Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 20, 2013

Infrastructure needs must be met

— — Earlier this week a water main broke along Bluefield Avenue next to the Daily Telegraph. We were without water most of the day as were other businesses located in the vicinity.

According to reports within our publication, the pipe that burst was a 1950s era piece, which leads me to ask, where next? What next?

Not only in Bluefield but all across the country our infrastructure is deteriorating. Water pipes, roads, bridges, gas lines, we oftentimes hear of their failures and at times they bring about not only the loss of property, but unfortunately the loss of life.

State and city governments from the cold beaches of Maine to the Arizona desert and all in between are struggling to find the necessary funds to maintain infrastructure. Utility companies are being forced to raise rates, some legitimate, some possibly not, in the name of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure. But what is the breaking point? How much can the consumer take before becoming bankrupt from upgrading the necessities we need to cook meals, heat our homes or drive to work?

The pinch is really hard in localities where population has declined, the tax and customer base has dwindled, but yet the infrastructure must be repaired.

One possible solution is a co-op. I once lived in Northern Virginia where water and electric was provided by a co-op. As a member of the co-op you were part-owner of the utility and when rates were increased, each participant had a stake in it. The purpose of the organization was not to make a profit on providing the essentials, but to provide the essentials at the lowest price to the consumer.

I have no problem with the competitive marketplace, but where there is a monopoly, such as public utilities, there has to be a mechanism in place to protect the consumer and to insure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to provide those vital services.

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All of my adult life there has been a buzz about two four-lane highways in Southern West Virginia. The King Coal Highway will go from Bluefield to Huntington, while the Coalfield Expressway would go from Beckley through McDowell County into Virginia. These roads would “open up” the coalfields and allow economic development to rejuvenate the local economies.

Let me ask you, why are these highways just now being built?

They should have been built 60 years ago when the interstate highway system was developed, when McDowell County had more than 100,000 residents and Bluefield and Mercer County was the commercial center of the Pocahontas coalfields.

The construction of Interstate 77 was even late coming to the area. Why?

Interstate 77 opened in the 1970s, while most of the other interstates in West Virginia were planned in the ’50s and built in the ’60s. Around the time I-64 was being built between Huntington and Charleston, the two-lane West Virginia Turnpike was opened between Princeton and Charleston. Nothing was built to what was then the state’s second most-populated county, the Free State of McDowell. Why?

We need to ask ourselves why this area was not included. Did our representatives in Charleston and Washington not stand up for the needs of the region?

Our local representatives are fighting hard today to get for the area what should have been done decades ago.  However, it is an uphill battle.

Budget dollars are limited and it is my fear that the “bridge to nowhere” crossing Route 19 in Bluefield will have to be overhauled before traffic ever flows over it, or should I say if traffic ever flows over it.

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There are things that I have seen in my lifetime move from concept to day-to-day uses.

As a high school student I worked for Bill Turner at Welch Antenna Company. Welch Antenna provided cable service to the Welch and Gary areas. In the summer of 1982, I installed cable TV along with dear friends James Eddie Nagy, Ron Wyatt and David Miller. At that time Bill told me the cable we were installing would someday be interactive, that you could order a pizza with your remote control in the future.

Well, that day is here and each time I use my remote I think of my old friend Bill. He was a visionary who went on to operate Turner Vision and the Wisdom Channel before he passed away more than a decade ago.

I also used to attend and transcribe a lot of Congressional hearings. One committee I became very familiar with was the Senate Commerce Committee.

In the early 1990s Chairman Fritz Hollins of South Carolina was a big advocate of “bundling.” Well, today that “bundling” is provided by nearly every cable, phone and satellite provider.

While we do not have cars that will fold into a briefcase such as George Jetson had, we do have the ability to talk with someone and see them, utilizing programs like Skype.

We do not know what the future holds, but it all starts with a vision.

Whether it’s a highway, a water system or a new medical procedure, it all starts with a vision.

Proverbs 29:18 reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Bob Redd is a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.

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