Brooke County updated on BDC development projects

WELLSBURG – Before agreeing to allocate $30,000 to the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, the Brooke County Commission received an update on the agency's efforts to draw new businesses to vacant industrial sites. BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the contribution will be used toward a local match for a grant from the West Virginia Development Office for its daily operations. The Hancock County Commission and City of Weirton also contribute to the match, in the amounts of $30,000 and $25,000, respectively, as well as smaller cities in Brooke and Hancock counties, which contribute smaller amounts. Ford said the agency awaits word on its application for $1 million in grant funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The money includes three $200,000 grants for environmental cleanups at the former Taylor, Smith & Taylor Pottery site in Chester, Brooke Glass site in Wellsburg and Wheeling Corrugating plant and property in Beech Bottom; and $400,000 for the environmental assessment of various properties in Brooke and Hancock counties. Ford said if approved, the Wheeling Corrugating grant will help the BDC to remove asbestos from the plant, demolish a small office building there that contains asbestos and extract petroleum-based materials from a quarter-acre section of soil at the plant's southwest corner. The BDC used a $200,000 EPA grant to assess the site and $135,000 of its own funds to remove hexavalent chromium, a chemical used in the production of stainless steel and a known carcinogen. Ford said access to such funds allow the BDC to open up opportunities for vacant, unused industrial sites, commonly known as brownfields, that private businesses often avoid because of the expense of their rehabilitation. He said about $9 million in improvements, including the extension of water and sewer lines to the plant, have been made by the BDC and five companies that are leasing space at the former corrugating plant and adjacent property. Ford said one of the tenants – L&M Logistics, a McDonald, Pa. firm that provides escorts for trucks used in natural gas drilling – has made plans to build a facility at the plant's former parking area and possibly hire up to 50 drivers. Ford said while there has been little drilling in recent months, that's expected to change with the acquisition by Southwestern Energy of well permits issued to Chesapeake Energy. He said despite the recent inactivity, Sheehan Pipeline and ProFoam, both natural gas-related companies, continue to lease space at the plant. Ford said Jupiter Aluminum, an aluminum manufacturing firm that has put the plant's former paint line to use in finishing and coating coils, is expected to go to full production this summer. County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said many of Jupiter's staff were employed at Wheeling Corrugating. Ford added the BDC worked with the Brooke Hills Park board to advertise and interview consultants for a proposed new lodge for the park. Wayne Buxton, a member of the board, said staff with the Larson Design Group of Williamsport, Pa. are slated to tour the park soon as the firm collects information about the marketing potential for a lodge and best location for the facility. Ford said more than one hotel chain has expressed interest in the two counties and he believes a lodge with up to 36 rooms or a smaller lodge and several cabins would complement any hotels that may be built. He added the goal is for the lodge to be largely self-sufficient, requiring little or no funding from the county for its operation. Asked about long-range plans, Ford said there has been talk of pursuing retail development in an area between the Three Springs Industrial Park and Weirton Medical Center in much the way Settlers Ridge was developed at Robinson Township, Pa. Ford said the local economy has improved, with the county's unemployment rate dropping from 11 percent five years ago to 6.5 percent, and he's optimistic about Brooke County's future. Commission President Tim Ennis thanked Ford for his efforts, adding he's seen that Ford has built a rapport with state economic development officials. In other business, the commission: Held a public hearing on the closing of six sections of “paper alley” on Archer Heights near Lee Boulevard. Attorney Jason Cuomo said the alleys were designated during the suburb's development but never paved, marked or used. If approved by the commission, plans call for land occupied by the alleys to be divided among several abutting property owners, including Cuomo, P&K Inc., a business owned by Paul Lombardi, who Cuomo also represented. No one spoke against the move, and Ennis advised the commission will vote on the matter in the near future. Approved the hiring of Cory Mitchell as a part-time CPR driver for the Brooke County Ambulance Service at the request of Bob Fowler, the county ambulance service's director; and learned Dan Roeder Sr. will retire on April 30 as maintenance superintendent for the county courthouse and other facilities after nearly 30 years in the position.

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