BEECH BOTTOM - In a community hard hit by the bankruptcy of its biggest employer, having a pipeline company spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a staging yard is "huge, bigger than huge," Mayor George Lewis said Wednesday.
"We lost a lot of our business and B&O taxes when the corrugating plant shut down," he said. "That was our revenue to operate on."
On Wednesday, Lewis and several of his council members were among dozens of community leaders at the idled mill to celebrate the new life Tulsa-based Sheehan Pipe Line Construction Co. is breathing into the 650-acre property.
Celebrating the kickoff of Sheehan Pipe Line Co.’s pipeline project Wednesday in Brooke County were, from left, Sheehan Public Relations Director Monica Matkin; Business Development Corp. Assistant Director Marvin Six; Brooke County Commissioner Norma Tarr; Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse, director of the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau; Weirton Mayor George Kondik; Integrity Kokosing Operations Manager Adam Poates; Follansbee Chamber of Commerce President Tony Paesano; Sheehan Superintendent Joe Parrish; Beech Bottom Mayor George Lewis; Former State Sen. Ed Bowman, the governor’s Northern Panhandle liaison; Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis; Starvaggi Industries Chairman Mike Wehr; BDC Chairman Bill D’Alesio; board member Bill Keiffer; and BDC Executive Director Pat Ford. Sheehan is building a 40-mile section of pipeline from Canonsburg, Pa., through the Northern Panhandle to Hopedale. The company has about 500 employees on the job, at least half of them local.
"I just think it's fantastic, to see development in this part of the county," Beech Bottom Councilwoman Becky Uhlly said. "To me, this is a first step. I hope the whole area develops more."
The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital acquired the property in November from bankrupt RG Steel, announcing four months later that their first tenant, Sheehan, would use a 20-acre parcel as a launch pad for a 40-mile section of Enterprise's ATEX pipeline extending from Canonsburg, Pa., across the Northern Panhandle and into Ohio.
"We're not your normal industry that's going to come in and build a warehouse facility or anything," Sheehan Superintendent Joe E. Parrish said. "We travel where the pipeline industry needs us, we have to be mobile. It (took) a lot of pre-planning, a lot of hard work to get the yard where it is today."
BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said Sheehan brought in about $75 million in state-of-the-art equipment, mobile offices, a water purification system and vehicles on site.
Parrish said they spent about $300,000 to lay down a gravel base on the parcel and thousands more to build a new school bus turnaround, bring water and electricity to the site and carve out two new entrances. Village leaders said they've also been assured the company will have a street sweeper to control dirt and mud being tracked from the staging yard onto state Route 2. They'll also have trained medical personnel on site to address minor worker health issues, like colds, bee stings, allergies and eye injuries and to administer drug tests.
The company will employ about 500 union workers.
Ford said Wednesday's ribbon cutting brought together public officials from throughout Brooke and Hancock counties, suggesting Sheehan's representatives seemed somewhat surprised at the enthusiastic reception they've experienced over the past three or four months.
"It helps us showcase not just Brooke County, but the entire Northern Panhandle as a great place to do business," he said. "Not only can we provide all the amenities for a business to locate here, but we can also clearly show how much we embrace business and industry in the Northern Panhandle."
The park's newest tenant, Ohio-based Integrity Kokosing Pipe Line Services, "will have a very similar setup as Sheehan, but on a smaller scale," Ford said. "They'll have 2 acres instead of 20. They're working on a smaller pipeline, but there'll be 14 people on site, office trailers, trucks and pipeline. They'll actually have pipeline on their site, use their site for pipeline staging."
Ford said Sheehan's excitement about the site helped sell Integrity Kokosing on it as well.
"Really, Sheehan has been a catalyst for us to get other pipeline and energy-related companies to Beech Bottom," he said. "One of the most important things we can market right now is the excitement our tenants have to be here. If we can harness that and market that, it will be a selling point. Who would have thought that just over six months ago when we bought a factory that was on its last leg, owned by a company that was in bankruptcy, we'd see this much excitement, this much interest?"
Uhlly did a walking tour of the idled corrugating plant a few weeks ago and said it was apparent employees had walked out the doors expecting to return. "There were coffee cups on desks still, and coats hanging on hooks," she said. "It was like a Twilight Zone, they'd left one day and never came back."
Uhlly and Councilwoman Linda Clelland said the paint lines are still in the plant and they'd like, one day, to see them being used again. For now, though, they said they're content to see oil and gas to fill the void.
"Look what it's bringing into the community," Clelland said. "We're been trying to get things in here for people, maybe one day we'll get a convenience store and gas station. But right now, we'll take what we can get."