Business to Sail Into City

Man wants to bring riverboat to Morgantown

Morgantown Dominion Post
1 February 2017
By Ben Conley

Pennsylvania resident Michael Hughes wants to bring a passenger riverboat to Morgantown — and he appears to have the support of Morgantown City Council and the Upper Mon River Association (UMRA), among others.

Hughes formed the company Access H20 in 2013 to begin exploring the idea of bringing a passenger river boat to the area. He’s a licensed captain who continues to run tow boats between New Orleans and Chicago despite retiring after 40 years on the river for CONSOL Energy.

Hughes presented his idea during Tuesday’s monthly Morgantown City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, explaining that the boat would be akin to the iconic Gateway Clipper Fleet in Pittsburgh, or countless other boats in river towns everywhere.

“Communities take these vessels on as a mascot, like an icon,” Hughes said, adding that the closest similar experience was in Pittsburgh, 100 river miles away.

“When we started looking at the demographics and working our way up the river, Morgantown fit like a glove,” Hughes said. “When you do the 25-mile radius around Morgantown, the demographics support a business like this.”

He said the business would operate from a docking area below the Morgantown end of the Westover Bridge and would provide tours and serve as a floating reception hall.

Hughes already purchased a boat — a 125-foot long, 35-foot wide, three deck vessel — formerly a part of the Gateway Clipper Fleet presently going by the name Tunica Queen, in Tunica, Miss.

Given his familiarity with the permitting procedures, Hughes said he could foresee the business being operational as early as April 2018.

Members of council offered their support and tasked city staff with drafting a letter for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explaining that the city is working with Hughes on the project.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, UMRA members Wally Venable and Vice President Frank Jernejcic both said the organization was in support of the venture and are available to offer assistance and expertise.

“We want to offer ourselves as a resource for you as, hopefully, this project goes forward and can be successful,” Jernejcic said.

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, council heard from J.P. Phillips, co-owner and vice president of Mountain State Waste.

“We understand that you guys have a trash and recycling contract that comes up later this year and may be looking at proposals for that from some other companies,” Phillips said. “If that’s the case, we’d be very interested in that.”

Mountain State Waste was formed in 2013 and serves more than 13,000 residential customers and 1,000 commercial customers in 14 counties in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Interim City Manager Glen Kelly already informed the city’s contracted trash and recycling hauler, Republic Services, that the city plans to put out a request for proposals once the contract expires in April.