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West Virginia's first crop aggregation center to be closed

West Virginia's first crop aggregation facility, opened in Huntington's West End in June of 2016, has been deemed a waste of taxpayers' money and is being brought to an end.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture's new administration, headed by agriculture commissioner Kent Leonhardt, has determined the Huntington Aggregation Center was losing money and had only been used a few times.

"The lease with the West Virginia National Guard for using the Armory building at 800 Virginia Ave. in Huntington as an aggregation center will not be renewed," said Cresent Gallagher, communications director and legislative liaison at the department.

Gallagher said all of the equipment would be moved by next week for possible reuse in other parts of the state by other entities.

Leonhardt's predecessor as agriculture commissioner, Walt Helmick, opened the center amid great fanfare 16 months ago. Helmick called it a $475,000 investment to help small farmers reach larger customer bases and to leverage existing agricultural resources as one way of diversifying West Virginia's economy.

However, Gallagher said the Department of Agriculture has decided the previous administration made a poor decision to develop the agriculture center.

"We do not have the resources to run this center, and feel with the state's budget issues that this center and program is not the best use of taxpayer dollars," he said.

Gallagher said Leonhardt, who became ag commissioner after unseating Helmick in last November's election, asked for an audit of the department's farm account and it showed a loss of $2.8 million over the previous five years.

"Over $1 million of that loss is directly related to that aggregation facility in Huntington," Gallagher said.

He said there were at least six pieces of equipment at the facility, and the department was trying to find places to relocate them. In addition to a large potato processing machine, other equipment located at the Huntington facility includes a leafy vegetables wash line, a honey extractor and a black walnut sheller.

Publication date: 9/29/2017


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