FOLLANSBEE - Plans to promote Brooke County to the natural gas industry and its workers and to help a local church in supplying food to children of low-income families were discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber heard from Brooke County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi, who said he plans to recruit officials from throughout the county to serve on a task force to meet with leaders of the natural gas industry to discuss both concerns and ways they can support their efforts.
Andreozzi said while some gas wells have been drilled, the county will see a dramatic increase in gas drilling in the years ahead and may benefit from the additional revenue it will bring.
He suggested a brochure listing restaurants, hotels and other businesses that may serve natural gas workers staying in Brooke County while drilling operations occur.
Andreozzi acknowledged concerns have been voiced about large water trucks violating speed limits and the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing. But he said open communications with industry officials can help to address those concerns.
"I think we are going to be a lot better off if we work hand in hand with them from the ground up," he said.
Andreozzi said he's approached an official with MarkWest Energy who was receptive to such a dialogue and a large group of natural gas workers who, while dining at a local restaurant, were surprised when he welcomed them to the county.
Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said while some think opportunities for natural gas development in Brooke County have passed, there is still opportunity.
He said the Brooke County Economic Development Authority is updating an inventory of available land that may be developed for the industry and other businesses.
In other business, Chamber President Tony Paesano said the group plans to team with Hooverson Heights Church of Christ, Catholic Charities of West Virginia and St. Anthony Catholic Church to provide backpacks packed with non-perishable food to children at Follansbee schools.
Inspired by a similar effort involving Weirton First Church of the Nazarene and Colliers Primary School, members of Hooverson Heights Church of Christ have been providing the backpacks to children at Hooverson Heights Primary School.
Noting the church's congregation is small, Paesano said, "If they can do it, so can we."
He said he hopes to support that effort and extend it to Jefferson Primary School and Follansbee Middle School.
Paesano said more than 50 percent of children and teens in Brooke County Schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
He said since Brooke High School added an after-school tutoring program, with food provided through a federal grant secured by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc, the number of participants has grown from 10 to 80.
Paesano said the chamber will seek grants and private contributions for the effort, which he said will be ongoing.
"Because of the need, it's not a one-shot deal," he said.
Paesano said the chamber also will be raising funds to bring a mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to Follansbee. He said the chamber will team with the Follansbee Community Days Committee to bring the wall to the festival this year.
Like the fixed monument in Washington, the mobile memorial displays the names of more than 50,000 men and women, including several military nurses, who were killed in the Vietnam War or are missing in action.
Paesano said there were at least 12 Brooke County residents who were killed while serving in the war, and all Vietnam War veterans, living and dead, deserve to be recognized for their service to their country.
On hand for the announcement were several members of the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, who have been asked to assist in presenting a program honoring Vietnam War veterans at the mobile memorial.
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