Port studies best way to develop proposed rail spur

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

EAST LIVERPOOL - An engineering firm has been hired to perform the design work for a rail spur that would help in further development of the Columbiana County Port Authority's industrial park in Wellsville.

The port authority board voted at its Nov. 18 meeting to hire the engineering firm of MS Consultants Inc. to study the best way to develop a proposed railroad spur at the southern end of the industrial park located along the Ohio River.

Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake said there is an existing spur at that end of the industrial park that had fallen into disuse under the previous tenant. The new company leasing the 22 acres, Arrowhead Utica Pipelines, is an affiliate of Hilcorp Energy, a leading oil and gas producer. Arrowhead wants to reactivate the spur as part of its plans to build an oil/gas-transfer facility on the site, similar to one being developed at the other end of the industrial park by Marathon Petroleum in conjunction with Harvest Pipeline, another Hilcorp affiliate.

In other action at the meeting, board member Penny Traina reported they renewed their employee health insurance policy three months early to insulate itself from any potential financial impact resulting from the Affordable Care Act.

The purpose of the study is to determine the best location for the spur - either along the river or parallel to state Route 7 - with the state agreeing to provide up to $3.6 million in funding to pay for the entire project, including the design work, the fee for which depends on the project cost. Drake estimated Hilcorp has already spent $10 million of its own money on the project.

She said their insurance carrier, Morris Financial Group, agreed to let them renew coverage now instead of waiting until the current policy expires in March. Morris was able to find negotiate a 4 percent increase with the insurance provider, compared to 10 percent last year.

Traina said Morris recommended renewing before the end of the year since this would give them an existing contract before January, when many of the components of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, begin taking effect.

Eight employees are covered by the insurance, plus board members Charlie Presley and Rob Johnson, and the increase will cost the Port Authority an additional $7,334 next year. There is no premium co-pay for employees.

Finally, the board agreed to raise the pay of new finance/administrative manager Diane Ksiazek from $67,500 to $70,337 per year. When Ksiazek was hired in August she was supposed to be paid the same as the person she is replacing, Sandy Steele, who is retiring at the end of the year. Drake said at the time he believed Steele was paid $67,500, only to later learn she was earning the higher amount.