million bond issue to build a lodge at the park.
A year later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a feasibility study for the project, another key hurdle.
However, in 2015, a letter written by Tomblin's chief of staff to six state legislators who had requested an update on the project stated that the bonds would not be issued at that time nor anytime in the foreseeable future. The lodge had been forecast to open in summer 2016.
The letter stated that a decrease in state lottery revenues would likely have led to a decrease in coverage ratios for bond issues. It went on to say the state hadn't seen the revenue it anticipated from lease agreements in the oil and natural gas industry to pay for the project.
The project would have consisted of a 75-room lodge with restaurant, indoor swimming pool, meeting facilities and recreation centers at Beech Fork.
A feasibility study finished in 2012 estimated that the lodge would inject almost $2 million annually into Wayne County's economy and generate 28 jobs. There would be an indirect impact of $2.6 million more and an additional 34 jobs, according to the study.
As of 2015, the only profitable state park was Chief Logan State Park, which has a lodge that the Beech Fork lodge would be modeled after, while Beech Fork is the No. 1 attended park in the state.
To RSVP for Tuesday meeting, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2671644776243300/.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.