Commission Meeting Guests Argue Over Proposed Cracker
Some heated words were exchanged among guests at the Belmont County Commissioners office Wednesday.
Representatives from a group opposed to the potential ethane cracker plant in the Shadyside area announced an upcoming meeting and expressed the desire for more communication with the commissioners.
Lea Harper of Bowling Green, in Guernsey County, director of the Freshwater Accountability Project, said the group planned to hold a meeting in Moundsville May 11. A location has not yet been selected. She asked for a meeting with the commissioners to discuss concerns about the cracker plant.
“Everyone’s talking about the upside to the cracker plant, just jobs. We’re also talking about what kind of jobs we want to come to the Valley that would be more sustainable and would bring in more tourism and recreation and agriculture and other industries that are already here,” she said. “We want to brainstorm and we want to join everyone in a vision for the valley that’s not going to be tied to fossil fuels.”
She said the group is focused on the long term and environmental impact of the industry.
“When all the fracking (is) gone and the bonds are revoked and taken back with them, who cleans up?” she said. “Belmont County is the most heavily fracked county in Ohio and I’m very concerned.”
Harper also voiced concern with what she perceived as a lack of regulation. She spoke of concerns for the health problems in children, and said there was the potential for radioactive waste.
“We’re taking the long view for the Valley,” she said. “It’s a boom bust industry tied to fossil fuels.”
Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann listened. Meyer said her input was welcome, but that the commissioners lacked authority in these matters.
“The board of commissioners do not have regulation or oversight on a lot of those things that take place,” he said. “Most of that takes place through the state, the (Environmental Protection Agency) or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.”
Dutton added that the commissioners have been in contact with PTT Global Chemical America and its partner, Daelim Industrial Co. and regulatory agencies and disagreed with Harper about a lack of regulation.
“There is the EPA, the Department of the Interior, ODNR. … Those are the entities that are regulating the industry,” Dutton said, adding that they are also the proper entities to pose her questions. He also pointed out that there are requirements for the industry to pay for land reclamation.
“We have no real responsibility or authority to change some of the matters that you’re bringing up. … Things like acid mine drainage, those are … funded through the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, paid for by producers that pay on each of their tonnages.”
Dutton added that the commissioners have met and spoken with industry representatives in favor of the cracker plant and with people opposed to the issue.
Another guest, Doug Giffin of Colerain, spoke in favor of the plant, saying it was necessary for the future of the Ohio Valley.
“We’ve got all kinds of things that are closing around us in Belmont County. You’ve got hospitals that are closing. You’ve got schools that are closing. Really the Valley’s falling in around us without economic growth of industry that’s coming into the Valley. We lost the steel mills in the Valley … without a cracker plant or something of that nature coming in, that’s going to be an 80-year componenet in the Valley for industry, there’s no way we’re going to survive in the Ohio Valley. My kids are going to have to grow up and leave this area without income such as that, and all the other sustainable jobs.”
Giffin also said he believed few people from Belmont County were part of the opposition to the plant.
Bev Reed of Bridgeport then spoke her opposition to the plant.
“I’m a Belmont County resident and I’m opposed to the cracker plant, and I represent a lot of people in Belmont County that are opposed, as well as the surrounding counties. I think the decision to bring this cracker plant here is completely reckless,” she said. “I’d like to have some conversations about how to make this place better that doesn’t involve literally poisoning people.”
PTT and Daelim have acquired the property and permits to build the plant. The Freshwater Accountability Project is one of the groups challenging an environmental permit. The companies are awaiting the results of the appeal.
Belmont County Tourism Council, Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Greater Moundsville Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted a public informational meeting this past Thursday at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack