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Firms unlocking potential of former industrial locations

ZANESVILLE — It’s been said that memories of the past should not be allowed to limit the potential of the future, and that concept may be playing out in the Ohio Valley today.

Old, abandoned industrial sites are common in the region. From eroding shells of steel mills to overgrown strip pits, empty railroad beds and smokestacks that no longer emit exhaust, evidence of our manufacturing past is all around us.

However, some of those locations have become home to new businesses, and economic development officials in Ohio believe those that remain have the capacity to attract companies that could bring hundreds of jobs and trillions of dollars to the region.

The massive Shell Petrochemicals complex that is rising from the ground near Monaca, Pa., is one example. The former Horsehead Corp. zinc plant and a Koppers petrochemical plant were demolished to make way for the future ethane cracker that will produce polyethylene, a component of plastics and a wide variety of household and industrial chemicals and products.

Already, that project has created more than 5,000 construction jobs, and it is expected that about 600 permanent employees will be required to run the plant once it begins operations. It also has spurred economic development in the surrounding area as well as highway construction. Its impact upon opening is expected to reach across the Ohio River into communities in Ohio and south to West Virginia. It represents a $6 billion investment in the region, and it’s anticipated that related industries will spring up around it.

A similar project would have even more direct impact on Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe counties in Ohio and on the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia — if it comes to fruition. PTT Global Chemical America of Thailand and its partner, South Korea-based Daelim Industrial Corp., have proposed construction of an ethane cracker at Dilles Bottom south of Shadyside along state Route 7 and directly across the river from Moundsville.

“The Shell plant at Monaca, the PTT project would be the same size,” Matt Cybulski, sector director for JobsOhio, said during a recent visit to Zanesville. “Obviously the footprint is a little bit different, but the same output of product, so it’ll be pretty much the same size. So we’re hopeful that, the next few years if we get a final investment decision, in a few years the Belmont County site will look similar to what Monaca looks like right now with all the cranes and construction.”

As with the Pennsylvania project, the selected site for the potential PTTGCA/Daelim plant once was home to a different type of industrial plant. FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger plant burned coal there to produce electricity, but that facility has been demolished and earth work is taking place over a large area extending downriver from the former power plant’s location.

Cybulski, who has worked closely with PTT for more than seven years, said Bechtel, the same contractor that is building the Monaca plant, would be the general contractor on the Belmont County project if it is built.

Cybulski added that PTTGCA has been working hard to finance the proposed project and that preliminary engineering and site preparation take a great deal of time for such a complex facility. The investment at this site could total as much as $10 billion, former Gov. John Kasich has said.

Dan Williamson, spokesman for PTTGCA/Daelim, said Bechtel, Beaver Excavating and Ohio-West Virginia Excavating Co. already are working at the site.

“They are leveling the project site for future construction work,” Williamson said in an e-mail.

He added that PTTGCA and Daelim are “focused” on reaching a final decision about whether the project will move forward.

Another local site that Cybulski and Dana Saucier, vice president and head of economic development for JobsOhio, say holds a great deal of promise is the location of the former Ormet Primary Aluminum Corp. near Hannibal in Monroe County.

The company, which had battled through labor disputes and negotiations to set affordable prices for the electricity that powered its smelters, closed in 2014 after it filed for bankruptcy protection and was bought out by Niagara World-Wide.

Construction of a $500 million natural gas-fired power plant is under way at that property now. An additional development also has been planned for that location, but Cybulski and Saucier said it is too early for them to comment on that. But they added that there is still room there for more growth.

Cybulski said the site has “a lot of unique attributes.”

Saucier expanded on that comment. He pointed to the fact that the former Ormet location is one of only a few flat pieces of real estate along the Ohio River in Monroe County. It has a port that is accessible to barges, and it is accessible by rail. He noted that its location in the heart of the shale region that is producing an abundance of natural gas and natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane makes it even more attractive.

He suggested that “maybe somebody that wants to be symbiotic with (PTTGCA/Daelim), maybe the plastics industry” would seek to construct a plant there.

Saucier said area residents should try to remain patient as these developments unfold, noting that with new industry, additional opportunities for employment and a better quality of life will naturally follow.

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