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Cracker plant not good for valley

Dear Editor,

It was recently reported that PTT Global Chemical and its partner, Daelim Chemical, would receive a 15-year tax abatement if they build the gas-to-plastics ethane cracker plant in Belmont County that they proposed in 2015.

The companies would be exempt from paying property taxes for 15 years and in return, would pay $38 million to Shadyside school district and $9.5 million to Mead Township.

This announcement leaves many unanswered questions.

It was also published on Friday that there are homes being torn down near the cracker plant site. This letter also addresses that news.

The Shell ethane cracker plant being constructed 70 miles upstream in Monaca, Pa., was given $1.6 billion in tax credits over 25 years.

This reduces Shell’s overall tax liability by 20 percent. The public needs to see the Economic Development Agreement. Were the agreements intended more to incentivize the project rather than support the local needs of the people who will be most directly impacted by the pollution?

My friend and retired science teacher and research chemist tells me that Ohio still lacks a fair and dependable system to finance public schools.

Therefore, cash-strapped school districts are coerced into making questionably viable economic agreements with the fossil fuel industry. Often these fail and leave local citizens footing the bills with additional levies and costs.

For instance, two large pipeline projects have recently requested a reduction in the property taxes once promised.

Can this happen in Belmont County?

The public deserves to know how tax incentives were calculated and how iron-clad the agreement actually is. Shadyside schools (and all the school systems in the valley) deserve a dependable funding source AND a healthy setting in which to learn without tons and tons of cancer-causing chemicals in the air. Students and teachers should not be forced into choosing between the two.

Also, how would a major polluting facility like a cracker plant devalue properties in the area?

Income taxes are one way to generate taxes, but if property values decline as they likely will, more people will leave the area.

Terri Baumgardner lives within 6 miles of the Shell cracker plant.

She shared with me that Belmont County residents can learn from Beaver County residents who have buyer’s remorse. If the monstrosity taking shape 6 miles from her home goes online, she will have to move. The industry’s health impacts seriously outweigh its economic benefits. This tax deal is further proof that PTTG and the plastics industry cannot stand on its own two feet, and instead, has to be propped-up by million dollar government handouts. If Belmont County becomes the face of both climate change and the world-wide plastics pollution crisis, people and businesses, especially young people, will only leave.

JobsOhio, a private corporation that acts as the state’s economic development arm has already invested $70-$90 million in public funds in preparing Dilles Bottom to entice the companies to build. What could the region have done with those incentives and subsequent tax revenues had cleaner, more sustainable growth industries such as additive manufacturing, renewable energy projects, organic agriculture and hemp production been attracted here? Funds for infrastructure improvements, health care facilities, education, affordable housing and the development of the tourism industry in the region could have brought a much different economy.

Also, the demolition of houses currently taking place in Dilles Bottom is almost definitely happening because of the JobsOhio grant given to PTTG. They are funded by liquor sales in the state. Why would PTTG spend a dime on tearing down houses when they haven’t even announced a Final Investment Decision when the state of Ohio is handing them money?

Once again, PTTG is misleading the public with press like this and making it seem like the project is moving forward when in actuality, there is still much doubt among financial analysts and experts like the credit rating agency, Moody’s and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Even IHS Markit has concluded that “a proposed $5.7 billion ethane plant in Belmont County, Ohio, may never be constructed because of circumstances that were present even before the coronavirus began to dramatically shrink the economy.”

The Ohio Valley needs to know that the financial experts are saying — this project is extremely risky and there are many indicators pointing to the unlikelihood of it happening.

During the pandemic, it is becoming more widely-known that air pollution kills an estimated 107,000 Americans a year just from small particulate matter. This does not include cancer clusters caused by petrochemical manufacturing. “Cancer Alley,” Louisiana is a prime example. Perhaps we should take this time to put true value to what is of greatest worth – the health and happiness of the people living here.

The PTTG tax abatement announcement also pointed out revenue from sales tax, which is simply a function of increased commerce in the region and not a direct contribution by the company, as the announcement seemed to imply.

Sales tax revenue can be generated from tourism, recreation, agriculture and many other more long-term, sustainable industries that could come to Dilles Bottom instead. Concerned Ohio River Residents (CORR), an Ohio Valley citizens’ group will continue to work with experts to share the truth about the downsides of the petrochemical build-out and also will continue to advocate for and work towards a healthy, sustainable Ohio Valley that will benefit generations to come.

CORR will continue to work towards that goal and stimulate the conversation among Ohio Valley residents, stakeholders, and politicians.

We can build a better economy and improve public health and well-being if our tax dollars were invested in creating jobs within the new economy that people really want.

The Ohio Valley does not need a “savior” like the companies behind the ethane cracker plant tout it would be.

The Valley needs an exciting, vibrant, healthy economic future where everyone benefits. There is so much potential for that reality in this area.

We just have to realize it.

If you want to be involved in our efforts to create a better economic future for the Ohio Valley, visit http://www.nocrackerplantOV.com or find us on FB at Concerned Ohio River Residents. Give us a call at (740) 738-3124.

Bev Reed

Bridgeport

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