BREAKING NEWS

BREAKING NEWS

Boggs: Wood County ethane cracker plant ‘wasn’t to be’

CHARLESTON – While the minority chairman of the House Finance Committee said he hasn’t heard the planned cracker plant in Wood County is dead, he said Friday that the project “wasn’t to be.”

“I went to the announcement in Parkersburg … several years ago,” said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, whose district includes Gilmer County. “Everyone was really excited about the prospect of having that come into play, the jobs, the downstream jobs. But it wasn’t to be.”

Boggs spoke during a session of the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead in Charleston on Friday. He was answering a question about tax incentives to draw businesses that would benefit from the state’s natural gas supply.

Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said the state needs to find ways to be more attractive to downstream operations, such as cracker plants. Boggs said the state can’t put all its eggs in one basket, citing the planned cracker plant in Wood County, which stalled after being announced with much fanfare in 2013 by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Later in the panel discussion, in talking about hopelessness among job-seekers in the state, Boggs said again, “a cracker is not coming to their area.”

After the session, Boggs said the site is still very attractive, whether to the original developers, Braskem and Odebrecht, or another company.

“Even if it was a different company, a different cracker plant, it doesn’t change the fact that the attributes of that site are terrific,” he said, noting its proximity to river, rail and road.

State officials have previously said the project is not dead.

Messages for statements from the governor and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher were not immediately returned.

Dubbed A.S.C.E.N.T., the Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise, the $4 billion project appeared to have found a home when the former Sabic plant in Washington Bottom was purchased by developers in 2014.

However, the companies in 2015 said the project was being re-evaluated.

State officials have previously said the project is not dead.

“To our knowledge, the company is still evaluating the project. This is a global commodity so the forces are complex. If and when market conditions become more favorable, they will reevaluate the project,” Commerce Department spokesman Samantha Smith said in a statement to the newspaper. “West Virginia officials remain committed to providing any assistance needed. Secretary Thrasher and the West Virginia Development Office remain laser focused on recruiting investment and bringing jobs to West Virginia.”

Lindsey Piersol, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority, said no one from the company has yet to say the project has been taken off the table.

“The Wood County Development Authority continues to work with state officials to monitor the status of the cracker plant project. We have heard no updates of significance,” she said. “They (Braskem) continue to evaluate the project and market conditions for their industry. When market conditions improve and it makes more sense financially, they will look more aggressively at the Wood County project.”

Piersol said she will let people know if things change.

“If there ever comes a time when I officially get word that the project in Wood County is off the table, I will let the community know,” Piersol said. “Additionally, our office would then aggressively pursue other users for the site to bring jobs to our region. The Braskem site is incredible and could be used for a number of industries who can utilize a large piece of ground with quality infrastructure as well as river and rail access.”

A cracker plant separates ethane from natural gas into components for the polymer industries. The Wood County project would have included the cracker, polyethylene plants and water treatment and energy co-generation facilities.

Blair Couch, president of the Wood County Commission, said several years ago he helped representatives from Braskem in locating adjacent property owners to the Sabic land, then things changed and contact ceased.

“Within a week, it was like crickets,” Couch said.

However, on a positive note, if the project is dead, the state and local officials can then market the property, said Couch, citing the examples of when Walker Manufacturing left Williamstown and Hino came and when Coldwater Creek left and Hino announced a $100 million project to expand manufacturing at the former distribution center.

“Then that property becomes valuable for somebody else,” Couch said.

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