By MARK LAW
STEUBENVILLE - The Jefferson County commissioners Thursday approved the formation of a countywide port authority, two days after Steubenville City Council gave its OK.
A port authority is an economic development tool, capable of using eminent domain powers, issuing bonds and generating money through assessments for infrastructure for economic development projects.
The city had a port authority and council voted to abolish it to make room for the countywide port authority.
The county and city will each have four appointments to the port authority, with the county's Regional Planning Commission naming a member. There will be no elected officials on the port authority.
County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the port authority is a "major accomplishment" for the entire county. He said it will take time for the port authority to get going, but he believes it will be best for economic development throughout the county.
"It is an excellent step in the journey for the community to take on economic development," said county Commissioner David Maple.
He added all the prior organizations in the county pushing economic development were positive steps to improving the economic outlook for the county.
County Commissioner Tom Gentile said the creation of the countywide port authority has "been quite a task." with the Community Improvement Corp. and Progress Alliance all meeting to discuss the issue over time.
Gentile said the project has helped to pave the way for the city and the county to work together on other projects. Gentile said residents demand that their elected officials work together for the betterment of the entire county.
Graham noted the CIC was the driving force in getting the port authority established.
Maple said the private sector knows what needs to be done for economic development and encouraged government to take action.
Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci said there has been "outstanding collaboration" between the city and the county during the past year.
Edward Looman, Progress Alliance executive director, said the official formation of the port authority is "an historic day" for the county, adding the port authority will have more powers under state law to push for economic development.
In other matters, commissioners received a needs analysis from the county water and sewer department on future projects.
The report noted 17 water line extension requests from residents, some of which date back decades. The report states it would cost $22.5 million to build all the requested water lines. Officials also have to do an inspection of the 16 water storage tanks in the county and determine costs for maintenance and repairs.
Shannan Gosbin, county water and sewer department director, said the water lines in Bergholz and Amsterdam are in need of repair. She said the county also is looking at about $10.7 million in repairs to wastewater treatment plants in the county.
Maple said the county needs to prioritize water line extensions. Graham said it is hard to imagine in this day and age that residents don't have potable drinking water.
Gosbin also issued a report on a request made last fall by World International Testing Inc., in partnership with Bressler Investment and Development, for proposed improvements to the former Alikanna school building.
She said Alikanna is served with septic systems and the maintenance is the responsibility of each property owner.
World International Testing wants the county to install sewers in the area, but Gosbin said that appears to be a development plan for the building and not the entire Alikanna community. She said developers in the past have assumed the cost of tying into a public water or sewer system.
Maple said he wants the water and sewer department to keep an eye on the Alikanna septic systems so the county doesn't get a state order in the future to install sewers.
Graham said any septic systems out of compliance need to be fixed by the property owner.
Commissioners agreed to award a $79,539 contract to Lash Paving for the paving of the access road in the rear of the two new hangars at the county airport. The estimate was $98,537.
Commissioners also opened two bids for the paving of aprons outside the two hangars at the airport.
Commissioners discussed a billing dispute with AT&T for phone service for county buildings. The county opted to switch to Comcast for the phone service, but the commissioners have said AT&T has caused delays in the changeover of service, resulting in the county paying higher bills to AT&T instead of making payments to Comcast. The county has filed a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Commissioners again discussed a pending contract with Johnson Controls for an energy-efficiency project for county buildings. The commissioners wanted the energy-efficiency projects to pay for themselves over a period, but Johnson's contract said the county would have to pay money over a 17-year period.
Maple said he doesn't want to burden future commissioners with the debt.
Commissioners have been critical of Johnson Controls for errors in the proposed contracts.
"We are extremely frustrated," Gentile said, adding there are typos and errors in the proposed contracts.
The commissioners are again expected to address the matter next week.
Commissioners also approved the following proclamations:
Honoring students involved with the Franciscan University of Steubenville's Students in Free Enterprise program for winning a regional competition.
Naming May 3 as National Day of Prayer.
Proclaiming May as Foster Parent Month.
Proclaiming May as Mental Health Month.