Plan for ethane 'cracker' plant in US takes a step forward

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CLEVELAND (AP) — A partnership of two Asia-based companies proposing to build an ethane “cracker” plant along the Ohio River announced Wednesday it had reached economic development agreements that would pay a school district and a township more than $47 million in coming years.

In return, the companies would receive a 15-year property tax exemption for the plant through a state enterprise zone program.

Dan Williamson, a spokesman for PTTGC America, whose parent company is based in Thailand, and Daelim Chemical USA, whose parent is based in South Korea, said that while the agreements are “another step in the right direction" in moving the multibillion-dollar project forward, it is not the final investment decision that Ohio and local officials had been anticipating for years.

The plant would convert — or crack — molecules of ethane, a byproduct of natural gas drilling, into ethylene, a raw material used to manufacture plastic products.

The companies' goal is to announce its investment decision this summer, Williamson said. Thousands of workers would be needed to build the plant in southeast Ohio's Belmont County, and 450 permanent workers would be needed to operate the plant.

"This is a very long-term investment for these communities and the companies,” Williamson said. “A lot of things are happening right now in all the markets, but these companies are thinking very long term.”

The project is seen as an economic savior for an Appalachian region that has long struggled economically from the loss of jobs in steel, aluminum and glass manufacturing decades ago. The hope is that the plant will spur further development and revitalize the region.

The agreement calls for Shadyside Schools to receive $38 million and Mead Township $9.5 million. The companies said Belmont County would receive between $20 million and $24 million in sales taxes from goods and equipment during the construction.

Shadyside Schools Superintendent John Haswell said the district will be paid $8 million during four years of construction and $2 million annually for the next 15 years.

The money will be used to replace the district's three outdated buildings, including a high school built in 1930.

The district has struggled financially since the coal-burning W.E. Burger Power Station shut down in 2011, Haswell said. The plant has since been demolished. Its former footprint encompasses much of the site where the cracker plant would be built.

“We've been struggling like crazy for years when that power plant went down,” Haswell said. “And now the phoenix is rising from the ashes.”