Benwood city leaders still press for removal of the long-closed Bellaire Bridge, but they are moving forward with new relationships in the coal mining and natural gas drilling industries.
During the Tuesday City Council meeting, City Attorney Eric Gordon said the criminal contempt trial of bridge owner Lee Chaklos is finished, but U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley must still issue his ruling. Chaklos stands accused of not disclosing to the court in testimony earlier this year that three liens totalling more than $2 million had been filed against the bridge by companies hoping to invest in and capitalize on its scrap metal value.
However the trial ends up, Police Chief Frank Longwell and Mayor Ed Kuca know the main issue of demolishing the bridge remains unresolved.
"We have got to have that bridge out of there. We will work with anybody that's real," Longwell said after the meeting.
Longwell and Kuca also said they recently met with Robert E. Murray, founder and CEO of St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy Corp., regarding his purchase of the Consol Energy Shoemaker coal mine. Murray is paying about $3.5 billion to acquire five Consol mines in West Virginia, including the McElroy and Shoemaker facilities.
"We felt honored to meet with Mr. Murray," said Kuca, whose city is home to the Shoemaker prep plant. "It was a very cordial meeting."
"His business is a tough business to be in right now," Longwell said. "But we are very optimistic now that he will be taking over Shoemaker."
Longwell also said the city is now selling about 60,000 gallons of water per day to natural gas frackers who need clean water.