More Should Be Done to Promote Riverfront, Washington County Officials Say

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
14 February 2015
By Joe Napsha

Mon Valley communities in Washington County should do more to promote riverfront recreational opportunities and tourism along the Monongahela River, which would lead to an increase in economic development, county officials told a group of community and business leaders in Charleroi last week.

“I think we are missing the boat a little bit on it,” Washington County Commissioner Lawrence Maggi said during a Feb. 10 panel discussion with fellow commissioners before about 80 community and business leaders at a Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting in Charleroi.

Maggi said people are purchasing riverfront homes in the Mon Valley as second homes instead of traveling out-of-state to tourist destinations, Maggi said.

Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan agreed, saying that county and communities need to work to improve recreational opportunities along the river.

“The asset you really have along the (Mon) Valley is the river,” Commissioner Harlan G. Shober Jr. said, noting the region's economy had suffered from the downturn in steel and related industries.

The commissioners pointed to the River Town Program as an initiative that is working to boost economic development by connecting towns to the outdoor recreational market, using the Monongahela River.

The Mon River Valley Coalition, a partnership between the River Town Program and the National Road Heritage Corridor, is working with the Washington County planning department on efforts to repair existing boat launches and create new ones. The planning department wants to create a canoe and kayak launch ramp in Fredericktown and Monongahela and upgrade the Charleroi boat launch. Those projects are to be bid this spring.

Those projects will be funded through a $247,000 Commonwealth Financing Authority grant through Act 13 gas well impact fee funding, along with $70,000 in cash and in-kind funding from participating communities.

Casino revenue in play

Charleroi Borough is also seeking to improve riverfront recreation and use of the river, said Donn Henderson, borough manager.

The borough wants to clear riverfront land behind the ballfields at Trustees Park, adjacent to the Chamber Plaza, and improve a boat ramp behind the Charleroi High School football stadium.

“We have a riverfront park where you can't really see the river,” Henderson said.

The two projects would cost between $60,000 and $70,000, Henderson said.

The borough has accumulated about $35,000 for that work, but Henderson said Charleroi's application for $35,000 from Washington County's 2015 share of the gross revenue from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino was rejected by the committee overseeing distribution of the money.

Charleroi has received about $1.2 million from the local share of the casino revenue since the money was distributed to local communities in 2008, said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, who served as moderator of the discussion with the county commissioners.

This year, the commissioners approved the distribution of $6.5 million in local share revenue from the casino, which the county projects will leverage $30.5 million.

Since 2008, the county has invested about $65 million into new economic, community and industrial development projects from its share of The Meadows' revenue, Kotula said. Communities in the Mon Valley have received more than $20 million of that $65 million distribution. The total amount of money distributed was used to leverage more than $185 million in additional federal, state and local money. The state Department of Community and Economic Development is required to distribute a portion of the casino revenue to the counties where those gambling operations are located.

The Mon Valley has been successful in having applications approved because the communities have worked together on joint initiatives, such as a regional police force.
“We don't do anything unless the local communities are behind the projects,” Shober said.

Some communities seeking funding from the local share of the casino money want support for projects, but do not have all the necessary permits to move forward, Shober said.

“We're trying to make the money work now. We don't want to give out money in 2008 for a project in 2014,” Shober said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or