Securing a cracker plant and a barge port in the area are goals this year for the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, according to discussion at the group's annual meeting Tuesday.
Members of the Port Authority Board of Directors met with representatives from local government and business for about two hours in the auditorium at Washington State Community College for their annual meeting Tuesday morning.
Much of the discussion revolved around the potential development of the Utica and Marcellus shale, which could affect everything from barge traffic to hotels and restaurants.
The last time that one particular project created the economic buzz that is following Utica and Marcellus shale was when Public Debt and Union Carbide came to the area in the 1940s, said Southeastern Ohio Port Authority Executive Director Terry Tamburini.
"It's been 70 years since we had a major economic occurrence," Tamburini said.
Among a list of 13 projects and events hoped for in 2012 are a pair involving the development of wells in the area.
Projects and events on the Southeast Ohio Port Authority agenda for 2012:
Final disposition of Reno property formerly known as the Marietta Tree Nursery.
The fourth quarter opening of the Ingenuity Center.
Industrial expansions in Waterford Township.
Securing a cracker plant in Washington County or supporting one nearby.
Initiation of commercial development on the Belpre Medical Campus.
Source: Southeast Ohio Port Authority.
Included in that list is either securing a cracker plant in Washington County or supporting one nearby. Cracker plants are used to strip the components from the oil and gas extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shales. Those components can then be used as fuel by the chemical industry.
The involvement in the "fracking" industry was also the subject of a presentation by Ron Coles, president and founder of W.R. Coles & Associates, detailing barge traffic on the Ohio river and possible creation of a river port.
A typical Marcellus well requires 1,500 tons of sand and the average barge holds roughly that same amount, meaning barge traffic could increase exponentially, Coles said.
Washington County also has the unique advantage of being in a transportation hub.
"That intersection of the interstate and the river is really important for Washington County," Coles said.
The county does not, however, have a strong railroad presence, as the decision made two decades ago to pull up the CSX tracks west of Belpre has created development problems, Tamburini noted.
Still, the Port Authority expects to accomplish several projects this year, including some left over from the 2011 itinerary.
"You've got to deal with the tree farm. You've got to deal with the Eramet situation," Tamburini said.
The final disposition of the former Ohio Department of Natural Resources tree farm near Reno is expected very soon, with a buyer having committed to maintaining its agricultural base, said David Haas, chairman of the Port Authority Board.
"We expect to close on that very soon," he said.
In the fourth quarter of 2012 the Port Authority also plans to open the Ingenuity Center, which has had some delays with funding and grants. The center, located at the North 7 Business Park in Reno, will be a 35,000 square-foot building housing companies in the temperature-controlled cabinet industry.
The inauguration of the Belpre Medical Campus of Memorial Health Systems will also take place soon as the facility is ready to open, Tamburini said.
Industrial expansions in Waterford Township as well as construction of a tech center at Kraton Polymers and a decision on the INEOS facility formerly NOVA Chemical, in Porterfield, and what will take place there is also expected. The Port Authority has been putting buyers and sellers together and depending on the buyer could provide assistance for restoring the site, Haas said.
All are aimed at increasing quality of life in southeast Ohio, said those in attendance Tuesday.
"It's an amazing place to live. It's an amazing place to do business," Haas said.