Local port authority has plans for 2014

This year’s goals for the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority include naming a new director and finalizing some ongoing projects, including the purchase of the Army Reserve Center on Ohio 7.

During the port authority’s annual meeting at Washington State Community College Tuesday, members outlined those goals and others.

The search for a director has been ongoing since Terry Tamburini announced his retirement from the director’s position in late 2013. A search committee was then formed to hire a new director and in January, the candidates had been narrowed down to two.

Port authority chairman Tom Webster said the candidate who was chosen for the position received a better job offer elsewhere. He said two employees have taken on most of the executive director’s duties on a temporary basis.

Webster said ads were being put out to draw in more applicants and an interim director would most likely be appointed until a new executive director could be found.

“We hope we have someone sooner rather than later,” he said. “We’re still searching.”

Meanwhile, projects are advancing, including the port authority’s attempts to turn the former Army Reserve Center into something of use to the community.

Michele Tipton, outreach coordinator for the port authority, said the former reserve center is just sitting empty.

“The building is currently vacant and has been vacant for years,” she said.

The reserve property extends from Ohio 7 to the Ohio River and is adjacent to the East Lawn Memorial Park and Valley Cemetery in Reno.

In June of 2013, the Washington County Commissioners and the port authority both wanted to purchase the building. The commissioners then found a home for the Emergency Operations Center on Davis Avenue, which left the property open for a port authority purchase. The venture is a public/private partnership between the port authority and Mondo Building and Excavating. Negotiations for purchasing the building from the Government Services Agency are still ongoing.

Janet Nelson, executive assistant for the port authority, said the development is a big project where the goal is to “try to develop it into usable space” in a way that will ultimately be determined by a developer. She said some ideas that have been tossed around include a youth center, training area for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and sites supporting the ROTC and local boy scouts.

Nelson said the $550,000 process to purchase the building began with Mondo putting $50,000 down to be considered as a buyer. Nelson said the Government Services Administration is still deciding on whether the port authority and Mondo will get the building, which could take up to six months. She said it could take up to four years to finish development once the building is under port authority ownership.

“It’s still in the process,” she said. “With the government, things do take time.”

Meanwhile, another ongoing project for 2014 is the Third Frontier Internship Program, which will continue to place interns with local businesses. Tipton said the interns must be in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The state provides each company with $3,000 for each intern over a 12-month period.

“Last year we had 57 interns,” she said, an increase of 98 percent from previous years. Tipton said 21 percent, 12 interns, went on to retain full or part-time employment.

She said the goal is to provide companies with a capable workforce. Since its beginnings in 2002, Tipton said the program has provided more than 400,000 students with internships at more than 800 companies across the state. Tipton said the majority of the companies involved are manufacturing, many in the petroleum engineering and engineering fields.

Another 2014 project includes getting several businesses on Ohio 7 hooked into Belpre’s sewer system. The $3.2 million project will keep businesses in Washington County and hopefully allow others to expand into the area, Nelson said.

“It will make the property (along Ohio 7)…more viable for sale and other development because the sewer will be available,” she said.

The port authority is acting as a coordinator between the city and businesses.

Also at Tuesday’s meetings, members reviewed projects completed in 2013.

Nelson said one of the larger projects the organization helped with was Good River Distribution, LLC.

“It was a big project we worked on with Eramet and other companies on Route 7,” she said. “It provides fire protection water and process (cooling waste) water for industry.”

Construction started in 2011 and ended in 2013 with the startup. The project cost was $11.3 million in state loan and bond funds. There are four 700 horsepower turbine pumps that pump 24,000 gallons of water per minute. Partnering companies include Eramet, Energizer, Solvay Advanced Polymers and Americas Styrenics.

Webster said it is the organization’s duty to help businesses with problems.

“Businesses located (along Ohio 7) had a water problem,” he said. “A plant manager came to us and said, ‘We have this problem, is there a way to solve it?’ We were able to solve that problem.”

Charlotte Keim, president and CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said a new synergetic approach is being taken by not just the port authority, but the chamber, Marietta Main Street and other revitalization groups.

“We have the same vision now,” she said. “We all play nicely in the sandbox together…It’s really a collaborative effort in this community.”

At the meeting, Dan Halliburton, field representative for Congressman Bill Johnson, gave some updates on current legislation. He said legislation was passed to help schools replace their tax base if business closes, like Ormet. The farm bill, which passed, included this new legislation, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT).

“What (PILT) means for this area, is areas like Ormet, where the company closed down, the schools lost that tax base,” Halliburton said. “What PILT does, it replaces the tax base that the school did lose because of the closing of a company. It didn’t increase it, but at least they get their tax money that they lost.”

Belpre City Schools Superintendent and Acting Marietta Superintendent Will Hampton both said Tuesday they weren’t familiar enough with PILT to comment on how beneficial it might be to districts.

Halliburton said an amendment to FEMA’s new floodplain maps for the area will be introduced today and hearings will start Thursday.

“It’s devastating to a lot of people,” he said, adding that policies in the $300 to $600 range have jumped to $3,000 to $6,000. He said that business policies are anywhere from $22,000 to $100,000.

“Hopefully we can get that repealed or at least amended,” he added.