The Brooke-Hancock Brownfield Task Force has quietly been working for several years as an intergovernmental group in the Northern Panhandle working toward cleaning up the environment with an eye toward returning formerly productive properties to the active economy. The group represents the hard work of public officials from Beech Bottom to Chester, including not only government officials but private citizens. Through agencies including the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and more, the task force has identified properties that would be good targets not only for environmental remediation by the post-remediation economic development activities that lead to jobs and a brighter future. Projects have ranged from cleaning up former gas stations to cleaning up industrial sites, including the ongoing conversion of the old Wheeling Corrugating Beech Bottom plant into an industrial park facility with multiple users. Across the Ohio River, in Jefferson County, more than two dozen properties were assessed for future cleanup through a $1 million grant obtained by the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission in 2009, leading to successes including the conversion of a former car dealership in Toronto to be the home of an active oilfields services company. With those successes in mind, it might be hard to believe the federal government turned down the area's Ohio and West Virginia applications for grants in recent rounds, citing various factors but pointing the way to something that is obvious to economic development professionals: But for the Ohio River, the region is one economic area. Indeed, the Steubenville-Weirton area has been lumped together as a metropolitan statistical area by the federal government for decades. But there is a bit of a bureaucratic secret at work there: The West Virginia side of the area, Brooke and Hancock counties, are responsive to a federal region controlled by a bureaucracy headquartered in Philadelphia, while the Ohio side, Jefferson County, is responsive to feds in Chicago. When it comes to highways and certain other programs, including FDA grants, the federal government long ago recognized the area is a region, not two distinct areas that should report to two distinct federal controllers. Indeed, the existence of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission dates to the origins of the federal highway aid acts of the 1960s, where a regional agency was required to provide unified highway planning and handling of grants and funds. Now, with the current round of brownfield grants, a regional application is being prepared, with much work occurring this weekend to finalize the application, to seek $600,000 aimed toward redevelopment of as many as six example sites, two in each of the three counties in the region. Pat Ford of the BDC and Mike Paprocki of BHJ are leading the final editing of the application with a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday aimed toward beating a potential computer-server killing rush on Friday, the federal application deadline. Their work represents the input of dozens of citizens, government agencies and officials and puts the hope of the area to receive a grant sometime next summer up for review by the feds. We hope the regional approach finds success with the federal government and that the regional application process builds upon the intergovernmental and public partnership that the brownfield task force represents. Working together, even across the river, the area is a stronger region, where the good ideas of all come together, regardless of the federal region of origin.
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