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Brooke could lose lighting grant

April 18, 2012
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Commission must decide whether to pursue lighting the Veterans Memorial Bridge or lose a state grant awarded for the project.

County Clerk Sylvia Benzo told the commission Tuesday the warning came from Jeff Harpold, a transportation enhancement coordinator with the West Virginia Department of Transportation, which awarded a $300,000 grant for decorative lighting for the bridge in 2007.

The Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission secured $240,000 from the state of Ohio and a local match was to be provided with $160,000 from the Charles M. and Thelma M. Pugliese Foundation.

But the project came to a halt with a proposed agreement that called for the Community Foundation of Jefferson County, which spearheaded the project; Brooke and Jefferson county commissions and cities of Steubenville and Weirton to contribute to the cost of maintaining and powering the lights.

The cost was estimated at $18,000 per year in 2008.

The agreement would allow any of the entities to withdraw with at least 90 days' notice if they were unable to afford the cost.

County Commissioner Norma Tarr expressed concern then that Brooke County could get stuck with the bill, as the government entity through which the grant was awarded.

Tarr reiterated that concern Tuesday, saying she believes the project may be too costly in light of the area's current economic conditions. But she added she and the other commissioners will discuss it further.

Commission President Marty Bartz said he's not opposed to the project but also is concerned about the cost.

"I feel that times are tough and the spending for the project should be shared and if it's not, we don't have the money to support it," he said.

County Commissioner Tim Ennis said the commission needs to ensure the various parties still support it, but lighting the bridge could be a boost to the area.

Ennis said public opinion about the project may have changed with the lighting added to the Market Street Bridge as part of its refurbishment last year.

"Now that we see the Market Street Bridge and how beautiful it is, I can only envision the Veterans Memorial Bridge and how nice it could be," he said.

Ennis added, "To have dual bridges that are beautifully lit could be great for our area."

The Market Street Bridge's new lights accounted for about $2 million of its $15 million renovation, and the West Virginia Department of Transportation has assumed the cost for their maintenance.

Terri Antill, executive director of the Community Foundation of Jefferson County, has offered to assist with paperwork needed to extend the grant if the commission and others are interested.

In other business, the commission received $2,400 as its first reimbursement for efforts to address dilapidated structures through a $15,000 Governor's Community Partnership Grant awarded to the county and secured by state Del. Roy Givens, D-Brooke, and Ennis when he was serving as a state delegate.

Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson, who has been heading that effort, said the money was used to remove thousands of pounds of material from two unoccupied trailers, one on Riverview Road near Wellsburg and the other on Third Street on Hooverson Heights.

Ferguson said many property owners have been working to clean up their property but there is still work to be done.

"I hope this continues to progress because if it (the county) becomes blighted to a certain point, it's hard to come back," he said.

He said a common problem is individuals who purchase property, usually after it has gone on the auction block because its owners have failed to pay taxes, but fail to maintain it.

A county ordinance gives property owners 30 days to repair or remove a dilapidated structure, after which they may be fined $100 per day.

The county then may condemn it and place a lien on the property so that if it's sold, funds from the sale may be used to reimburse the demolition costs.

In related business, Ennis said illegal dumping is occurring in an area near the first bridge on Cross Creek Road. Ferguson said he's aware of the problem and will work with Ennis to address it.

The commission also tabled applications from two Follansbee residents, Stacie Wise and Charles Hawkins, interested in a seat on the county museum board, pending the board's review.

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