Between a Zone And a Hard Place

WHEELING – Even if the Coast Guard eventually allows barges to carry natural gas fracking waste, Wheeling officials believe GreenHunter Water’s planned Warwood recycling facility would still be out of bounds by violating the city’s zoning code.

According to Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, the proposed barging area between the Ohio River and the Wheeling Heritage Trail is zoned for residential use. Therefore, no industrial activity can take place there.

“In 2000, that property was re-zoned as ‘residential’ from ‘industrial’ to complement the walking trail,” Connelly said. “This is something we have brought to their attention, but we have not heard back from them.”

At one time, Wheeling’s riverfront bustled with industrial activity from Warwood to South Wheeling. However, as industries began leaving the city, rails were removed to make way for the Heritage Trail.

John Jack, vice president of business development and operations for GreenHunter, said opening the facility “does not make any sense” without the barging aspect, adding, “We fully plan to build out the facility, once we have the approval from the U.S. Coast Guard.”

A deed in the Ohio County Clerk’s Office shows GreenHunter purchased the former Seidler’s Oil Service along North 28th Street for $750,000. This area is zoned for industrial use, but the city of Wheeling owns the residentially zoned trail to the west of GreenHunter’s main site. The area further to the west between the trail and the river – including the docks that extend out into the river – is also zoned for residential use, according to Connelly.

Connelly and Ohio County Assessor Kathie Hoffman said North Fork Landfill Inc. is the last known owner of this docking area. Regardless of who owns it, however, Connelly said GreenHunter’s obstacle is that it is designated as a residential area. He said the owner could request a zone change, but said no one has come forward to do so.

“We don’t own the property adjacent to the river. This will not prevent us from moving forward,” Jack said.

Jack disputes that GreenHunter cannot use the barging area because he said the company has a utility easement that allows it to pump material from the main site to the barging area. According to the company’s deed, GreenHunter has a right of way to “run certain pipelines, wirelines and cable crossings beneath the old railroad.” The deed also states the company can run vehicular traffic across the former railroad.

But Connelly said these provisions would have expired six months after Seidler’s ceased operations, adding, “it is the city’s position that a utility easement does not trump the zoning codes.”

Following significant public discourse last year, the Wheeling Planning Commission approved “Phase 1” of GreenHunter’s plan to transform the former Seidler’s into a facility that will accept and recycle water used in local fracking operations. GreenHunter plans to construct 23 separate 1,000-barrel tanks on the 2.35-acre site, some of which will hold clean rainwater, while others will hold reusable frack water, drilling waste fluid, and flowback water, the site plans show. Jack said approximately 30 trucks, each carrying about 100 barrels of brine water from local fracking operations, should arrive at the site each day once it is up and running.

GreenHunter would still need to present “Phase 2” of the project, which involves barging the frack water, for commission consideration. The company also needs a road use permit from the West Virginia Division of Highways because of sight clearance concerns.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz said there is “no timeline” for a decision on frack waste barging for GreenHunter, or any other company looking to perform similar work throughout the nation.

“We received 70,000 comments on this. We will take as much time as necessary to sift through them,” he said.