Western Maryland leaders expect word this week on whether they have won a $2.2 million planning grant for a plant which would derive synthetic fuel from coal.

Officials of Tri-County Council -- an economic planning and development group for Allegheny, Garrett and Washington counties -- said they are optimistic about their chances of receiving the grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The council's request is one of 26 still being considered for six or seven grants.

"We're in the finals," said Jack Meyer, the council's manager of the WESTMAR (Western Maryland) synfuels project."We think our chances are about one in four."

Should the grant be approved, some 13,000 jobs are expected to be created from the plant, including construction.

Local officials first sent their proposal to DOE, but it was rejected because it lacked backing from private firms.

But local officials pursued the idea, stirring up local business interest.Meyer said the project's prospects have brightened considerably.

The proposal calls for construction of a $2.5 billion synfuel plant on a 900-acre tract near Cumberland. After a 4-year construction period, the plant is expected to produce methanol as fuel for electric companies, a form of natural gas for consumer use and gasoline.

At peak production, the plant would produce about 75,000 barrels of synfuel daily, according to Meyer.

If the grant is obtained, TCC would hire another consultant to do a more detailed study of the costs of the operation proposed, Meyer said.