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Area port officials seek support from state

MEETING — Mitch Carmichael, right, state Economic Development secretary, and Scotty Ewusiak, COO of Empire Diversified Energy, listen during a presentation Wednesday about plans for the Port of West Virginia. The port, owned and operated by Empire Diversified Energy, is located in Follansbee. -- Craig Howell

FOLLANSBEE — Officials with the Port of West Virginia plan to build up their operation in Brooke County, bringing hundreds of jobs with it, and are looking for support from the state to help reach their goal.

Mitch Carmichael, cabinet secretary of the state Department of Economic Development, was in Follansbee Wednesday, meeting with the leadership of the port and touring their facilities along the Ohio River.

The Port of West Virginia, formerly known as Empire Trimodal Terminal, is operated by Empire Diversified Energy, a Florida-based business providing logistics and services for the energy industry.

The company purchased the property in late 2020, and recently completed the purchase of the former Koppers property in Follansbee.

Frank Rosso, chief executive officer, explained, with work being done to develop two ethane crackers in the region, the proximity to various modes of transportation and more, the company feels the Follansbee site is perfect to serve as an inland public port operation.

“We’re the epicenter of everything going on,” Rosso said.

Rosso noted shipments of slag and scrap metal already are being loaded onto barges for distribution to other markets, including one being sent to Egypt this week. He feels the site eventually could be developed into a Midwest distribution hub.

Scotty Ewusiak, previous owner of the terminal site and now chief operations officer of Empire Diversified, said the company is investing into the operation and creating jobs with the goal of developing a full port and distribution network.

“We’re working now,” Ewusiak said. “We can be that hub.”

Additional funding from the state would help reach their goals faster, though, and while Carmichael said he wasn’t able to offer a commitment of funds, he said he feels the port could be among the top projects for investment.

“That’s the focus of this state,” he said. “We have to get our job base growing.”

Carmichael noted some of the available funding would require approval from the state Legislature, but said there could be potential for use of American Rescue Plan funding, as well as from the Appalachian Regional Coalition and from coalfield redevelopment funds.

“This doesn’t have to be all state money,” he said.

Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis asked about the possibility of using Industrial Access Road funding, administered by the West Virginia Division of Highways.

“It’s for purposes just like this,” Ennis noted.

In all, Rosso said, the group is hoping to receive support of approximately $42 million to assist with the construction of docks, lift pads, the design and installation of a rail spur, a container terminal, service road, buildings, equipment and security.

An additional $20 million would be set for repair of the railroad bridge connecting Follansbee and Steubenville, which Ewusiak explained would provide immediate rail access into Ohio from the port.

The company already has invested $50 million into the property.

Rosso said this is only the beginning of the group’s plans, with proposals for the establishment of a tank farm on the former Koppers property and the construction of a pig iron plant.

“We’re committed,” Rosso said. “We’re committed to the Northern Panhandle. We’re committed to Follansbee and we’re here to stay.”

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