WHEELING, W.Va. — Royalty money from natural gas drilling beneath Oglebay Park is helping Wheeling break its reliance on federal funding to tear down abandoned, blighted buildings throughout the city.
City Council is preparing to spend about $125,000, which includes the cost of asbestos abatements, with Edgco Inc. of Lansing to tear down a dozen dilapidated houses throughout the city. That in itself is nothing new, but the way Wheeling plans to pay for it is.
“This will be the first year that we’ve been able to fund demolitions using local funds,” said City Manager Robert Herron.
With the exception of large-scale demolitions such as the downtown 1100 block and East Wheeling J.B. Chambers Recreation Park projects, the city for years has used federal Community Development Block Grant funding to tear down buildings.
But the process involved in using federal funding for demolition is long and complicated. The city must take photos, have the property appraised, document the chain of title and obtain approval from the state’s Historic Preservation Office.
That often delays demolition for months, even years in some cases. There are houses still standing that have been on the city’s demolition list for five years or longer.
Natural gas royalties, however, have given city leaders another option. Assuming City Council approves the contract later this month, demolitions could begin as soon as February.
Per an agreement struck when the Oglebay Park drilling lease was signed in 2009, the Wheeling Park Commission and the city split equally all proceeds from drilling activity beneath the park. Royalty money began flowing in late in 2013, and Herron said the city typically receives about $20,000 per month.
In addition to funding demolitions, the city also purchased a new ambulance last year using gas royalty money.
Half the buildings included in the demolition contract are on Wheeling Island – where use of federal dollars to raze buildings is particularly tricky because the entire Island is considered a historic district.
Herron said the city will place a lien against the owners of the properties in an attempt to recoup the cost of demolition. He wasn’t able to provide a figure, but he said the city rarely collects on those liens.
“It’s not very many, because most of these houses are abandoned,” Herron said, adding often, the last known owners of these properties can’t be located. “If we do (find them), we bring them into court.”
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