Brooke Glass grant aids re-use

WELLSBURG – The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle has taken another step in redeveloping the former Brooke Glass factory site.

Leaders of the group and the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center announced the release of $12,500 for the effort to a gathering of community members interested in the project.

The two have invited community members to offer any suggestions and expertise they may have through an informal group dubbed a Grants and Opportunities Team.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the money is the first to be drawn from a $370,000 grant awarded by the Claude W. Benedum Foundation to the BDC and the Pittsburgh-based Riverside Center for Innovation for the redevelopment of former industrial sites in Hancock and Brooke counties and Western Pennsylvania.

Ford said it will be used to acquire estimates for the building’s demolition, remediation of hazardous material there, preparation of the site and security.

He said the Rithner family, which previously owned the property, has installed a security system in the building and the BDC will install a fence to further deter the vandalism that has plagued it.

Working with the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, the brownfield assistance center secured a $5,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation for a Phase 1 environmental assessment.

Such assessments involve a review of records kept, a preliminary physical study of a site and research into written record of its past use.

Ford said there are plans in the fall to apply for a federal grant for a Phase 2 assessment, which involves the collection and analysis of soil samples.

He said no projects in the Northern Panhandle were included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest issue of environmental assessment funds. But he said it’s an indication of the growing competition from other areas for the money, as the region has received about $1 million in EPA grants in the past.

Ford said the Benedum money can help the BDC and brownfield assistance center to secure more funds to rehabilitate the site to make it attractive to new businesses.

Ford said a $5,000 grant secured by the center for the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery property in Chester helped to secure more than $1.1 million for that site’s cleanup.

He said the average brownfield, classified as an industrial site with real or perceived contamination issues, takes about 14 funding sources, which may be public or private.

“This $12,500 is critical and very timely,” he said, adding he and others will meet with regional EPA officials with to discuss funding available for reclamation.

Ford said if funding is secured, the building could be razed early next year.

He said since the building has been found to be in poor structural condition, he has invited representatives of the Brooke County Museum to collect remnants of the glass factory for display. The museum has an extensive collection of glass produced at several glass factories that once operated in the city.

Built in 1879, the factory was operated by four companies, producing various types of glass before it closed its doors in 2004.

Ford was asked whether recent flood insurance rate hikes will affect the marketability of the property, which sits in the flood zone.

The hikes were implemented through the Biggerts Water Act, federal legislation designed to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency recover from millions of dollars in claims for property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and other major disasters.

Ford said the issue hasn’t prevented the BDC from attracting businesses to the Wheeling Corrugating Plant. But he acknowledged the plant itself sits above the flood zone, though surrounding property does not, with the exception of land south of it that was elevated through a reclamation project.

Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne said the city’s building inspector is undergoing training to educate property owners about measures they can take to reduce their rates.

Henne said plans to build a new Ohio River bridge south of Wellsburg will open opportunities for development and city officials, through the development of a comprehensive plan and other efforts, are preparing for them.

Pat Kirby, director of the brownfield assistance center, said the proposed bridge should be noted when seeking potential developers for the site.

Ford said its proximity to state Route 2 and the Ohio River already have been noted.

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