GLEN JEAN — On Nov. 4, West Virginia voters will have the final say on a constitutional amendment, which was constructed specifically for the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County to be able to operate for-profit ventures while maintaining its nonprofit status, exempting it from paying taxes on its earnings.
Many local business owners who rely on a tourist industry steeped in outdoor adventure are concerned about competing with the summit.
Andrew Forron, owner of New River Bikes in Fayetteville, said he believes any entity operating for-profit ventures should have to pay taxes.
“We should all see this amendment as unfair. We would be amending our state Constitution for one group. That’s a big deal,” he said. “I don’t see them offering what we offer, but they could.”
Skip Heater, owner of New and Gauley River Adventures, stressed the he doesn’t want to complete “on an unequal playing field.”
“They are already exempt from property tax. Small business owners in this area have spent their lives — 10, 15, 30 years — to build up their businesses. This will put us at a disadvantage, and it is not fair,” he said.
Many other business owners were against the amendment but didn’t want to speak out against an entity that wields so much political and social power. Others said they would feel better about voting for the amendment if they felt the adventure camp were already working well with the community.
Fayetteville’s Water Stone Outdoors co-owner Maura Kistler said she is uncertain about the amendment, but would “like to see them pay more attention to Fayette County as the host community.”
Water Stone Outdoors partner Kenny Parker said, with West Virginia’s financial problems, he is concerned the state might “allow an extremely wealthy entity to not pay the same taxes everyone else has to pay.”
Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, said he also had concerns about the constitutional amendment. “The concerns I had were for local businesses. The Scouts have been a little vague on what they are planning to do,” he said.
Pino’s concerns led him to help pen a clause to the proposed amendment allowing the West Virginia Legislature to create rules to protect local businesses from “unfair competitive advantages. If the amendment is passed on Nov. 4, the Legislature will then develop these rules.”
“I do have an element of concern when 54 other counties are going to share in a decision that is mainly going to impact one county, Fayette,” added Pino.
Heater and other business owners are concerned that voters will make a decision without the full details.
“Let us see what they are going to do. Let us see the restrictions. What national events will they be holding?” he asked. “We don’t know what we are getting into if we vote for it, and it is not right.”
Gary Hartley, Boy Scouts of America spokesman, said, “It is not the Summit’s mission to compete with local businesses. We thrive in a healthy community.”
He said the group is looking at offering BMX biking, mountain biking, and skateboarding events and hosting national touring sports competitions.
“We want to take advantage of the nationally recognized world class skatepark and our world-class 80,000-seat stadium that are totally unique to our facility,” he said.
He said the facility is not planning on adding shopping, restaurants or hotel facilities on its 10,600-acre property situated adjacent to the New River Gorge National River.
“Keep in mind our primary mission would continue to be Scout-focused. That will continue to be what we are all about and the primary use of the facility,” said Hartley.
He also said they plan on putting any profits back into maintaining the facility.
The Register-Herald asked Hartley if there was an estimate on how much tax revenue the state might lose if citizens vote for the amendment.
“Zero would be lost because if we don’t do this, we won’t go through with the events,” he said.
Furthermore, Hartley said the state would lose out on tax revenue from gasoline, food, employment and motel stays if it doesn’t pass.
The Boy Scouts of America would lose their nonprofit status if they operated for-profit ventures at the Summit without this amendment.
The Boy Scouts have not operated similar ventures at their three other national high-adventure camps. Hartley said these camps are much more isolated than the Summit Bechtel Reserve, making this a unique opportunity.
“If voters vote for the amendment, it will allow us to do events on a limited basis. Voting against it will keep us closed except for Scouting events,” he added.