Environmental assessment request likely

WEIRTON – The city’s redevelopment authority is going to ask the Brooke-Hancock Brownfield Task Force to do an environmental assessment for a potential investment property.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members were told the Phase I survey would help determine what, if any, environmental issues may exist on the property. That information, in turn, will help them figure out the property’s actual value.

“Once we know the assessment, we’d know what our exposure is and then we can make an offer based on our exposure,” said Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. “(We need to have) an idea what the value is before we make an offer so we can line up our resources.”

The discussion came in the wake of Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh’s assertion that the authority needed to “get a project we can handle do it, turn it, bring somebody in” to occupy it, creating jobs and revenue for the city.

“Council is looking for some kind of action from this authority,” he’d said. “I think we need a feather in our hat here.”

But the redevelopment authority’s Gerry Banketas questioned the wisdom of acquiring a property without having an end user in mind, saying it made little sense to spend taxpayer dollars without knowing what the return on investment would be.

“That’s what redevelopment does,” the Rev. Larry Dorsch, also a member of the authority, replied. “You have to venture some taxpayer money. The redevelopment authority has to venture something … to try and get something started. We’re trying to jump start the redevelopment process – we’re not trying to do the whole thing ourselves, we’re trying to use a bit of taxpayer money to get things going … that’s the purpose of this body, to get something going.”

Ford said the BDC and Redevelopment Authority were created “to intervene in markets where the private sector doesn’t have interest or the risk is too high for the private sector.”

“We’re taking on the risk,” he said. “But when you take on risk, you also reap the rewards. … We’re in this business to catalyze investment.”

Ford told Banketas that the property owner in question could, conceivably, use the results of the environmental assessment to cut a deal with someone else, but he’d chalk that up as a development victory.

“If we do a Phase I assessment and then (the owner) rents it, we’ve done our job,” he said.

The redevelopment authority and BDC, meanwhile, are still hoping to ratchet up the pressure on ArcelorMittal to grant rights-of-ways for a pair of industrial access roads.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the redevelopment authority talked about the importance of the roads – one at the Three Springs Drive Business Park, the other in the downtown area.

Uptown, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle is hoping to get its hands on a strip of land needed for an alternate access road that would open up the backside of the Three Springs Drive Business Park, a necessity to business development efforts there, according to officials.

The redevelopment authority, meanwhile, had hoped to access an existing service road stretching from the southern city limits all the way to Cove Road that could be extended and upgraded to a full-fledged truck route, allowing them to reroute heavy trucks, including oil and gas tanker trucks, around the downtown area.

So far, however, they’ve not been able to get agreements on those or any other mill-owned properties.

“At some point, somebody’s got to put some pressure on them,” Dorsch said.

Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mark Zatezalo said the industrial roads “would make the place safer, improve the quality of life.”

“We’re not talking a lot of property, we’re talking about a right-of-way,” he said, adding that if the stalemate continues, he wouldn’t be averse to limited use of the authority’s power of Eminent Domain to obtain the rights-of-way if, in fact, that’s what is needed to get truck traffic away from the downtown business district and residential areas.

“A transportation corridor is a (legitimate) reason for eminent domain,” Zatezalo said. “I think to do that and keep (potentially dangerous cargo) out of the commercial district would be a great thing.”

Zatezalo said an industrial access road “is not a new idea, it’s not a novel idea. It’s just an idea whose time has come because the property is available.”

In other business, the authority voted to pay a $100 membership invoice submitted by the Weirton Port Authority. The invoice covers 2013 and 2014. The only dissenting vote was cast by Marsh.