Funding Plans for Second Interchange Eyed for 2014

A major goal for The Highlands in 2014 is getting funding plans for a second interchange under way, but state legislation still is needed, county officials said.

Orphy Klempa, Ohio County Commissioner and Ohio County Development Authority member, said the OCDA’s main goal to get a state law passed that would allow the authority to use tax increment financing to construct a second interchange. The law calls for expanding the existing TIF district from 300 to 500 acres. The expansion would encompass nearby car dealerships and other businesses across Interstate 70, allowing the OCDA to benefit from the sales tax generated by those businesses. That money could then be used to cover the cost of building the interchange.

While Klempa said occasional traffic doesn’t bother him at the site, another interchange in the back half of the development would decrease congestion. The interchange should also help further development of the site. In 2006, the county estimated the interchange would cost about $23 million and an interior access road about $15 million.

“We’re going to continue to reach out on that,” Klempa said of state legislators. “A second interchange could be used to open up the back end more and entice developers to look at that.”

The undeveloped rear portion of the site also was expected to be used for development of a Wild Escape theme park by Steve Minard. County officials have said previously they have not given up on the park or at least something like it for The Highlands. Klempa noted there is nothing specific planned for 2014.

“It’s so much more than a retail shopping experience,” Klempa said, adding the site also is home to West Liberty University’s branch campus, a Cabela’s distribution center, light industrial type businesses such as a warehouse for Silgan plastics and new doctors’ offices. “It’s so much more than just a place to eat and shop.”

For Ohio County in general, Klempa said the commission plans to remain fiscally responsible.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

Klempa noted he would like to find a way to help county residents in flood plains who are concerned about their flood insurance skyrocketing due to recent federal legislation.

“There are a lot of county residents who are concerned that they can’t afford it,” Klempa said, adding he also lives in a flood plain.

Randy Wharton, commission president and OCDA member, said he anticipates seeing work on three new restaurants occur at The Highlands in 2014.

“I would like to see all vacant spaces filled in 2014,” Wharton added. “I would like to enjoy a new tenant without increasing our construction costs.”

At the county level, Wharton said after losing some employees the commission office has reorganized and now there are separate workers for the county office and OCDA office. In 2013, the commission totally separated its finances from the OCDA’s. The commission, he noted, plans to continue upgrading equipment, such as computers and software, for other elected officials’ offices. The commission also plans to reorganize some available space to benefit various offices.

Tim McCormick, commissioner and OCDA member, said he would like to work with other Northern Panhandle counties in trying to attract a natural gas cracker plant to the region. Right now, he said, Wood County is being strongly considered by a Brazilian company despite that county not being a high-producing gas and oil area like the Northern Panhandle.

McCormick said in relation to the county, the commission has no plans to raise taxes in 2014.