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W.Va. group explores gas boom in Minot, N.D.

Photo for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel by Jill Schramm, Minot Daily News Minot Public Works Director Dan Jonasson, right, visits with Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay outside the main office of North Dakota Port Services as visitors from the Mid-Ohio Valley tour the intermodal facility Monday.
Photo for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel by Jill Schramm, Minot Daily News
Minot Public Works Director Dan Jonasson, right, visits with Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay outside the main office of North Dakota Port Services as visitors from the Mid-Ohio Valley tour the intermodal facility Monday.

MINOT, N.D. – A delegation of city, county and economic development leaders from the Mid-Ohio Valley are on a fact-finding trip to Minot to see firsthand what it’s like to deal with an economic boom.

The group hopes to apply lessons from Minot to what the local experience will be if and when an anticipated ethane cracker plant is built in Wood County. They arrived in Minot Sunday night and will be touring and visiting with local officials in the Minot and Williston areas through today.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, one of 13 members of the delegation, said his region already is seeing growth due to fracking in the oil and gas fields. That growth will increase significantly if the $4 billion petrochemical complex centered around the cracker comes to fruition.

The project is expected to create thousands of jobs during construction and hundreds in the operation, as well as generate job opportunities in related and supporting businesses.

“They are already building more hotels now than they have in a century in and around our city,” Newell said, attributing the construction to the oil and gas drilling activity that’s occurring. “We are experiencing some growth already. We want to get ready for the bigger growth.”

Minot’s population grew 11.8 percent between 2000 and 2010, most of it in the latter part of the decade. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2013 population at 46,321, but city leaders believe the current population may be around 50,000.

Parkersburg’s census estimate of 31,186 is part of a metro area population of about 162,000 people, which includes Vienna, Marietta and Belpre.

Making the trip along with Newell are Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin, City Planner John Whitmore and Development Director Rickie Yeager; Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp, Development Director Paul Thornton and Police Chief George Young; Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz; Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews; Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay and representatives of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council.

A bus tour Monday took the group to the city landfill, North Dakota Port Service’s expanding intermodal facility, Trinity Health’s 49-acre proposed hospital site, the north Marketplace Foods grocery that opened in July 2013 and Erik Ramstad Middle School, built for $37 million to replace a building destroyed in a 2011 flood.

The tour included Minot subdivisions that are under development. Together the subdivisions offer more than 800 lots for single-family housing and hundreds of other multi-family units, along with commercial lots.

A development south of Minot includes a 250-acre Minot Country Club, and a development to the southeast includes the new Nedrose school and Minot fire station.

“Make sure you look far ahead enough,” Minot city engineer Lance Meyer told the visitors in discussing long-range infrastructure planning. Minot has identified $814.5 million in needed water, sewer, transportation, airport, landfill, buildings and flood control projects through 2019.

Newell said Parkersburg already is replacing some of its aging infrastructure and may be ahead of the game in that area. The biggest concern is the limited authority that West Virginia cities have, he said. They don’t have extra-territorial zoning over their growth areas and no flexibility in tax options.

However, Parkersburg is one of 20 cities participating in a pilot home-rule program in the state. Another potential issue with growth is Wood County’s lack of county zoning regulations, he said.

Newell said the delegation will present information gleaned in Minot to a large group of hospital, school, waste management and other community officials. He hopes to encourage legislators in his state to visit North Dakota, too.

“They need to take a look at what’s going on and what potentially can happen in West Virginia,” he said.

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