The U.S. Dept. of Energy and Flour BWXT, the private company contracted to clean up and dispose of the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, are today going to turn an approximately 80-acre piece of former plant property over for private redevelopment.
A Fluor-BWXT spokesman has said making the slice of land available is a small step in transforming the entire approximately 3,700-acre site back into a productive industrial location.
Some local public officials, notably including Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer, don’t believe the site, home to what is commonly known as the A-plant, ever will again host productive industrial activity. Perhaps with that in mind, Pike County Auditor Erica Snodgrass has been pushing, unsuccessfully, for several months to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) to benefit Pike County and other local taxing entities.
Prior to it being mothballed by the DOE, the Piketon plant was used to enhance radioactive materials as authorized by the federal Atomic Energy Act. Because activities at the plant were deemed necessary for national security, the property, much like a church or other nonprofit entity, always has been, and still is, tax-exempt.
“Pike County has lost substantial tax revenues over the years as a result of the Department’s ownership of the subject property,” Snodgrass wrote in a letter requesting a new PILT for the Piketon property.
Pike County previously was granted a PILT for the plant property in 2013. For whatever reason, the agreement only covered the years 2000 to 2012. DOE has owned the property since the early 1950s. In 2013, Pike County received a lump sum payment of $473,691.77, according to Snodgrass. That amount averaged out to around $36,437.82 per year for the years covered by the original PILT, she added. Snodgrass argues the taxes owed for the property are considerably higher.
Snodgrass said her county and other affected taxing jurisdictions, including the Scioto Valley Local School District, hired an appraiser to provide a valuation of the plant property.
“Mr. Koon (the appraiser) performed his valuation considering the subject property’s highest and best use if classified for tax purposes in the same manner and in the same physical condition as when the department acquired it,” Snodgrass wrote in a letter to the DOE.
Because of the revamped property valuation, Snodgrass is seeking a PILT of just under $1.6 million for the years 2013- 2017. Snodgrass said the money would be paid in one lump sum if payment is approved by DOE. As of Wednesday, the auditor said she had received absolutely no response from DOE regarding her request, first sent in February of this year. The most recent request apparently was sent May 30.
“I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to reaching a PILT agreement with the department that fairly compensates taxing jurisdictions that the subject property’s exemption has affected. Please let me know what additional information, if any, the department requires to process this request… and also to establish a framework for calculating the PILT on a going-forward basis,” Snodgrass’ letter to DOE reads in part.
Snodgrass sent her last request via certified mail to Robert Edwards, the manager of the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office for DOE.
“We tried to follow up with them several times with no response,” Snodgrass said. She added because of the lack of response her office will be meeting with legal counsel to consider the county’s next move.
Several Daily Times calls to Edwards’ office were not returned.
Snodgrass is not alone in feeling frustration regarding DOE.
“I’m sick and tired of Pike County Ohio being abused by DOE,” Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman wrote in an email sent to the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH. “Mr. Edwards just ignores us. That doesn’t mean we don’t exist.”
A spokesperson for Brown’s office was not readily available for comment Thursday afternoon.