XTO fine benefits first responders

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Commissioner Jerry Echemann reviews paperwork Wednesday.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County’s emergency service agencies are receiving some additional funds of more than $400,000 from a fine leveled on XTO Energy one year after an explosion at the Schnegg natural gas well pad near Powhatan Point. Officials say the money will be put to good use.

Settlement agreements were completed around the first of the year with XTO paying a total of $850,000. Half of that amount will go to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the other $425,000 is going to local public entities, particularly to the emergency responders who assisted with the incident to help improve their emergency response systems.

On Wednesday, Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton, and Jerry Echemann officially accepted the single largest amount, totalling $184,000, earmarked for the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency.

“They made some donations to entities across the county,” Dutton said, adding that the exact use of the EMA funding has not been determined. “It hasn’t been determined yet. It’ll involve some conversation between the commissioners and (Belmont County EMA Director David ) Ivan … There were other entities in the county that were part of that agreement. The sheriff’s office, fire departments across the county.”

Afterward, Ivan said they would consider the needs of the department in how to utilize the funds.

“That was a fine that was levied on XTO from the state, and as a result of that fine, some of that money’s come down to us on the local level,” Ivan said. He added that receiving the funds came as a surprise. “We weren’t expecting this. We haven’t had a chance to put our heads together and say ‘what do we need to do with this?’ We’re going to need to have discussions.”

Ivan added that the funds will be a benefit locally.

“From what I understand, every fire department in the county is going to receive some money,” he said.

Karen Matusic, public and government affairs manager for XTO’s Appalachia District, said allocations of mainly $2,000 were being given to the fire and police departments across the county, with some allocations of $4,000 and $10,000.

“We’re happy ODNR asked us to give half the settlement money to the local first responders, because we do think they’re very worthy entities that work hard to keep us all safe,” she said. “We submitted a list of entities and ODNR approved those entities. Then ODNR was the one that determined how much each entity should get. We just put a list of all the first responders in Belmont County.”

Matusic added that Powhatan Point’s volunteer fire department and emergency squad were given $100,000, while the Powhatan Point police department received $30,000. The Belmont County Sheriff’s Office received $45,000.

She said this is in addition to the donations XTO gives to emergency responders every year.

Sheriff David Lucas said the funds were earmarked for equipment and training for first responders.

“The $45,000 that came to us has to be used for equipment and training for the sheriff’s office personnel,” Lucas said. “This $5,000 is going to help us enhance our training. … It’s really going to help us this year, doing more training and enhanced training for our officers.”

Lucas said the specific training and equipment has not yet been determined.

He added that the first responders and involved entities did well during last year’s emergency, which temporarily displaced multiple families, some for nearly a month.

“That was a very, very large (accident) that put our community and people at risk, but everybody, the sheriff’s office, EMA, ODNR, XTO and all the other people that responded, all the mobile fire and EMS, all the people came together and worked together, and we completed the task and the community was safe,” he said. “I just want to thank the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and especially XTO and the settlement. This will really help.”

Powhatan Point and ODNR officials could not be reached for comment.