Commissioners clash on tax plan for natural gas power plant

MOUNDSVILLE – Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller said he wants to see local construction workers earn up to $70 million in wages for building a natural gas power plant along the Ohio River, but fellow Commissioner Brian Schambach said the Payment in Lieu of Tax agreement – which Miller opposes- is the only way for this to happen.

On Tuesday, Walter “Fuzz” LaRue, representative of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, and Keith Hughes, business manager at Ironworkers Local No. 549 in Wheeling, joined other construction workers to tell commissioners they should support the PILOT for the proposed $615 million Moundsville Power LLC plant. This sparked a spirited debate among commissioners.

“I support local labor. I support the project. I don’t support the county ownership,” Miller said. “I am against government ownership of business.”

The terms of the proposed PILOT agreement call for the commission to take official ownership of the plant for $1, while the company would lease the facility from the county. The plant would be on a 37.5-acre tract, some of which is classified as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Commissioners would receive about $31 million in lease payments over 30 years via the PILOT plan – or about $13 million less than County Assessor Christopher Kessler estimates they would collect if the plant paid normal property taxes.

“Over a 30-year period, it could bankrupt the county,” Miller said.

Although Schambach said he wants to make sure Moundsville Power will shield the county from any potential legal liability at the site, he said he supports the overall concept of the PILOT.

“With all due respect to Commissioner Miller, this will not happen without the PILOT,” Schambach said. “If we can be indemnified, I am happy to welcome Moundsville Power into the county.”

Commissioner Don Mason said he has not yet decided how he will vote on the PILOT agreement when it comes before the commission as official business.

“Let the experts work. If they can convince me that we are going to be held harmless, I would certainly support the project,” he said.

LaRue and Hughes said Upper Ohio Valley union construction workers signed a contract with Moundsville Power to use their services to build the plant if it proceeds to that point. They said the plant is an example of how Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas can support local jobs.

“This is a very good thing for the area. There will be money flowing here and everything,” LaRue said.

“We have over 500 skilled craftsmen who live in Marshall County,” Hughes added. “You are talking about $60 million to $70 million in wages. We need to see how we can do that.”

“This is not about you guys,” Miller told LaRue and Hughes. “I just have a responsibility to the county.”

As commissioners jockey for position on the PILOT agreement, Moundsville Power Managing Partner Andrew Dorn recently sent in the proposed plant’s siting application, along with a $200,000 non-refundable fee, for consideration by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

If completed, Dorn estimates the plant would employ about 30 full-time workers.