WHEELING - Following several months of contention, back-and-forth bantering and public protests, Wheeling planning commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to allow GreenHunter Water to build its natural gas frack water recycling plant at North 28th Street in Warwood.
Following the commission's vote, GreenHunter vice president of business development and operations John Jack said the company could be moving frack water in and out of the Warwood site as early as October. He said the company has been ready to proceed for several months.
The planning commission's vote to approve GreenHunter's site plan angered members of the "Wheeling Water Warriors" and Wheeling City Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge. They believe the plant will create health hazards because of potential radioactivity.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Wheeling Planning Commissioner and City Councilman Don Atkinson, left, looks on with Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, during the Monday Planning Commission meeting.
"As a parent of Warwood children, I do not feel the Wheeling Planning Commission planned for my children's future," Kate Marshall said following the vote. "This is going to hurt residents, hurt property values and hurt our health."
The 4-1 vote saw planning commissioners Barry Crow, Thomas McCulloch, Don Atkinson and Russell Jebbia vote to approve the plant, while Commissioner John Clarke voted against it. Commissioner Michael Leo recused himself from voting, citing a conflict of interest.
Commissioner James Mauck - serving in the role of chairman due to the absence of regular Chairman Howard Monroe - did not vote, as the chairman normally only votes to break a tie.
The matter now moves on to Wheeling City Council for acceptance.
During both the June and July meetings, commissioners declined to consider GreenHunter's application because they required additional information from the company.
That included documentation from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the West Virginia Department of Transportation showing that GreenHunter's project meets their guidelines. The commission also asked for documentation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and/or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission showing that the plant will not emit excessive amounts of radiation.
Commissioners also required the company to remove the labels "Phase 2" and barging from the project's site plan. These labels refer to GreenHunter's plan to eventually transport fracking waste by barge.
Several federal agencies, including the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing whether fracking waste can be shipped on inland waterways by barge.
Once Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, showed commissioners that GreenHunter had met each of these requirements, commissioners proceeded to vote.
Following the vote, Delbrugge, who lives in and represents Warwood, expressed her displeasure, saying simply, "I am upset. I don't like it."
Wheeling Water Warriors Erin Bowers and Robin Mahonen emphasized Wheeling's city ordinance that forbids industries from emitting excessive radioactivity.
"If they allow a plant that allows radioactivity, they are going against their own laws," Mahonen said.
Even though radium, uranium and radon are considered radioactive, Jack has said these elements will be minuscule in volume at the Warwood plant. He also said the company's workers will wear radiation detectors while on the job.
Although commissioners did not approve anything dealing with "Phase 2" or "barging," Jack said after the meeting he believes he will bring this before the city in "the very near future," though he could not be more specific.
"Phase 2" represents GreenHunter's desire to transport its fracking waste by barge, while utilizing a pipeline to transfer the waste from the company's main Warwood structure to the barging area.
"Putting this product on inland waterways is safer, and cheaper, than shipping it by truck," Jack said.
He hopes to hire 12-20 people to work at the site.