River touted as asset for TS&T

CHESTER – The waters of the Ohio River flow freely past the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site, but so far they have not brought economic prosperity with them.

Economic development officials are hoping that a new grant will kickstart a process to clean up the TS&T riverbank and turn it into an asset for Hancock County.

Renewed attention to the riverbank and TS&T’s proximity to the Ohio River is being driven by companies that have shown an interest in the Chester property, said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle.

“The prospects we’ve talked to want to explore how they can use the river,” Ford said. “We’ve been getting a lot more interest in that site now because the Marcellus and Utica Shale growth is moving up the Ohio River valley. More people are wanting to explore how we tie the river into that site.”

Although the river has always been part of the equation, the project to reclaim the TS&T site in 2011 and 2012 was mostly about demolishing the structures, removing the asbestos and making the land marketable.

Marketing efforts by the BDC have generated some interest but, as of yet, no sales or lease agreements – a fact that has become an increasing source of frustration to Chester residents and officials in the past 18 months.

But Ford cites two recent developments as positive:

The awarding of a grant by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to help with the development of a TS&T master plan; and

Efforts to obtain funding for a full-scale environmental assessment of the TS&T riverbank and shoreline.

The master plan will be different from the one developed in 2012 by West Virginia University landscape architecture students, Ford said. The new one, also a project of the WVU Department of Landscape Architecture, will include site planning, pedestrian connections and access to the Ohio River and state Route 2, he said.

“If you’ve got a site that’s adjacent to the river,” Ford said, “why aren’t you folding that into a concept to use the river? We’re of the opinion that the river has extreme value. It has aesthetic value. There’s a functional value – there’s access to the river from the site, and there’s access to the site from the river.”

Last week, WVU and BDC officials visited Chester to do “site reconnaissance” on the TS&T property as a first step in developing the master plan, Ford said.

The $12,500 Benedum grant – part of a $370,000, three-year grant – is being administered by the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center in partnership with the BDC.

Carrie Staton, coordinator of the West Virginia Redevelopment Collaborative, said the TS&T project is part of a larger “regional effort to look at the redevelopment of former industrial sites in the Ohio River Valley.”

At the same time, BDC officials are looking for new funding sources for riverbank remediation in the wake of being turned down for a $70,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The grant would have helped pay for a Phase II environmental assessment of the TS&T riverbank, which is known to be contaminated with lead.

“Apparently, that was a dumping ground. There’s a lot of pottery shards along the shoreline,” Ford said.

On Tuesday, EPA and local economic development officials met in Weirton to discuss a strategy for remediating any riverbank contamination and funding the cleanup. Ford said a Phase II assessment, which studies soil samples, will go a long way in determining whether cleanup is necessary.

“A lot of people at the state, federal and local levels are working on this strategy because they all see this as a priority,” Ford said.

Meanwhile, the BDC and Brownfields Assistance Center want to restart the Chester task force that oversaw much of the TS&T reclamation work beginning in February 2011. Known as the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee, the group would be a way for residents to offer input and stay informed about the new master plan, Ford said.

Mary Lawrence, an original member of the Rock Springs group, said she would welcome such a move because many Chester residents have felt out of the loop since the TS&T cleanup was completed in December 2012.

“I hate to speak for everybody, but most of us would want to do that again,” she said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)