NEWS- Toyota's u-turn: Automaker backs out of Valley

The much talked-about "megasite" in the Weyers Cave area that reportedly had the interest of Toyota as a possible location for an automobile-manufacturing plant might never see the light of day. Augusta County administrator Patrick Coffield confirmed June 26 that negotiations with the owner of the largest parcel sought for the development have been unsuccessful.

"The board gave me a timetable to conclude these negotiations, and we have reached that point," Coffield said in an interview.

Middle River Supervisor Kay Frye– who represents Weyers Cave on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors– was among those breathing a sigh of relief.

"I think this is a great happening for the county," said Frye, who had joined with a sizable group of county residents in actively opposing the development of the megasite. "It doesn't mean that we're going to stop industrial recruitment– but it should be on a smaller scale," Frye said.

The announcement regarding the apparently fatal snag in the negotiations came on the heels of a vote by the county board of supervisors to release a significant portion of the 400-plus-page study that it had commissioned last year related to the possible development of the megasite.

The board voted unanimously to release portions of the study not related to specifics of attempts to purchase properties that were earmarked for possible development.

"A segment of our population has consistently said, 'You all are not listening to the public.' And we have consistently said, 'We are listening to the public.' And the public has said that it wanted us to release the study. And now we are releasing the study," said board chairman Wendell Coleman.

Among the tidbits included in the portions of the study that have been made public is one interesting detail– that the county looked at three development options for the megasite, not just the one most widely discussed involving an automaker.

The parameters of the study included an examination of the development of a 1,600-acre auto-manufacturing plant in addition to two large 500-plus-acre sites and a 23-lot industrial park on 600 acres.

Also made public is the fact that the board of supervisors in February authorized proceeding with discussions with state officials regarding financial participation– and that two potential prospects, including an unnamed auto manufacturer, visited the Weyers Cave area in January and April.

The interest shown in the location has Coleman thinking that news regarding the site might not be the end of the story, so to speak.

"Even though we were not able to successfully come to an agreement, I'm not sure where that will go in terms of future negotiations," Coleman said. "There was another prospect– and it was not an automobile manufacturer– that expressed an interest in the site. One of the players that's here or a player that we don't even know about and is interested in the property up there could still get together with the principal property owner and work out a deal."

No new Toyotas are rolling out of Weyers Cave– yet.

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