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Senator talks development in Follansbee

PROJECTS DISCUSSED — Follansbee Mayor David Velegol Jr. discussed upcoming projects with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., during her visit to the city Wednesday. City Manager Jack McIntosh, City Attorney Michael Gaudio and representatives of the Port of West Virginia also were on hand. -- Contributed

FOLLANSBEE — A visit to the city on Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., presented an opportunity for local leaders to discuss goals and thank her for her support of an ongoing project.

“We certainly thanked her for the wastewater grant. That was huge for the city,” said Mayor David Velegol Jr., who referred to a $10.2 million grant she secured for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment system.

Designed by Ghosh Engineering of Charleston, the project will involve upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and pump stations near the city’s fire station and south end and the separation of combined sewer and stormwater lines.

Capito noted the money came from $1.5 trillion allocated for various infrastructure projects through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, bipartisan legislation also supported by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va; and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling.

She noted federal funds also have been allocated for the extension of internet service to unserved or underserved areas, which the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and others have used, with state funds, to establish the Line Extension Advancement and Development and GigReady Initiative grant programs.

The L.E.A.D. Program assists internet providers in extending existing cable and fiberoptic networks, while the GigReady Initiative provides funds to local governments pursuing broadband expansion.

Follansbee officials have made plans to use a portion of federal American Rescue Plan funds awarded to the city to install internet boosters on new street lights to be installed along Main Street.

“I don’t really care how we do it as long as we get it to homes and businesses,” said Capito, who added nearly 1,100 West Virginians expressed their desire for high-speed internet through the Share Our Stories link on her website.

“People were writing me stories and it wasn’t about how good their internet connection is,” she said.

Much of Capito’s visit involved a private meeting with officials with the Port of West Virginia and Empire Diversified Energy, its parent company, at their headquarters in the Bluewave Center, formerly Follansbee Middle School.

Leaders of the port have approached local, state and federal leaders for financial and other support for the development of an intermodal facility along thousands of feet of riverfront property formerly owned by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.

At a public meeting on March 30, Port Director Joe DiBartolomeo said about $25 million is needed to build a 3,600-foot steel wall extending about 70 feet from the riverbank to accommodate the storage of thousands of containers.

Port officials also hope to secure about $20 million to improve a railroad bridge across the Ohio River so materials can be transported to and from the site by trains.

The West Virginia Development Authority has issued $25 million in bonds for the development of wharf and dock facilities at the site, which is owned by Empire Diversified Energy.

Officials with Empire estimate they have invested $50 million in the property, including cleanups ordered of previous owners by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Velegol said in addition to expressing thanks for the wastewater windfall, he updated Capito on other upcoming projects.

The mayor said they included upgrades to the water treatment system, renovations to the city’s fire station and the development of a town square at the Ray Stoaks Plaza, all of which are supported at least partly with local funds.

“We have made a huge commitment to making our projects shovel-ready. I think she recognized we’re moving forward,” he said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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