(01/07/2022)
Jan 6, 2022: Candice Black

Ronald Lane, Inc., out of Clarksburg, deeded land to the Ritchie County Economic Development Authority, which he reportedly used for purposes other than what was agreed upon, including a site for pipeline storage. The Ritchie EDA was awarded over $900,000 in damages after a trial last month against RLI for wrongful trespassing.

In July 2002, Ron Lane, president and owner of Ronald Lane Inc., asked the EDA for help to obtain grant funding for a water and sewer extension on his property along U.S. Route 50 near Ellenboro, according to a press release from Windom Law Offices PLLC, Harrisville.

Lane also asked members of the EDA to help him gain approval from the West Virginia Department of Transportation for “a break in the controlled access of Route 50 and the installation of a turning lane along the west-bound lane of the highway onto its property,” the release said.

In exchange for the help, Lane claimed he would develop “several commercial attractions” on the property including a hotel, swimming pool, restaurant, convenience store, gas station, fast food restaurant, car wash, a retail strip mall and a tractor equipment sales store, according to the release.

In January 2008, Lane entered a deal with Ritchie EDA executive director Kent R. Spellman in which he agreed to deed a 10.8 acre parcel to the EDA as part of a separate Ritchie County Industrial Park site, the release said.

The property was used as collateral for the government funding. Lane was awarded $1.1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission and a $261,000 loan was taken out in the name of Ellenboro Lamberton Public Service District and the EDA, according to the release.

While water and sewer work was underway, Lane signed the deed to the land to the EDA in Oct. 2008 and, as planned, the EDA promised that land as collateral “in a deed to trust to secure the government infrastructure loan re-payment to the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council,” which helped to obtain funds, the release said. The loan payments were to be made with revenue from water and sewer user fees at the proposed Ritchie Center.

“It (the project) never became the commercial center we were told it would be,” Harrisville Mayor Alan Haught said.

In 2011, the break in the Route 50 controlled access and construction of a turning lane was approved.

“Immediately afterward, witnesses testified RLI changes its focus to the highly profitable Marcellus Shale natural gas boom,” the release said. “Instead of the proposed commercial retail project, RLI developed the Ritchie Center site into a pipeline storage yard which was leased to Dominion Energy.”

From 2011 through 2016, RLI used the site for fracking and leased it for oil and gas industry purposes, the release said. RLI received $3,000 per acre per month for a term of three years, totaling more than $2.4 million, $1.166 million of which was paid to lease the 10.8 acres owned by the EDA.

“Lane did not notify the RCEDA of the lease agreement or payment,” the release said. “He testified that he needed the advance payment to pay the $3 million development costs required to make the Ritchie County Industrial Park site lease property usable by the lessee, Columbia Gas.”

The release said Lane said his company did site development work on the lease property and “RLI failed to produce the paid invoices to justify such expenses.”

In February 2017, Lane and his son came to an EDA board meeting and asked for the re-conveyance of the 10.8 acre parcel of land, which Haught said was still being used as collateral for the loan intended for the water and sewer project, the release said. “Lane claimed the 10.8 acres ‘reverted’ to him because the RCEDA had not obtained additional government funding from the WVDOH for a separate access road to the adjacent Ritchie County Industrial property, which was vacant at the time,” the release said.

The agreement between RLI and the EDA did not include any conditions by which the land could be re-conveyed.

“Nevertheless, Lane warned the RCEDA board that unless they deeded the 10.8 acres back to his company, he ‘would call in the big dog lawyers’ and take it back,” the release said.

Attorneys from two law firms contacted the EDA’s counsel to demand the return of the land to RLI and after attempts to negotiate, a declaratory judgment was filed on behalf of the RCEDA against RLI in July 2018.

“This is simply a case of Ron Lane wanting to eat his cake and have it, too,” Rod Windom of Windom Law Offices, PLLC in Harrisville, said.

The suit required proof of the deed transfer for the 10.8 acres from RLI to the EDA “and to award it damages plus interest for the lease monies which were improperly paid to RLI,” the release said.

Lane appeared before Third Judge Circuit Court Judge Timothy Sweeney and a six-person jury last month. “The RCED has filed a post-trial motion for the award of pre-judgment interest on the amount of the jury verdict from 2017 until the verdict,” Scott A. Windom, the EDA’s lead trial counsel said. “That was the amount of time during which RLI enjoyed the use and benefit of the RCEDA’s money and those dollars should be restored to the plaintiff. If granted, that interest will increase the total award to more than $1.2 million.”