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‘Cracker’ Creates a Buzz; One Bank Opens, Another to Close

February 5, 2012
By AL MOLNAR , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

It has never been a secret that Ohio has been competing with two other states on the location of a "cracker" plant, but local and state officials are being tight-lipped on whether the East Ohio area or any other site in the state has figured into any discussions that have taken place since the oil/gas boom started last year.

Off-the-cuff comments by local and state officials lead one to believe that they have been working quietly to ascertain how the oil and gas boom can affect this area. Ohio Gov. John Kasich even made an unannounced trip to Houston three months ago to get a jump on the neighboring states to secure the plant, which would mean more than a thousand jobs to construct and operate.

Three weeks ago when I drove across the bridge from Moundsville and exited on the Ohio side in the vicinity of the old Burger Plant of First Energy Corp. south of Shadyside, I was surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot of the plant that ceased operations at the end of 2010.

With the "cracker" plant in mind, my curiosity peaked and immediately I began checking to find out that there is still a crew of workers on the job at the plant. Norman Delong of the Utility Workers of America Union confirmed that he was one of 15 employees working at the plant. Their duties involve repairing pumps for the other First Energy plants.

When I talked to the supervisor of the work crew to find out whether the plant has figured in any oil/gas company connections, I was referred to the company headquarters in Akron.

But even before that, I had learned from various sources that one or more of the oil and gas company officials involved in exploring Belmont County had visited the plant during their canvassing of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to determine the location of a plant.

Royal Dutch Shell has confirmed it is looking for a site for an ethane plant and that an announcement of the location would be made early this year.

The former Burger plant would not in itself be a sufficient location for such a massive facility. However, that site combined with the vast acreage around and south of the plant could be rated as an ideal location.

Although there have been reports that the Belmont County officials have conferred with Shell officials about the possibility of locating the plant somewhere in the county, none has publicly admitted it. But all of them have made statements over the past few months that there could be a "big announcement" coming in the near future that could totally change Belmont County.

That huge site south of Shadyside is ideally located for access by water, rail and highway. It borders the Ohio River, is adjacent to four-lane Ohio 7 and has a rail line running through the property.

Several years ago when First Energy Corp. had to cope with the Environmental Protection Agency mandate to clean up the quality of air emitted from the Burger plant, the company had under consideration burning biomass as a substitute for its coal burning and a firm involved in producing the biomass had visited the area and talked about constructing another biomass plant.

One site the firm looked at was part of the huge acreage south of Shadyside. That site is located in the Dilles Bottom area and is still vacant since First Energy rejected the biomass plan and elected to close down the plant instead.

During their meeting in the United Steelworkers hall in Martins Ferry last week, the county commissioners were openly exuberant about how the oil/gas business "could change the face of Belmont County." From reports they have received they commented it is almost unbelievable what can happen in Belmont County if the reports become reality.

The answer is expected to be coming within the next two months.

One bank is opening for business and another bank is preparing to close its branch in the Plaza West in St. Clairsville.

Premier Bank & Trust Co. has completed construction of a new full-service bank which will open for business on Monday. The new bank is located at the northern end of the strip mall located adjacent to Riesbeck's Food Market, the plaza's anchor store.

The new banking facility, which is equipped with drive-through access, is a branch of the Premier Bank & Trust, which has been located in the strip mall for the past two years. That bank bank, which will continue in operation, is located just a few doors south of the new structure. Its business is involved primarily with wealth management, trusts, investments, estate planning and trusts.

A spokesperson for the new bank said a grand opening will be held in the near future.

Customers of Huntington National Bank who have accounts in the branch facility located at the extreme northern end of the Plaza West, have been notified the branch will cease operations at that facility on Friday, March 9.

Rob Soroka, regional area manager of Huntington, notified customers by letter that their accounts will be moved to the St. Clairsville main branch located at 154 W. Main St. in St. Clairsville, with uninterrupted service starting the following day, March 10.

A branch banking facility has been in the Plaza West since 1996. It was first occupied by the former Belmont National Bank and was then taken over when Sky Bank assumed control of the banking facility and remained there until Huntington bank took over the bank operations.

Activity at the Belmont County Board of Elections has been steadily picking up with the primary election just one month away. Potential voters are registering in large numbers, people are already casting ballots and those who will be manning the 70 polling places in Belmont County are getting ready to attend classes to prepare them for that work.

People who intend to vote on March 6 but have not yet registered, have just one day to do so. "Monday is the last day to register," explained Bill Shubat, director of the board of elections. "We'll be open extra hours on Monday until 9 p.m. to register any late comers."

Heavy absentee balloting is anticipated. "We have had 500 or 600 people who have requested absentee ballots or have already voted," Shubat said, and he added, "we have had about 75 who have voted here at the board offices since Tuesday when the early voting started." Voting booths are set up in the lobby of the board office for those who want to cast their ballots early.

Large numbers of 17-year-olds have been registering to vote. "We've had groups of 50 to 100 come in to register," Shutbat noted. He said high schools are cooperating to have the 17-year-olds come from school and register. He pointed out that "17-year-olds may register and vote if they will be 18 years of age by the Nov. 6 general election. But they can vote for candidates only, not on the issues."

Instruction classes to prepare 350 people to man the polls on March 6 will begin this week. The classes will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week and on the same days again next week.

What many of the 100 or so people who were present for the Ohio Valley Mall announcement on Thursday had anticipated did not materialize but most were pleased to hear about the multi-million dollar improvements that are planned this year.

What some wanted to hear was information on new stores coming to the shopping center - in particular confirmation of reports that have circulated for several months that the Boscov department would be locating here. It didn't come. But none of the Cafaro Co. officials denied the Boscov report that was reported here back in November.

However, Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co., did disclose that "soon" there would be an announcement of a "nationally recognized" store coming to the mall.

Despite the fact that stores in the mall have closed or moved elsewhere creating many vacancies, Anthony Cafaro, a third- generation head of the company, told the crowd, "We've stayed here and you've stayed here with us. I'm here to thank you for your support. There are new stores coming. We hope this major improvement project is a catalyst to attract more of them."

What that sleepy groundhog told the public when it crawled out of its warm den on Thursday was that there will be six more weeks of winter, but more importantly, that all of the snow we missed in December and January will be coming in February and March, and maybe even in April.

I hope my amateur weather forecasting is off base but there are many who believe the worst of the winter season is still ahead.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at:

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