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Belmont County issues picking up

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer and Jerry Echemann on Thursday continued to size up the county’s situation as the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Commissioner J.P. Dutton was absent due to a family matter.

Richard Hord of Martins Ferry posed several questions. He asked if there was any update regarding the proposed injection well the New Jersey company Omni Energy Group intends to place at a field at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ohio 331.

The possibility of an injection well at that location has been overwhelmingly opposed by area residents, who pointed out the high-traffic area and presence of businesses, education centers, and county buildings nearby. Last year, the Richland Township trustees indefinitely tabled a permit and road use maintenance agreement pertaining to the proposed well.

The commissioners said there has been no news since a court order prevented the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ intention to hold a virtual public meeting to hear from residents before deciding whether to grant a permit. Bob Murray, chairman of MurrayNewCo, which maintains a corporate headquarters on National Road near the proposed site, had filed to prevent a virtual meeting on the grounds that participation would be limited and the format was unfamiliar.

The commissioners said the issue is delayed, but still present.

“I think it’s still a possibility,” Echemann said.

“We’re obviously opposed to that injection well,” Meyer said, adding a citizens group has recently formed and is urging the state to pass new legislation restricting such wells.

“It’s in the talking phase,” Echemann said.

Hord also asked for an update on the state of Belmont County Jail, which had struggled with overcrowding prior to the pandemic and had housed numerous inmates out of the county, for a sizable expense.

Meyer said the county court judges have made an effort to reduce inmate numbers when possible, and

The jail has been clean of positive cases and the commissioners said the 144-bed facility is currently housing 119 inmates. Prior to the pandemic, numbers had been greater than 200.

“It’s been below capacity,” Meyer said.

They added the sheriff’s office has been able to do additional maintenance work and food and maintenance costs have been down, but sanitation costs have increased. They said it has not been necessary to house new inmates out of the county, but one inmate is being held at Jefferson County and one at Monroe County.

Conversation also touched on expectations for tourism this summer, since the coronavirus has meant cancelling many anticipated events.

“It’s not going to be positive,” Echemann said. “We’re just hoping it starts to slowly pick up and get back to normal.”

He speculated that the reopening of casino gaming across the Ohio River in West Virginia might drawn people to the area, and possibly to the Buckeye State.

“It’s affected every aspect of life,” Meyer said.

Frank Papini of St. Clairsville also asked about the apparent reduction of oil and gas production and the impact on county revenue streams.

“It appears there’s an awful lot of gas laying in the ground they don’t know what to do with,” Papini said.

The commissioners said they did not know how many wells were active.

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