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Bill to allow Memorial Bridge sale ready for Justice’s signature

CHARLESTON — A bill allowing the sale of the Memorial Bridge is heading to the governor for his signature.

The Senate Wednesday approved House Bill 2969 with changes and sent the legislation back to the House, which concurred with the changes.

The bill clarifies the law in regard to public/private partnerships in maintaining such bridges.

The Senate voted 31-3 for passage with Sens. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, voting in favor of the bill. The bill passed the House of Delegates 91-7 on March 15.

“Any municipality which owns and operates a toll bridge pursuant to this article may…sell and convey such toll bridge to a private toll transportation facility subject to such terms and conditions as the council of such municipality may agree,” the bill states. “Any private toll transportation facility purchasing a municipally owned toll bridge located less than five miles from a toll-free bridge which crosses the same body of water or obstacle …may retain, modify and collect any such toll charges…”

The bill, initially sponsored by Del. Roger Conley, R-Wood County, includes provisions authorizing the collection and retention of tolls by a private entity, clarifying procedures for collecting tolls electronically and limiting the rate of taxation on a municipally owned bridge sold to a private entity to its salvage value.

Municipally owned bridges are exempt from ad valorem property taxes. The bill continues the exemption after the sale, but says that if it is lost, the tax shall be based on an amount no higher than the bridge’s salvage value or five percent of the original cost of the property.

Council voted in late 2018 to notify the state it planned to sell the Memorial Bridge, which was built in the 1950s. The city has a company that has expressed interest in the bridge, but officials have not identified it because of confidentiality provisions in the request for proposals.

Boley said there was not a lot of discussion on the bill on the Senate floor. She knew that the bill came from Conley and that it would help the Parkersburg area in the sale of the Memorial Bridge which is why she voted for it.

“It will help the area,” she said.

Azinger could not be reached for comment.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he was pleased with the Senate passing the bill.

“That bill is paramount to the city moving forward with the selling of the Memorial Toll Bridge,” he said.

The margins the bill passed in both houses showed the “overwhelming” support for the legislation.

“The Legislature understands that public/private infrastructure collaborations are the way of the future,” Joyce said. “While this is unique to the state of West Virginia it is important to explore all avenues in investment and rehabilitation of infrastructure.”

The City of Parkersburg alone does not have the funds on hand to rehabilitate the bridge to make it last another 50 years, the mayor said.

If the sale goes through, city officials estimate the rehabilitation of the bridge will be an economic boon to the area, with a potential investment of over $50 million.

The bill was sent back to the House of Delegates asking the House to concur on the changes made on the bill by the Senate. The House concurred and voted 83-4, with 13 absent to pass the bill. Del. Shannon Kimes, R-9th, of Wood County, who had previously voted against the bill, voted against it again.

Joyce is hopeful the bill will be signed into law by the governor soon. He was thankful to all the lawmakers who supported the bill, especially Conley, who sponsored the bill early in the session and has kept him up to date on everything.

“I think this bill is not just good for the City of Parkersburg, but for the local economy,” he said. “The rehabilitation of the bridge will be done with local highly skilled jobs and local personnel.

“It is a big project for Parkersburg and the whole Mid-Ohio Valley.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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