County not averse to port merger discussions

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners are willing to listen to what commissioners in other counties say about merging to create a regional port authority.

“It’s an interesting proposition but we have not been approached yet,” said Commissioner Mike Halleck, when asked about stories in other publications about the prospect of Columbiana joining with Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties to create a regional port authority.

The suggestion came out of last week’s meeting between commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties during discussions over the fate of the embattled Western Reserve Port Authority that serves both counties. The port authority there has come under criticism by officials, one of whom has described it as “dysfunctional.”

It was Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler who recommended creating a four-county port authority stretching from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, according to The Vindicator in Youngstown.

Columbiana County Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake said any such joint venture would be up to county commissioners, who created the port authority and are charged with appointing the board members.

Halleck said he would be willing to at least hear what his counterparts have to say on the subject. “I’m always willing to think outside the box and would certainly be willing to sit down with other counties to talk about this,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by his colleagues, Tim Weigle and Jim Hoppel, who like Halleck had not heard about the merger proposal until it appeared in other local publications.

“I would be interested in the idea and the concept. It certainly deserves a look-see,” Weigle said, adding the devil would be in the details of how such a merger would work and what would become of each port authority’s holdings.

Hoppel said he too would be willing to meet with them to discuss the idea, noting they already have a good working relationship with the commissioners who serve on the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, the agency that provides services to the unemployed in both counties.

“We do a pretty good job (cooperating) with the MCTA,” he said.

On other hand, Hoppel said he cannot think of any immediate benefit of such a merger. “I can’t see any reason in particular why we would want to join up with them,” he said.