Settlement reached in Huntington, WV barge dock dispute - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Settlement reached in Huntington, WV barge dock dispute

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By JIM ROSS

For The State Journal


A long dispute over a proposed barge dock near a residential neighborhood in Huntington is near an end.

A settlement in a lawsuit has been reached, but terms are not final and are not being released at this time.

“All we can say at this time is the settlement means a barge-mooring facility will not be built in Westmoreland and that there will be more details released in the near future,” Bryan Chambers, communications director for the City of Huntington, said recently.

Two years ago, the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit to Huntington Marine Services of South Point, Ohio, to build a fleeting area for as many as 72 barges along about a mile of riverbank in Huntington’s Westmoreland neighborhood in Wayne County.

Huntington Marine had been seeking the permit since the 1990s, but public opposition and a court case slowed the progress of the project.

The Huntington area is a focal point for coal shipments on the Ohio River. Several million tons of coal come out of the Big Sandy River each year. The coal is trucked to docks on both the Kentucky and West Virginia sides of the Big Sandy and loaded onto barges. Small boats take the barges a few at a time out to the Ohio River, where they are parked until they can be picked up by larger boats to take them to power plants or to export ports. Larger boats return empty barges to the area.

Coal shipments out of the Big Sandy have declined by nearly half in the past few years, though, from about 13.7 million tons in 2008 to about 6.9 million tons in 2012.

The Huntington area has several barge fleeting areas already, including at least one in a residential area. But people in the Westmoreland neighborhood, which consists of the part of Huntington in Wayne County, say they want nothing to do with the dust, noise, light and safety problems that can come with barges in their area.

Huntington Marine filed for a permit in 2011 to build a 90-barge fleeting area. During the public comment period, the Huntington Sanitary Board expressed concern about how the fleeting area would affect the outfall of the sewage treatment plant at the lower end of the area and a combined stormwater-sewer outfall at the upper end.

The permit as issued reduced the fleeting area to 72 barges maximum.

The Corps decided the levee between the houses and the neighborhood and the distance between the shoreline and the residences provide a sufficient buffer for noise and light.

A previous mayor signed a lease agreement with Huntington Marine, saying the company would obtain necessary zoning variances, but it did not commit the city to providing them.