By Ed Runyan
An idea that Howland businessman Ron Klingle says could bring tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs to eastern Ohio is on hold as a result of Western Reserve Port Authority disarray.
The idea, which he has been proposing privately for a year, involves use of the state right-of- way along state Route 11 from Lake Erie at Ashtabula to the Ohio River at East Liverpool. It could provide a pathway for gas and oil in the Utica shale play to be turned into usable products.
Klingle says a series of pipelines would collect the gas and oil coming from the Utica Shale Play in Eastern Ohio and carry it to factories, power plants or other facilities.
Klingle, who has worked in the waste-disposal business most of his career and owns the three-facility Avalon Country Club, says the goal of creating the manifold pipeline is to make the region’s Utica products cost-effective to develop and to keep the products in eastern Ohio.
The oil companies now are not drilling in Trumbull County because they have no profitable way of moving the gas and oil from wells to market, Klingle said.
“It’s probably the only thing that will save the [gas and oil] industry in Ashtabula, Trumbull and Mahoning counties,” Klingle said of his concept.
That’s where the Western Reserve Port Authority and the port authorities in the city of Ashtabula and in the counties of Ashtabula, Columbiana and Jefferson come into play.
Ohio port authorities have incredible power — such as buying property and leasing it back and offering financing to companies, Klingle said. So if port authorities in eastern Ohio worked together to provide a pathway to collect the gas and oil, they could keep the products here and help companies start businesses here.
“Our goal is to see if every bit of energy here is used here,” he said.
It would become an ideal location, he said, for a “cracker” plant that w ould turn natural-gas liquids into chemicals such as ethylene, which are used to produce products such as plastics, tires and antifreeze. It would also be possible to attract a huge gas-powered power plant or refinery, he said.
To make any of this possible, the port authorities would need an intergovernmental services agreement with Ohio that would allow the port authorities to enter into lease agreements for state land, Klingle said.
Then, a private company could obtain a right-of-way to build a pipeline on Ohio’s Route 11 land. The state would get half the revenue; the port authorities would get the other half. The authorities would use the revenue to develop factories and businesses along the state Route 11 corridor.
The pipeline would bring drilling back to the area, he said.
Klingle said he believes coal-fired power plants “will go away some day,” leaving an opportunity for gas from the Utica Shale to fill the void. The region could also become a leader in compresssed natural-gas use in automobiles, he said.
“The idea is to attract tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs that would last as long as the gas lasts,” he said.
Klingle, who the Trumbull County commissioners appointed to the port authority in January, has talked about the idea with his fellow board members and to the other four eastern Ohio port authorities, as well as legislators and people in the gas and oil industry.
But because of recent controversy involving the WRPA, the idea is “on hold,” and he hasn’t talked to Gov. John Kasich about it directly, Klingle said.
Commissioners from Trumbull and Mahoning counties, who financially support the port authority’s economic-development work and operation of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, have met twice in recent weeks to discuss reorganizing the board.
Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler called the board dysfunctional after sitting through a meeting April 23 in which authority member Don Hanni III, a Mahoning appointee, alleged that a property purchase involving the port authority and a new location for the Mahoning County Dog shelter was handled improperly.
Three of the eight port authority board members resigned just afterward and have not been replaced. Another port authority member, real-estate executive Scott Lewis, has not resigned despite a written reprimand from the Ohio Ethics Commission for his involvement in a 2009 authority real-estate deal.
Ditzler has said he thinks there is merit in considering the merger of the Western Reserve Port Authority with those in Ashtabula and Columbiana counties. A temporary merger with another port might be necessary if the WRPA is dissolved, he added.
But he has never spoken with Klingle about his Route 11 ideas, Ditzler said. The possibility of merging the port authorities has nothing to do with Klingle’s proposal, Ditzler added.
Klingle said people may assume that he’s only interested in the idea for personal financial gain, but that is not the case. “All landowners will do well if this happens,” he said.
The land at his farm on state Route 82 in Vienna Township and at his Avalon Lakes golf course is part of a Halcon lease that is currently producing gas and oil.
His company, Avalon Holdings Corp., also operates a new brine-injection well on state Route 169 just north of Niles. The brine it accepts comes from gas and oil wells. He would abstain from voting on any port authority matters that affect him personally, Klingle added.