By D.A. Wilkinson
Officials said the local economy is already picking up.
WELLSVILLE — The proposed Baard Energy plant that would turn coal into liquid fuel is one permit away from becoming a reality.
Tracy Drake, the chief executive officer of the Columbiana County Port Authority, said last week that approval will make the plant a done deal.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency had planned to have the last of the three needed permits completed — or denied — by this week.
But OEPA spokeswoman Erin Strouse said a decision on whether to grant or deny the permit probably won’t be completed until the last week of October or the first week in November.
OEPA staff are responding to comments made during a recent hearing on the permit. “They do take them [public hearings] seriously,” she said.
The state earlier approved permits for waste treatment and the wetland impact on the site on the west side of state Route 7.
The proposed $6 billion Baard plant will take about 600 acres of about a 2,000-acre site that could attract more businesses.
If the third permit, which involves air quality, is approved, work could begin next year with the first phase being completed at the end of 2012 and the last phase being completed in 2015, Drake said.
Ready to go are $5 million in state funds for a job-ready site, $2 million for roads and infrastructure, and $7 million for the water supply to the Baard plant.
Baard Energy plans to turn coal into liquid fuel with a method that has been used for decades.
The port authority already has built a port on the Ohio River on the east side of state Route 7. It can handle road, railroad and river shipping.
Drake said the port authority will likely seek proposals for a professional company to run the shipping facility rather than have the authority operate it.
The Baard Energy plant will include a 1,000-megawatt power line. The plant will use about 600 to 650 megawatts. Drake said the remaining power can be sold to other companies, including any that may build on the extra land at the site.
The Baard project originally was for one plant and then a second. Instead, it will be done in three phases to ultimately produce the same amount of fuel, Drake said.
The Baard site is on a hill, which is where Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, comes in.
He estimated that 2,500 workers would be employed during the peak construction period. There also would be 200 full-time jobs at the plant and about 750 coal-mining jobs created.
Crane also estimated it would take nearly a year to flatten the hill to make room for the Baard plant.
Though the national economy is in turmoil, Crane said that locally, work has been good.
Work or expansion at General Motors in Lordstown, WIC Steel in Warren, and at First Energy’s Sammis plant have kept workers busy.
The Baard plant would draw millwrights alone from 31 counties in Ohio and West Virginia, Crane said.
Diana Spencer, the president of the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are already taking an interest in the area.
Recently, a carpeting store, a restaurant and a satellite television company have all opened in the village.
Local chambers of commerce have banded together to form a county chamber Web site that lists amenities and companies in communities that would attract potential workers at the plant or anyone else interested in moving to the area.
Penny Traina, a Columbiana County commissioner, said public response to the proposed plant “has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Environmentalists have questioned carbon dioxide emissions, which may be injected into old oil wells and sealed.
Traina said that she would have to defer to the OEPA and its expertise on the pending ruling.
But if the last permit is approved, there’s no doubt it would help the area’s economy, she said.
Efforts to bring the plant to Wellsville also helped officials from the northern and southern portions of the county work together on the Baard and other projects. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Traina said.
SEE ALSO: Baard Timeline.