Local projects get slices of OMEGA pie

STEUBENVILLE — The Ohio Mid-Eastern Government Association unveiled its funding priority list for 2020 during Tuesday’s June board meeting at Scaffidi’s Restaurant and Tavern, and it’s a list of 10 projects that are expected to bring the region a big economic development bang for its bucks.

OMEGA members want to divvy up $1 million in federal Appalachian Regional Commission funding in four ways — awarding $250,000 each to help with a water line extension for the city of Coshocton, Phase II of the north line collection system in Cadiz, water treatment plant rehabilitation in Jewett and a sewer upgrade in Steubenville.

Members also approved plans to award nearly $1.2 million from the state Governor’s Office of Appalachia — earmarking $250,000 each to aid with Three Rivers Energy Access Improvements in Coshocton; a water line project in Columbiana County; and a training center at Zane State College that would serve Belmont, Coshocton, Guernsey, Harrison, Muskingum and Tuscarawas counties; $245,250 to assist with wastewater treatment plant improvements in Wellsville; $134,725 to serve as a “project catalyst” for a Zanesville Muskingum County Port Authority project; and $54,100 to aid the village of New Concord with water treatment plant clarifier repairs.

OMEGA evaluates proposals and submits its recommendations, President Domenick Mucci said. GOA and ARC still must sign off.

If approved, it would be the third time in 18 months OMEGA has assisted Steubenville, which has been grappling with major infrastructure problems. Previously, the group awarded $250,000 to assist the city’s valve replacement project and another $925,000 for the secondary aeration project.

Executive Director Jeannette Wierzbicki said Steubenville’s sewer upgrade at University Boulevard and state Route 7 has distinct economic development overtones, as do the other projects on OMEGA’s list.

“This area of the city is really growing,” Wierzbicki said. “They need not only to comply with (environmental regulations), but also assist all the development going on.”

Jefferson County Port Authority Executive Director Evan Scurti worked with Steubenville Utility Director Chuck Murphy to win funding for the project, with Scurti augmenting the narrative with job creation and economic forecasts for the area.

Scurti said growth at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, coupled with developments at Franciscan Square and the TEAM dealership has built a solid foundation.

Wierzbicki said Coschocton has excess water capacity that can benefit the nearby community of West Lafayette, which is dealing with contamination issues; Jewett is working to come into compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Association mandates governing water treatment; while Cadiz, in the grips of a development boom, has already made $7 million or $8 million in wastewater improvements “and still more are needed,” she said.

Likewise, she said the funding would address things like the “almost impassable roads” impacting Three Rivers Energy, which operates an ethanol plant in Coshocton County, and assist the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority with a water line extension for an economic development prospect.

Ben McCament of the division of mineral resources of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told OMEGA funding is available to assist with abandoned mine land reclamation projects with economic development overtones.

The money, available through the Abandoned Mine Lands pilot project, is intended to “accelerate remediation of AML sites with economic and community development end uses,” McCament said.

“There are a lot more abandoned mines in Ohio than a lot of people realize,” he said. “Almost 29 counties in Ohio have abandoned mine lands.”

The pilot project, authorized in 2015, uses treasury money, not coal severance funds, to assist projects that can significantly enhance communities.

“We’re trying to find projects we can partner with,” he said, pointing out matching funds aren’t required.

McCament said 10 projects have already been approved, with a number of others in the works. One of the biggest — removal of a gob pile on the PTT site in Dilles Bottom, has enormous implications, he said.

“We got the funding approved but haven’t started yet,” he said of the nearly $4 million project. “It’s a large project.

“It’s another site that obvious makes a lot of sense — there’s a huge economic investment going on in the area — this is just another piece of the puzzle. It’s small, but it’s still a very important piece of the puzzle.”

Other projects AML pilot funds are being used for include abandoned mine lands impacting Sally Buffalo Park in Cadiz, the D.O. Hall Business Center in Cambridge and an 88-mile single track mountain bike trail in Athens County.