Port Authority Axed by State

The West Virginia Public Port Authority has voted to “rescind and terminate” the powers of the Weirton Area Port Authority at the request of Weirton Mayor George Kondik.

Members of the authority voted 5-0 on the matter, with one member abstaining, according to Kondik. Attempts to reach WVPPA officials were unsuccessful Friday.

The vote, taken during the state authority’s annual meeting Wednesday, comes weeks after Kondik sent a letter requesting the state agency, a division of the West Virginia Department of Transportation, dissolve the local port authority amid concerns over lawsuits that allege non-payment of vendors.

The non-profit Weirton Area Port Authority Inc. is one of three prongs in a public-private partnership that comprises the Weirton port operation. The port consists of Tri-State Port Management, a for-profit corporation formed to leverage private investment; the Weirton Area Port Authority Inc., a non-profit eligible to receive public grant funding; and the Weirton Area Port Authority, a political subdivision of the state that answers to the West Virginia Public Port Authority, which is a division of the West Virginia Department of Transportation. It was the latter entity the state acted to dissolve.

“What that means is that we are no longer a political subdivision of the state of West Virginia,” Weirton Area Port Authority Chairman B.J. DeFelice said.

The main impact of that, DeFelice said, is the port no longer would have independent bonding authority – a power he said the authority never used.

“We have options to either continue and try to work things out with the state, or consider moving to a fully private status,” he said.

DeFelice stressed the allegations of non-payment cited in Kondik’s letter involve the non-profit corporation, not the political subdivision.

One lawsuit was filed by Citynet of Bridgeport, W.Va., alleging non-payment of more than $220,000 for work done on a fiber-optic network. Also, Kokosing Construction of Westerville, Ohio, placed a lien against the corporation for more than $500,000 for earthwork done at the port terminal, located at Half Moon Industrial Park.

If any vendor was not paid, DeFelice said, it was due to poor performance or the vendor’s failure to follow its contract with the port authority.

DeFelice said board members of the political subdivision, including himself, work on a purely volunteer basis.

Virtually all activity at the port terminal has been funded through private investment, according to DeFelice. He said when he came on board in 2010, the local port authority had $5,000 in funds that had been allocated by Weirton City Council, money he said was used for travel expenses and various office functions.

“That was fully accounted for and it went through the city manager’s office. … We’ve never received or used any other public funds,” DeFelice said.

According to DeFelice, the Weirton port’s objective is to boost area infrastructure to encourage job creation in the area.

It supplies water and electricity for World Point Terminals’ 680,000-barrel canopy unloading facility for petroleum products at Half Moon, and is working with other partners in the oil and gas, steel and agriculture industries, he said.