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Response Overwhelming to Oil/Gas Expo; Election Race Created

March 18, 2012
Al Molnar , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

A race for Belmont County commissioner that seemed a cinch for the incumbent Democratic officeholder prior to the primary election has developed into a three-way race in the November general election.

Jerome (Jerry) Echemann of Martins Ferry has come forward with his intention to be an independent candidate for the commission seat currently held by Matt Coffland of Shadyside. Earlier Doug Longenette of St. Clairsville had announced he would be an independent candidate for the same seat.

Echemann is making his second bid for public office since leaving the television news coverage field. He bowed out of TV broadcasting in 2009 and decided to run for state representative. "Lou Gentile was in that race. He was well known in the political field and a seasoned campaigner. He won the nomination but I finished a strong second in the five-man field."

In that state representative race, Echemann said he carried Belmont County. "This encouraged me to give public office another try and by running for the commission could stay close to home."

A native Ohioan and a graduate of Ohio University in 1980, Echemann moved to Belmont County immediately after graduation to become a reporter for WOMP-AM. "Four months later I went to WTRF-TV and stayed for 28 years mainly as a field reporter. For 22 of those years," Echemann related, "I was a shop steward and negotiator for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists."

Currently he serves as a track announcer at the Wheeling Island Race Track and also is a part-time associate judge for the West Virginia Racing Commission.

"I do not miss television news," Echemann declared, "but do miss connecting with people in all parts of Belmont County and dealing with their concerns. Twenty-eight years in television tends to make you a good listener, which I feel is a very important aspect of being a commissioner." With that training, he added, "I could help people solve problems, not just report on them."

Longenette, director of human resources at United Dairy in Martins Ferry, is a former Martins Ferry Councilman, coach, Soap Box Derby director, and volunteer fireman, and is making his first run for public office.

A Shadyside businessman, Coffland is completing the fourth year of his first term in office. He has served in an elective office for more than 25 years. He was a Mead Township trustee and president of the Belmont County Township Trustees prior to gaining county office.

Another "hot" county contest will determine who will take the job of Belmont County sheriff. With Fred Thompson out of the race, having been defeated in the primary election, the sheriff race will pit Democrat Dick Flanagan against Republican candidate David M. Lucas.

Flanagan, a 17-year veteran Bellaire police officer, pulled off an upset victory in the Democrat primary over Thompson to gain the nomination. Lucas, who has 25 years experience as a sheriff's deputy, was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Belmont County's first venture into a production bringing officials of the booming oil and gas industry in the Ohio Valley together with businesses that will have a pivotal role in the overall growth and development of this area, is proving to be an overwhelming success.

With five weeks before the Ohio Valley Regional Oil & Gas Expo is scheduled to be held on April 25, available space for exhibitors in the Carnes Center on Roscoe Road is nearly exhausted and arrangements are being made to provide additional space outdoors.

While there are 81 exhibitor spaces inside the Carnes Center, unlimited outdoor space is available adjacent to the center. During planning sessions for the event, it was noted that tents could be obtained for exhibitors should that become necessary. And it appears as of today it may be necessary.

"We are welcoming the large oil and gas industry companies to our area with open arms, but the real focus of this event is the Ohio Valley itself, and in particular Belmont County," exclaimed Belmont County commissioner Ginny Favede, who launched the plans for the first ever such expo in the county. And Port Authority director Larry Merry believes the event "will usher in an era of Belmont County as a powerhouse in domestic energy production."

For the past few weeks the Belmont County Soil & Water Conservation District has been getting applications to fill the position of operations manager - a position that has been vacant since last August when there was a mass resignation of office employees.

As of last Monday the district's board of directors is also looking for a Captina Creek Watershed Coordinator to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Stephen Ferrante, who assumed the position just six months ago. Ferrante said his resignation was the result of "some differences."

With his departure the SWCD office is now staffed with just one full-time employee - Liza Butler, the wildlife and forestry specialist. She has also assumed putting the final details on the appearance in St. Clairsville on May 14 of Jack Hanna at a rally in behalf of the Captina Creek watershed. There is also one part-time employee, Pam Smutney.

By the end of this week, however, there may be an operations manager. "We will be conducting interviews on Tuesday to fill the position," explained SWCD board chairman Tim Wojchowski. Four candidates have applied.

Because of the sudden vacancy created last week, Wojchowski said "We are now also going to accept applications for the position of Captina Creek Watershed coordinator." As for the resignation of Ferrante, his only comment was that "this office has changed a lot over the years. And the needs of this office has changed a lot," and that the supervisors are just trying to keep up with the changes.

Last August the Belmont SWCD had to "borrow" a part-time employee from Harrison County to run the office after the three employees at that time resigned.

One or more inconsiderate trash dumping scofflaws are not only creating unsightly dumps along a county highway and polluting a nearby stream, but also causing extra expense for county and township officials.

But those officials aim to stop the dumping along Ohio 149, west of Bellaire at Trough's Run, and in the process catch the person or persons responsible for the senseless dumping should it continue to happen.

The next time someone throws trash or debris there, they may be caught in the act.

Pultney Township trustee Franklin Shaffer asked for and received a pledge of assistance from the Belmont County commissioners for the project. Shaffer told them he had applied for a grant to accomplish two things: Clean up the site and purchase a camera that would be installed to focus on the area and hopefully identify those doing the illegal dumping.

"We're looking at putting up a camera to record what happens there. One other time a camera was installed in the county where such dumping was going on and the people were caught," Shaffer explained. "Maybe we can do it again." He said also that signs prohibiting the dumping will be put up. "We're looking at all angles to stop the dumping there."

Shaffer told the commissioners the dumping being done at Trough's Run is on county-owned property. "If it's on county property, we'll take care of cleaning up the mess," commission president Chuck Probst told Shaffer.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at:

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