VIENNA - The Western Reserve Port Authority's role in economic development took a front seat at its monthly meeting Wednesday, with a sometimes heated discussion about cleaning up the Mahoning River, along with the final report about possible railroad projects and the official groundbreaking for the first of three aircraft hangars.
The board that runs the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport passed a motion indicating its willingness to help in some manner with removal of low-head dams and dredging for contaminants in the river, depending on funding from other sources.
The careful wording came after board member Richard Schiraldi questioned the suddenness and lack of details from fellow member Don Hanni III for money to fund a study of the project.
Hanni said removing dams and cleaning the river will help downtown Youngstown's efforts to develop its entertainment district. He suggested starting with the Mahoning Avenue dam, which would affect the river from the B&O railroad station south to the Covelli Center, because it would be the easiest to remove.
"If we pass this today, I think we can do that one dam" by a closing date at the end of September, he said of the $16 million project.
"You're asking me to vote on something I don't know anything about. I'd like to see something specific," Schiraldi replied.
Board Chairman Scott Lynn said he believes the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency "is dying to give us the money" to do the project.
Dan Keating, the board's attorney, said the Port Authority would be listed as the project manager and so wouldn't be liable for the removal and cleanup costs.
A Hanni motion to authorize the airport to pay one-third of a $37,800 study about bringing a railroad spur to the airport met with similar surprise. His motion called for the board's economic development group to pay one-third of the study, with the Trumbull County engineer's office paying one-third.
Port Authority Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon, attending her first meeting after a lengthy absence due to illness, said she couldn't appropriate funds that day.
The board voted to table the motion and refer it to committees for review.
The Port Authority heard about possible rail transportation projects from Ken Prendergast, executive director of RESTORE, which is focused on a railroad project to help spur economic development linked to shale gas development and other industries.
The board paid Prendergast's All aboard Ohio-RESTORE $10,000 to prioritize potential projects that could be done quickly and cheaply on an immediate need basis.
The Ohio Commerce Center topped the list with 53 points, a cost of $2.17 million and a time frame of a year or less.
The Ohio Junction under the Division Street bridge in Youngstown was budgeted at $2.3 million and also could be done in less than a year. The junction handles 10,000-plus railcars a year.