Saturday, April 19, 2003
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Colombo, Paulucci trade barbs on Luigino's plant deal


PARKERSBURG - Mayor Jimmy Colombo says he's not Jeno Paulucci's whipping boy.

Colombo and Paulucci, who owns Luigino's Inc., which backed out of a deal to build a $36 million plant at the Parkersburg Business Park, the past two weeks traded barbs in letters to each other.

Paulucci, who rose from a poor grocery barker during the Depression to multimillionaire creator of Jeno's Pizza Rolls and Chun King, criticized Colombo for telling a Duluth, Minn., newspaper he didn't know why the project was nixed.

''Jimmy, that's pure bull (expletive deleted) when you tell (Jane) Brissett 'I don't know why Jeno decided to stop,''' Paulucci said. ''Hell, I phoned you and told you plain and simple. Jimmy, you're too young for Alzheimer's.''

The mayor next fired off a letter to Paulucci saying everyone with Luigino's was aware of the construction plans and timetables, and he wanted an apology.

Otherwise the mayor has no comment. He would not release the letters; however, they had already been acquired by the newspaper without filing a Freedom of Information demand.

Paulucci said the $4 million sewage treatment plant at the site was never ''signed off by our people or installed, and it would take six months to complete,'' the first public disclosure of such a reason for the project's cancelation.

However, sources familiar with the project said the company became concerned after The Columbus Dispatch in February reported C8 contamination in some local water supplies. The compound is not detected in water, but the company believed its competitors would say Luigino's foods were made with tainted water, the sources said.

Parkersburg and West Virginia were strung along four years by the company, licking their chops at 600 jobs and $36 million in development.

Luigino's twice backed out of the deal to build in Parkersburg and once in Hibbing, Minn., where it got into an argument with the Iron Range development board, which sued to take back a former chopsticks factory after the company failed to do substantial work on the plant. Paulucci said the board won the battle but lost the war, and it was a ''damn shame'' the plant was going to West Virginia.

The company announced in June 1999 it was building the Parkersburg plant, but those plans fell through, according to company President Ron Bubar in November at the second announcement the plant was coming, the first time any public confirmation was made the project was dead.

No work was done on the plant until after talks started again after Gov. Bob Wise took office and the company and state officials took part in the November announcement, this time with Paulucci in attendance. Bubar said they needed the plant soon.

Then state, local and company officers met in Charleston on March 7 to talk about C8, a chemical used in a DuPont production process. A decision not to build came thereafter.

Paulucci's letter never mentions C8 and attempts to put the blame everywhere except on the company.

''In closing, let me say this, Mayor Jimmy Colombo, as owner of Luigino's Inc., I gave my word, as did our president of Luigino`s Inc., Ron Bubar, to the state of West Virginia authorities that we would not discuss or publicize the reason why we had to stop construction to avoid adverse publicity for your city and area and through no fault of ours,'' Paulucci said.

'We have kept our word. This does not mean that when a reporter asks you why, you tell them you don't know. Why don't you tell them you don't want to tell them why and that Jeno told you why,'' he said. ''The truth, Jimmy.''

Colombo is taking exception.

''The truth is that all people dealing with your company worked above board at all times. Time lines on construction, water, sewer, gas electric and roads were coordinated by representatives to be finished by the state your construction people set, which was December 2003,''Colombo said. ''I believe the start of your production line was scheduled a couple months after that. All commitments to you would and could have been met as agreed.

''The truth is I have a right to say 'It's a terrible blow. We worked very hard to make this thing happen.

''The truth is we did work hard and there is a void in our hearts, but I know that hearts are not included to be part of business deals.

''You don't have to lecture me on the 'truth,' but the truth is, if this is about honor and principle, I am not on your payroll, nor am I your whipping boy.

''I deserve an apology from you,'' Colombo said.


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