Work Not Finished For Port Authority
3 October 2013
By Ian Hicks, Staff Writer
WEIRTON - It's been more than a week since the West Virginia
Public Port Authority voted to dissolve the Weirton Area Port
Authority, and in that time the state board has failed to
communicate with local port officials, Chairman B.J. DeFelice
Weirton officials have been at odds with the city's port authority
since April, when they requested an audit of the port's operations
amid concerns over at least two contractors' claims the Weirton
Area Port Authority Inc. - the non-profit arm of the local port
operation - did not pay them for hundreds of thousands of dollars'
of work done at the port terminal at Half Moon Industrial Park.
The situation came to a head last month when Weirton Mayor George
Kondik wrote to the state Public Port Authority - from which the
local port authority derives its powers - requesting it take
immediate action to dissolve the Weirton Area Port Authority. The
state board voted to do that at its annual meeting Oct. 2, but
DeFelice said his board is prepared to contest that action -
possibly through the courts, if necessary.
He believes the state authority's vote was taken in violation of a
2012 operating agreement that he said requires the state to give
notice and provide reasons for such action prior to taking it.
"So far, there's been no notification" from the state, written or
otherwise, DeFelice said. "We're still doing what we've been
Weirton Port a Three-Pronged Operation
The Weirton port is a three-pronged operation consisting of the
Weirton Area Port Authority political subdivision; the non-profit
Weirton Area Port Authority Inc.; and the for-profit Tri-State
Port Management LLC. It is the political subdivision that the
state has voted to dissolve.
Though some have described the structure as complicated or
confusing, DeFelice noted such partnerships are sanctioned by the
Internal Revenue Service.
"They're not new - they're new to the area," DeFelice said of
The idea, DeFelice said, is to combine the non-profit's ability to
seek state and federal grant funding with the for-profit company's
ability to generate income through private investment and the
services it provides to clients at the port terminal. Combining
those entities with the political subdivision's authority to issue
tax-exempt revenue bonds, DeFelice believes, is an effective way
to boost local infrastructure and put the region in a position to
compete on a national - and even international - level.
"Everything's old," DeFelice said of local infrastructure. Weirton
Steel "handled a lot of stuff (in the past) and it's just old. ...
A big company's going to say, 'I can't go there because I don't
have communication, or the roads aren't good."
For example, Tri-State Port Management provides a number of
services on a contract basis to World Point Terminals for its
680,000-barrel canopy unloading facility for petroleum products at
Half Moon Industrial Park. Those services include electricity,
stormwater management, security fencing, a sprinkler system and
"They want to move oil. That's their core competency," DeFelice
said of World Point. "They don't have to worry about something
that's not their expertise."
Although the World Point agreement is the port operation's only
current contract, DeFelice said there are ongoing negotiations
with trucking and barging firms to utilize the services at the
Weirton terminal. In the future, the port authority also would
like to attract companies seeking to export anything from soybeans
to steel, coal or natural gas.
According to DeFelice, activity at the port terminal is financed
solely through private investment. When he came on board, he said,
Weirton City Council had allocated $5,000 - money which was
accounted for through the city manager's office and spent on
travel expenses and office functions.
What Is WAPA?
Weirton City Council created the Weirton Area Port Authority by
ordinance in 2000. In November 2001, the West Virginia Public Port
Authority voted to grant the local authority status as a political
But DeFelice said the local port authority languished in
inactivity for several years following Weirton Steel Corp.'s 2003
bankruptcy until 2009, when then-Mayor Mark Harris appointed five
members to the reconstituted board - DeFelice, then-Councilman Max
Fijewski, John Brown, Art Miser Sr. and Rick Antol.
In 2010, the Weirton Area Port Authority approved a set of bylaws
that would govern the board from that point forward, DeFelice
said. Under the new bylaws, any vacancy on the board would be
filled by a majority vote of the remaining members.
Today, DeFelice is the only remaining member of that board
appointed by the mayor under the old system. Fijewski chose not to
run for re-election to City Council in 2011 and Antol, Miser and
Brown each eventually resigned. According to DeFelice, Antol and
Miser felt they were too busy to remain on the board, and Brown
believed his involvement with other entities could lead to a
conflict of interest should they ever do business with the port
Current Weirton Councilman Chuck Wright had replaced Fijewski as
council's representative on the port authority board, but resigned
in April, shortly before joining his colleagues on council in
unanimously passing a resolution asking the state Public Port
Authority to take an in-depth look at the port's operations.
The other six members of the board include Wheeling businessman
Dolph Santorine; Santo Santoro of United Steelworkers District 1;
USW Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis; Tony Paletta, employed as a
strategic account manager for Scientech; John Dietz, employed by
Astorino Development Co.; and Doug Velegol, director of global
manufacturing for Mylan Pharmaceuticals.
DeFelice said board members are unpaid volunteers, save for
limited reimbursement of expenses.
The non-profit Weirton Area Port Authority Inc. is under the
direction of General Manager James Greco - also an unpaid
volunteer, DeFelice said. Greco has served in that role since
2011. He is president of Greco Plumbing and Heating Corp.
The Weirton Area Port Authority's website lists three officers for
the for-profit Tri-State Port Management LLC: President Martin
Phillips, CEO Mike Tipton and Chairman John R. Vargo. The website
lists an office for the company at 200 Stanton Blvd., Suite 240,
Other West Virginia Ports
As a division of the state Department of Transportation, the
West Virginia Public Port Authority's goals are much the same as
those of the local port authority - develop West Virginia as a
transportation hub capable of competing nationally and
internationally to attract jobs. It assists both private and
public parties in developing public port and intermodal facilities
and facilitates the development of local port districts such as
In addition to the Weirton port, the state authority oversees five
other inland port districts: the Buffalo-Putnam Port District, the
Cabell-Wayne Port District, the port of Huntington Tri-State, the
Jackson County Maritime and Industrial Center and the Kanawha
Valley Local Port Authority District.
The WVPPA also provides for the operation of the Point Pleasant
Rail Terminal and Warehouse Facility and is working to build a
multimodal inland container port facility at Prichard, W.Va., in
An email sent to state Port Authority Director James York was not
immediately returned Friday.
Future Options for the Weirton Port
Although DeFelice doesn't believe the controversy over the
Weirton Area Port Authority is settled, he believes the future
holds tremendous possibility even if that board ultimately
The non-profit Weirton Area Port Authority Inc. and Tri-State Port
Management would continue to exist and could work together to
continue development of the port terminal. And although the
operation would lack the independent bonding authority of a
political subdivision, it could still work with the state or other
government entities to obtain tax-exempt financing through
industrial revenue bonds.
"This can all be done privately," DeFelice said. "It's a huge
business opportunity in general. ... It can't be all public
because there's no money on the public side."