Southeastern Ohio Port Authority Partners with the Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad to Acquire Former AEP Muskingum River Site in Waterford, OH for Rail-Centric Development

Earlier this month, The Southeastern Ohio Port Authority (SeOPA), in partnership with the Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad (BIP), a company of Cathcart Rail, announced it had purchased the 165-acre site of the former American Electric Power (AEP) Muskingum River Plant in western Washington County, OH. Prior to its closure in 2015, the Muskingum River Plant was an economic powerhouse in the Mid-Ohio Valley for more than 60 years. The closure of the plant marked the end of a prosperous era for the site, but also – hopefully – the beginning of a new one.

The site, which sold to Commercial Liability Partners (CLP) in August 2015, has since been fully demolished, remediated, and prepped for redevelopment. The site features a 96-car unit train rail loop with aggregate unloading facility and additional rail spurs, 138kv and 345kv electrical substations, a wastewater treatment facility, and access to a Title V air permit, process water from the Muskingum River, and three 36” Texas Eastern Pipeline natural gas lines. An upgraded county road leads to the site, which is located five miles from State Routes 60 and 339 in Waterford, Ohio, and is less than 25 miles from US Rt. 50, Interstate 77, and downtown Marietta, OH.

“The AEP facility was a premier place of employment and the jobs lost when it was decommissioned, were among the best in the region. Our goal is to restore as many of those skilled, high wage jobs as we can. We are working on a plan to guide future development and anticipate announcing our first project very soon,” said Jesse Roush, Executive Director of SeOPA.

What we’ve needed for decades are shovel-ready sites.

Roush said this deal has been in the making for two years, officially, but represents decades of hard work to reach this milestone.

Washington County first formed a Community Improvement Corporation in the 1960s, which was the first true economic development agency created by the County. The CIC assisted with some infrastructure projects and other business attraction projects, but Roush said they were not involved in site development.

The Southeastern Ohio Port Authority was created by the Washington County Commissioners in 2002 as a public-private partnership that receives an annual appropriation from the county along with contributions from local businesses and individuals.

Having control on this site gives us the ability to legitimately compete on a global level for the type of transformative projects we all hope to land.

“Since our inception, we’ve primarily focused on business attraction, tax-exempt bond issuances, and some site development, but not on a large scale,” he said. “What we’ve needed for decades are shovel-ready sites, especially within an Industrial Park.”

Roush said the county has failed to land dozens of projects over the years because they lacked the appropriate site. “Without a site within county control, we can’t apply for a lot of the grant programs out there, so our ability to create jobs and drive economic growth is severely hindered by our lack of sites.”

“Having control on this site gives us the ability to legitimately compete on a global level for the type of transformative projects we all hope to land,” said Roush. “Our ability to engage with JobsOhio has grown tenfold with this purchase, meaning the region will finally see the type of investments from Columbus we’ve been clamoring for.”

Most of the needed infrastructure already exists on site so it is development-ready.

For the Port Authority, Roush said the purchase helps further the organization’s efforts to become more financially sustainable by providing an opportunity to diversify their revenue streams. The organization is also hoping to further environmental sustainability efforts, by prioritizing clean and green fuels as part of their redevelopment plans, including hydrogen production.  

The sale was completed in partnership with the Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad, owned by Cathcart Rail. The Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad is a 50-mile shortline railroad serving Washington County, connecting with the greater CSX network in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The BIP currently serves a dozen of large companies in the Mid-Ohio Valley, handling nearly 1 million tons of freight annually.

“We are excited to partner with the Port Authority on this important project for the area,” said Casey Cathcart, Executive Chairman of Cathcart Rail. “Given its size, we see several parcel carve-outs that could provide ample footprint for manufacturing, plastics, or petrochemicals development, and/or a large trans-loading operation for agriculture, aggregates, fertilizer, lime, liquids, lumber, sand, or woodchips. Most of the needed infrastructure already exists on site so it is development-ready.”

Mike Jacoby, President of Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE), a regional network partner for JobsOhio, said he was pleased to see the deal go through.

“I applaud the bold step taken by SeOPA to repurpose the former Muskingum River Power plant,” said Jacoby, who previously served as the Executive Director for the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority. “When aging coal-fired power plants close, it puts an end to many well-paying jobs and leaves huge holes in the tax base. The port authority was not content to let the property sit idle. Redevelopment will take time, but the community will benefit in the long run.”