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Local leaders still hopeful about cracker

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County officials expressed some optimism that the proposed cracker plant project may still come to the Dillies Bottom area along Ohio 7.

This after Tuesday’s announcement that Daelim Chemical USA, a partner in the proposed PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker plant project in Belmont County, planned to withdraw from the project.

The companies have been considering building a plant since 2018.

However, according to the website pttgcbelmontcountyoh.com, the PTTGCA intends to “move forward,” with a delay of six to nine months while seeking a new partner, according to a joint announcement from the companies.

“We look forward to making an announcement by the end of this year or early next year on this transformative project for the Ohio Valley Region. We wish Daelim well and appreciate its contributions to our effort,” a statement from PTTGC America President and CEO Toasaporn Boonyapipat read.

The decision comes during a time of depressed oil and natural gas prices, and about a week after the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project was abandoned by Duke Energy and Dominion Energy due to ongoing pressure from environmental groups.

Both companies also pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic and volatile markets.

“I don’t know that anything is a surprise at this point, in 2020,” Belmont County Commission President J.P. Dutton Dutton said, referring to his reaction to hearing the news. “I remain really optimistic about the project. Our communication with the project team, our relationship hasn’t changed, at least since I’ve been in office, January of 2017.”

He said PTTGCA has remained accessible and responsive to questions.

“I think the relationship between the local leaders and the project team remains strong and they’re working diligently to reach a final decision,” he said. “It’s a difficult time to get a project like this across the finish line. … We completed our work on the local package with the project team just as the pandemic was beginning. They made a lot of statements at that point about how much work had been accomplished … and their diligence about getting to the final decision, and I think that just continues on.”

Dutton said the timeline has not changed significantly since delays announced before the break.

“They had to adjust the project timeline, and that was, to me, completely understandable with the state of everything up to that point. We were two or three months into a pandemic will still have an impact across the globe in terms of what timelines even are,” Dutton said. “It’s impacting business decisions.”

He added similar operations are proceeding in Western Pennsylvania despite delays before investing.

“It’s a very uncertain time these days,” he said. “We’ve been in touch with the project team today, and I don’t know there’s anything directly for us to do (locally to encourage the project),” he said.

“We’ll stand ready to assist in any way we can as local leaders.”

Considerable investment already made in the area in terms of land purchased along Ohio 7 and earth moving. Dutton added air and water permits the companies have secured through the state remain in place.

“A lot of major milestones have been accomplished, particularly over the last 12 months,” he said.

“I think the project is still being worked on every day, and I fully expect an announcement by the end of the year or the first quarter of next year,” said Larry Merry, director of the Belmont County Port Authority. “These projects take time and everybody needs to relax. I don’t think there’s anything anybody locally can do to change the project. They’re still working every day to get to the point where they can build this project. … We’ve dealt with PTT all through this and plan to help them wherever we can to help the project move forward…this is just one additional step in the road. … I’m just looking forward to a positive announcement, for construction to begin and people being employed.”

Area environmentalists opposed to the plant have also reacted to the announcement.

“This withdraw from Daelim is more evidence, added to the growing pile, from the market that the project will never happen,” read a statement from Bev Reed and Vincent DeGeorge with Concerned Ohio River Residents, a group which has expressed fears of negative health and environmental consequences of such a plant. “The Ohio Valley deserves better than a string of empty promises. It’s time to face facts: cheap energy commodities are never going to be the road to prosperity. Now is the time for local and state leaders and residents to come together to utilize the abundant resources here and create the future that we want and deserve.”

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