ST. CLAIRSVILLE-"This came out of our desire to do things the right way," says Larry Cain, chair of the Smith Goshen Land Group.
From its beginnings three years ago, the SGLG has carefully researched, compared, negotiated and planned every step of their involvement with the oil and gas industry. Because of the members' hard work and focus on doing "the right things the right way" the group of nearly 800 landowners signed with Rice Energy in one of the most lucrative lease agreements in the area. Now, they say, it is time to give back.
"We can see a lot of needs in this area," explains Floyd Simpson, of Country Mile Farm LLC and SGLG member. "Things you'd like to help. Now we have the mechanism to do so."
Giving back to make Belmont County better is the goal of the new Smith Goshen Rice Enrichment Fund, founded by partners, from left, Floyd Simpson of Smith Goshen Landowners Group, Misty Kidd of Rice Energy, Gabe Hays of SGLG, Lova Ebbert of SGLG and Larry Cain of SGLG. Anyone can make tax deductible donations to the fund, which will support community programs and projects in Belmont County.
What the group and Rice Energy have decided to do is establish a fund through the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, Inc. All money raised will be awarded to projects and programs that benefit local residents, enhancing the community for everyone.
"Rice Energy is happy to be part of the foundation and pleased to make a $25,000 commitment to support the Belmont County community," states Toby Rice, CEO of Rice Energy. "I can't stress how important this is. This foundation is going to generate a tremendous amount of goodwill."
Group members are excited about the possibilities. SGLG members expect to match the $25,000 with combined donations but say that the more donations that come into the fund, the more effective the enrichment. All monies awarded have to go to 501(c )3 charitable organizations in Belmont County, according to the guidelines and regulations of the affiliate fund.
Some types of projects and programs that could be funded include an American Legion museum, police department or school anti-drug initiatives, fire department and emergency squad equipment, church programs for the community or emergency and disaster efforts. A committee comprised of Belmont County residents and representatives from Rice and CFOV will review applications and determine what level of assistance they can provide.
Simpson adds, "We may be able to speed up some projects where groups have been waiting. We can also partner with other agencies like the tourism council to match funds and make a difference."
"It's always been about what was 'good,'" notes Lova Ebbert, of Ebbert's Farm Market and SGLG member. "This is an awesome opportunity. We've been blessed and feel it's important to give something back."
While they are not taking applications yet, anyone is eligible to contribute to the general fund in any amount. Donors can be individuals or businesses and do not have to belong to the Smith Goshen Land Group and do not have to have a lease with Rice to participate. It is, the members point out, an excellent tax donation for those who have received large checks during 2013. Other types of donations such as appreciated stock and gas royalties are also welcome to continue the legacy.
"People in the 33 percent tax bracket can donate, say, $1,000, and instead of the $333 going to the IRS, it comes to your community," says Cain. "It's like the IRS contributing $333 to Belmont County, and then we have control over our money instead of the government."
Although the SGR Enrichment Fund is new, Rice Energy has a strong track record of community contributions throughout its service areas, according to Misty Kidd, land specialist for Rice Energy. She says that the Smith Goshen group has been "ahead of the curve" when it comes to education, dealings with oil and gas companies and now with their community-oriented outlook.
"The group's partnership with Rice sets a good example," Kidd adds. "They took all the right steps to get us to the right places. We want people to view us as a positive for the area. Additionally, with this fund, donors can be confident that what they donate will stay in this community."
Susie Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, calls this partnership "innovative," the first between landowners and an oil and gas company that they have facilitated.
"Utica Shale is providing our region with new wealth never before imagined," Nelson says. "It is important to consider how this new wealth can create a legacy that will last and continue to be a benefit to this region for years to come, even after this gas boom is over."
SGREF committee members include Larry Cain, Lova Ebbert, Gabe Hays, Neil Rubel and Floyd Simpson, and they express their thanks to Rice for the generous donation and willingness to partner. All are making themselves available to speak with donors and groups about the new fund. For more information about the fund and donations, contact Lova Ebbert at (740)695-5619.
Interested donors can also contact Nelson at the CFOV via phone, (304)242-3144, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks in any amount payable to the CFOV with "SGREF" written in the memo line can be mailed to CFOV, PO Box 670, Wheeling, WV 26003.
Cain encourages people to consider making a contribution, adding that there are still a few days left to get the deduction for the 2013 tax year.
"You also have a good feeling when giving back," says Cain. "There is great potential here. To get to this point was once a dream for us. Now we're here, and good decisions could positively influence the lives of our children and grandchildren."
Valenti can be reached at email@example.com.