Wetlands project focus for port authority

STEUBENVILLE — Preparing a wetland mitigation project to get a 26-acre site in the Jefferson County Industrial Park ready for the anticipated next boom in shale was among the first items discussed for 2018 by the Jefferson County Port Authority.

Meeting Friday afternoon in its offices in the Towers at 500 Market St., the board named as officers for 2018 Edward Florak, chairman; Jason Zatta, vice chairman; and Greg Nemeth, secretary. Retired educator Florak replaces Realtor Gary Cain as chairman.

The wetlands study for the industrial park site is nearly complete, said Evan Scurti, port authority executive director. He said the hope this year is to obtain grants and other funds to perform the wetlands mitigation that would leave the site ready for development.

The question is one of cost, said Dave Maple, Jefferson County commissioner. “It’s not going to be $20,000, but it’s not going to be $500,000, either.”

Nemeth said the wetland issue remains a major hurdle when showing the site to potential businesses.

“It’s the nicest and largest tract in the industrial park, and the money we’ve spent right now is getting us nowhere,” he said. “It’s my opinion that we have to take a hands-on approach and do something with it and make it into a piece of property that will attract somebody.

Scurti said he will go after grant money to perform the work, but he’s unsure there will be enough grants available to cover the entire project.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said, “If we get close, we’re not going to say don’t do it.”

Board members said that piece of property could be a big part of a potential big year for the county.

Board member Albert Carapellotti said there is anticipation of the energy boom growing exponentially this year. He said there are talks of putting a pipe yard on some of his business property and he was told that later in the year, there won’t be specific pipe unloading machines available in the area.

“If we think we’ve seen some action so far, it’s going to be more,” he said.

Scurti said work is continuing on four Phase 1 environmental assessments paid through a $600 million grant program covering the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson county region. Scurti said with the assessments, he hopes to have revenue to spend on some key development parcels by about mid-year.

Scurti provided the board with several goals for the year:

• Holding a summit with Pittsburgh-based commercial real estate agents and site selection professionals, with a familiarization tour of what’s available in the county and a discussion of opportunities and recent capital investments.

• Building out a mapping tool for downtown properties as part of an overall web marketing effort.

• Holding a briefing with higher education representatives during the first quarter to build partnerships, especially to grow the port authority’s network through Eastern Gateway Community College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

• Focus on site improvement needs at redevelopment parcels and build on the EPA assessment grant fund, as well as exploring complementary state and federal programs, including the Ohio Abandoned Gas Station Redevelopment Fund. Scurti said the $20 million state fund has met with little usage statewide so far.

• Prepare a plan for using the port’s reserve capital fund.

• In-depth consultation with industrial firms with the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth.

• Focus on capital investment plans with individual companies and offer detailed public relations as possible.

Scurti also asked for a March 5 evening meeting with the port’s outside investors.

He said Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad and the Consumers National Bank have joined the port’s private investment partners.

The board approved appropriations for 2018 and approved Scurti’s attendance at the International Economic Development Council Conference in Washington, D.C., in March.

(Giannamore may be reached by e-mail at pgiannamore@heraldstaronline.com.)