South Field may be the real deal

Too many times over the last 30 years, big economic projects have been proposed for Columbiana County, only to have them fall apart at the last minute. Remember Baard Energy in Wellsville, or the electric car plant planning to locate in East Liverpool?

To be fair, a couple of proposed projects have become reality — the federal prison in Elkton and Heritage Thermal Services (formerly WTI) are two that come to mind — but even the ones which have materialized have never met the economic growth expectations initially promised, nor have they provided the number of “well-paying jobs” touted by their proposers. For the most part, county residents have gotten used to holding their excitement with each new announced venture that has promised to reverse our economic fortunes.

The South Field Energy electric plant proposed for location on Hibbetts Mill Road in Yellow Creek Township is looking like it may be the exception to this trend.

Proposed in 2015, the plant recently received the financing needed to fund the $1.3 billion project. The 1,182-watt natural gas-powered plant will be capable of providing electricity to an estimated 1 million homes. Construction is expected to begin this year and be completed during the second quarter of 2021.

The project will create 1,000 construction jobs and 25 to 30 permanent jobs.

Even though construction has not yet begun, the plant is already having an economic impact on the area. The Wellsville Local School District received $700,000 on the day the financing closed. The district will also receive $500,000 on both the first and second anniversaries and then in four or five years from now when the tax abatements kick in, the district will receive $1.5 million annually for the next 15 years — a great boost for the school located in an economically depressed area.

Yellow Creek Township received $1.6 million within 10 days of closing. Once abatement starts, possibly by 2022, the township will receive a payment of $250,000 each year for the next 15 years, while the plant will pay $50,000 toward expenses regarding the compensation agreement and another $25,000 within 10 days of financial closing or 180 days.

Some 18 property owners near the plant have also been awarded more than $4 million in property easements and purchases, a huge amount which will certainly impact the local economy.

It appears that this time Columbiana County’s ship has finally come in, and this one isn’t likely to run aground. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this project stays on track.