MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — Representatives of the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance spoke out against the planned construction of Moundsville Power’s natural gas-fired power plant during Tuesday’s Marshall County Commission meeting.
Construction on the plant, which was slated to begin this summer, was recently delayed after the alliance filed appeals against the plant’s air quality permit to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The group claimed the plant would produce emissions in excess of what’s allowed by regulations.
Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance President Jim Thomas, joined by Bruce Whipkey, sought answers from the commission regarding how the plant had been brought to the area. Specifically, Thomas questioned the decision to offer Moundsville Power a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement to build the plant.
“No one in Marshall County’s ever gotten a 30-year tax break, that we know of,” Thomas said. “These people that I talk to don’t know about the tax break. All they hear is that Marshall County’s getting a million dollars. That sounds good. How much is the school board not getting?”
Assessor Chris Kessler estimated an annual tax payment of $7.58 million for a total tax income of more than $227 million over the 30-year period of the agreement, if the tax break had not been offered. County records indicate that under the negotiated lease payment schedule, the county will receive between $100,000 and $175,000 annually over 30 years, distributed in the same way as tax revenue. Additionally, the rent schedule will bring in an additional $39.29 million over 30 years, reduced by $9 million if at least 30 employees are kept on the roster.
“If you don’t use the tools that you have in front of you, and they go somewhere else, what do you have? In 30 years, you’d have nothing on top of nothing,” county Administrator Betsy Frohnapfel said.
In 2014, former Commissioners Don Mason and Brian Schambach voted to grant Moundsville Power the tax break, with Commissioner Bob Miller voting against it. Mason did not seek re-election in 2014, while Schambach resigned after moving out of the county and is now running for a Belmont County Commission seat.
Miller was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Scott Varner defended the previous commission’s actions, indicating other counties had offered similar incentives to industries, and that the commission would be open to offering the same incentive to other businesses.
“I will sit here today and tell you if another plant wanted to build here, coal-fired, I would give them the same tax break,” Varner said.
Thomas also questioned why the Moundsville Power plant was offered the tax incentive, while other family-owned businesses aren’t offered the same benefit.
After the meeting, Frohnapfel said that the tax incentive opportunities available to small businesses did not exist in the same capacity that existed for industry.
No one from Moundsville Power was present at Tuesday’s meeting. Company spokesman Curtis Wilkerson declined to comment when contacted after the meeting.
A number of union representatives gathered outside the courthouse before the commission meeting to oppose the comments by the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance.
Scott Mazzuli, business representative for Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley Building and Construction Trades Council, disputed the alliance’s claims. Mazzuli pointed to the 2015 closure of American Electric Power’s Kammer Plant, a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River, and wondered where the concern for coal jobs was at the time.
“What’s been done since the Kammer plant shut down? He speaks about coal and coal jobs, but explain to me where the coal barons have come to build a new coal-fired power plant. They haven’t,” Mazzuli said.
“This does create jobs, in lieu of how many people have lost their jobs. Natural gas is another resource other than coal that’s in this state, and businesses are smart enough to know they can operate with that, cheaper.
“Where were these guys when Axiall decided to convert their coal-burner into a gas-fired plant over the summer? This is nothing more than the coal barons of the world who fund this thing, to stop this, but what did they do to stop the Kammer plant from closing?” Mazzuli continued.