WHEELING - Ohio River barges transporting natural gas fracking waste soon could carry loads from Warwood, as GreenHunter Water moves forward with its recycling plant.
"We have made significant headway on the barging issue," said John Jack, vice president of business development and operations for GreenHunter, though he declined to be more specific.
Earlier this month, members of the Wheeling Planning Commission voted 4-1 to allow GreenHunter to proceed with its project at North 28th Street. Commissioners Barry Crow, Thomas McCulloch, Don Atkinson and Russell Jebbia voted to approve the plant, while Commissioner John Clarke voted against it. Commissioner Michael Leo recused himself from voting, citing a conflict of interest. Commissioner James Mauck - serving in the role of chairman due to the absence of regular Chairman Howard Monroe - did not vote, as the chairman normally only votes to break a tie.
City Council is now slated to accept the commission meeting minutes during one of its September meetings. These sessions are set for noon on Tuesday and 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 on the first floor of the City-County Building at 1500 Chapline St.
Jack said GreenHunter could have the center up and running as early as October, noting GreenHunter has been ready to build for several months.
"We are looking forward to helping Wheeling contribute a much-needed water management solution to the West Virginia oil and gas industry. Once complete, GreenHunter's Wheeling Barge Terminal and Recycling facility will provide job opportunities for members of the community and help to reduce congestion on roadways by replacing truck traffic with barge transport," Jack said.
However, the planning commission only approved "Phase 1" of the GreenHunter project, which does not include the barging portion of the recycling plant. Jack said he will return to the commission when GreenHunter elects to proceed with the barging aspect, which he now believes could be sooner than later.
Jack said there is a pipeline leading from the main GreenHunter site to the area in which barges will load. He estimates only one loaded vessel will leave the Warwood dock each week.
Several federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget, continue to review whether fracking waste can be shipped on inland waterways via barge. Jack believes he is close to receiving the approval to move forward with this aspect of the Warwood plant.
A Coast Guard spokesman said Monday he did not believe a decision had been made on the topic.
"Putting this product on inland waterways is safer, and cheaper, than shipping it by truck," Jack said, noting he hopes to hire 12-20 employees to work at the site.
Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, believes GreenHunter also would need a zone change to use the docks extending out into the Ohio River from the former Seidler's Oil site. Connelly said the Wheeling Heritage Trail and these docks are now zoned for residential use, rather than industrial use. However, Jack disagrees that a zone change is needed.
"We have a utility easement for the pipeline to service the facility and barges," Jack said, noting he believes the trail "will not be impacted at all" by his company using this pipeline.
Jack said his company will pressure test the existing pipeline and valves to see if they can be used. If they are not safe, he said GreenHunter will replace them.
"The infrastructure itself is sound," he said of the docks that constitute the barging area. "There are some basic improvements needed, but that shouldn't present much of a problem."