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Justice buys land near BSA reserve

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier resort and more than 100 coal mines in Appalachia, recently bought about 1,000 acres of formerly publicly owned land in Raleigh County. The land, just outside Beckley, adjoins the Raleigh County Memorial Airport and is very close to the Summit Bechtel Reserve, home of the National Boy Scout Jamboree.

Justice bought the land in March from the Raleigh County Airport Authority for just less than $900,000.

He said the land borders property he already owns and that it will be used only to preserve wildlife habitats.

"We constantly do a lot of wildlife habitat improvement and that's it," Justice said regarding his purposes for the land. "We did some work there this past summer, planting fruit-bearing trees and silky dogwoods and hawthorn trees.

"We own the land that borders, and so we just acquired this," Justice said. "I'm a big hunter and fisherman, and I love wildlife, so we do a lot of this stuff."

The land, which is made up of two parcels, had been under control of the Raleigh County Commission until 2012.

In the County Commission meeting on June 19, 2012, commissioners transferred 549.6 acres of land to the Airport Authority to be "used in conjunction with the new tower," according to the minutes of the meeting.

On Dec. 4 of last year, the commission transferred another 446.54 acres to the Airport Authority, this time without mentioning any purpose for the land, according to minutes from the meeting.

The Airport Authority then sold both parcels to Justice, a deal that was finalized in March of this year, according to Tom Cochran, the airport manager.

Justice paid $477,000 for the larger parcel and $422,400 for the smaller one, County Commissioner David Tolliver said.

They are the 374th and 375th parcels of land that Justice Holdings, Justice's company, owns in Raleigh County, according to records from the county assessor. The vast majority of those parcels are smaller than one acre.

Tolliver said the property was sold at its appraised value. He said that, as part of the sale agreement, the land cannot be developed and that Justice does not get mineral rights to the land.

Tolliver and Justice both said that, even if Justice wanted to develop the land, he couldn't, because it's too steep and filled with cliffs.

"It doesn't even come up to the road," Justice said. "The land is completely not developable."

Also as part of the sale, the county retains a 30-foot right of way across the property. That will be used for a 13-mile hiking and biking trail from the soccer fields near the airport, down Piney Creek to the New River. During this summer's National Jamboree, Boy Scouts completed about 2 1/2 miles of that trail.

Tolliver said the money from the sale will be used, in conjunction with federal funds, to build and maintain a new road to the airport and to build an unmanned, computerized tower facility that will help planes land.

"It all goes to economic development," Tolliver said. "We had one way in and out of the airport. If there was an accident on the road, if we had a heavy snow, people would be stuck."

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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