City again asking for bids from oil, gas interests

A second advertisement will go out for bids to lease up to 95 acres of city property to shale oil and gas interests, according to a discussion during Tuesday’s meeting of Marietta City Council’s lands, buildings and parks committee.

“We advertised for bids on the property earlier this year, but no bids were submitted by the May deadline. Now the administration is asking to renew the ordinance authorizing advertisement for those bids,” said city law director Paul Bertram III.

He said the legislation, asking for bids to lease all or part of the 95.3 acres, would be the same as the earlier measure with a new bid opening date in late September or early October.

The acreage includes parcels of city-owned land, Gunlock Park, located behind the Walmart complex and along Goose Run Road in Marietta Township, as well as city garage property off Alderman Street, property at Buckeye Park and the Kroger Wetlands off Acme Street.

In January MNW Energy, Inc., a local investor/buyer for Tulsa, Okla.-based Protege Energy III, offered to lease 35 acres of the city property, behind Walmart and along Goose Run Road, for $4,750 an acre, plus a 17.5 percent royalty based on any oil and gas product that may be retrieved by Protege by horizontal hydraulic fracturing of Utica and Marcellus shale beds beneath the city property.

During Tuesday’s meeting MNW Energy chief financial officer J. Douglas Mallett said he had missed the ad for bids earlier this year.

“I would have submitted a bid, but did not see the advertisement,” he said. “And I take full responsibility for that.”

Mallett said the company would definitely put in a bid if the advertisement is reauthorized by council.

“We’ll bid on the Goose Run Road property for sure, and we may be able to bid on the Gunlock Park property,” he said.

Mallett said there is currently not a lot of interest in leasing the other city parcels, but noted that could change, depending on what oil companies may want to do in the future.

“I’ve had a lot of people calling me and asking why we didn’t lease any of this property,” said Mayor Joe Matthews, noting that Washington County has benefited from leasing 265 acres.

The county received $1.25 million up front for the lease agreement inked with MNW Energy in May.

Mallett said the company has closed on leases totaling $31 million-plus with the county and other area private property owners so far this year.

In other business Tuesday, city engineer Joe Tucker said renovation of the first floor of the National Guard Armory building has been put on a fast track toward getting bids in and construction under way this year.

“We’ll have the site open for viewing by contractors from noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 28; 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 5; and 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 12,” he said, adding that legislation authorizing the bid advertisement has to be done by mid-September.

“All of this is critical to be done by the end of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s fiscal year at the end of September,” he said. “And by Sept. 16 council needs to have all of the local monies in place for the beginning of the project.”

He said roughly $197,000 at least would have to be in place at that time.

Tucker said ODOT, which has approved a $252,397 National Scenic Byways grant to help fund the armory renovation, wants to see some movement being made on the project.

Also on Tuesday, Bertram asked members of council’s police and fire committee to consider amending legislation governing the amount charged when the city fire department’s new fire boat responds to emergencies outside the city.

He said one example was the use of the fire boat to pump river water to fight the July fire at Level 5 Recycling Solutions on Ohio 7.

Currently the department charges $25 per hour for use of the boat, but Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham has asked that the charge be elevated to $150 an hour, Bertram said.

Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, who chairs the finance committee, expressed concern that $150 may not be enough to cover operation of the boat and asked Bertram to check back with Durham to see if the city should charge even more for the fire boat service.

In addition, Bertram suggested some tweaking may have to be done on the city’s new ban on the use of hand-held wireless communication devices.

He noted some drivers have been issued tickets for simply pressing a button to activate the speaker phone so they can talk without having to hold onto their cell phones.

Bertram said when judges look at the language of the new law, activating the speaker phone while driving could be considered a legal action.