McKinley meets with Parkersburg City Council

PARKERSBURG – U.S. Rep. David McKinley met with City Council members Monday to discuss a variety of issues, from the anticipated cracker plant in Wood County to the feared negative impacts of EPA regulations.

The congressman said he’s heard nothing but positives about the progress of the ASCENT (Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise LLC) project, a proposed multibillion-dollar petrochemical complex centered around an ethane cracker plant in Washington, W.Va. The company purchased the property- currently the site of SABIC Innovative Plastics- earlier this year for nearly $11 million.

If it comes to pass, the project is expected to create thousands of jobs during construction and hundreds at the complex itself, and that’s not counting all of the “downstream” jobs expected to come with related industry.

“All over the 1st (Congressional) District, everyone is envious of Wood County getting that, because you’re going to pop with economic development,” McKinley told council members Nancy Wilcox, Sharon Lynch, Roger Brown, John Kelly and John Rockhold Monday

Wilcox said she feels more needs to be done to educate residents about the cracker plant. Some people are fearful of the project because they don’t understand it, she said, while others know virtually nothing about it.

“I actually had a gentleman ask me the other day what we want with a soda cracker plant,” Wilcox said.

Lynch told McKinley one of her main concerns is that roads, many of which are state routes, need to be expanded on the city’s south side to accommodate increased traffic as that area continues to develop. The cracker plant is expected to bring even more vehicles through the area from Interstate 77 and U.S. 50.

“I just see us growing and growing and growing, and we can’t handle it, and nobody seems to want to give us any money,” Lynch said.

McKinley said the federal government allocates money with a highway bill, but the state determines how it is spent. He said his office has asked West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox for a priority list of the state’s road projects and he would let city officials know if any of the southside roads were included.

Rockhold said he would like to see increased wireless Internet access for the city and the region to attract businesses, especially those that might be interested in the area because of the cracker plant.

“We’ve got companies that would come here a lot quicker if the wifi was here,” he said. “When we develop more business here … then we’re going to have money to fix the roads.”

Kelly tied together the impending closure of Camden Clark Medical Center’s St. Joseph’s Campus and the problems with the Veterans Affairs Department, including a backlog of veterans’ health care.

“What’s the opportunity or possibility of maybe converting that to a VA hospital?” he said, noting the closest such facilities in West Virginia are in Clarksburg and Huntington.

McKinley said he thinks the department is “distracted” right now and thinks it’s more likely that the first option would be to expand existing clinics, like the one in Parkersburg, rather than establish new hospitals.

“Maybe it expands up to there (St. Joseph’s), move the clinic up to there if that would work,” he said.

Brown expressed concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency, including its mandate that wet weather overflows into sanitary sewer systems be eliminated. The Parkersburg Utility Board is required to accomplish that by 2020, and an upcoming $12.7 million project toward that goal was one of the reasons council approved a sewer rate increase earlier this year.

McKinley said the goal makes sense from a textbook perspective, but the expense is a significant obstacle in the real world.

“We’re trying to figure a way to help out with the cost of it,” he said.

McKinley said he likes to have meetings like Monday’s to hear from local representatives about the issues facing them.

“We can’t deliver on everyone’s wish list, but we try to find if there are commonalities” that can be addressed, he said.