Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 9, 2014

Concerns grow over rockslide

IAEGER — Faced with growing concerns from parents regarding a dangerous school bus detour, the state Division of Highways approved an emergency contract Tuesday for the removal of a major rockslide on county Route 1 between the Iaeger and Panther communities in McDowell County.

“My daughter was on the bus yesterday for two hours and 20 minutes,” Valerie Blankenship, a concerned parent who lives in the community impacted by the rockslide, said.

Blankenship said she traveled the detour Tuesday in her own vehicle.

“I had to go up through Panther State Forest and across Beartown, and the road is absolutely horrible,” Blankenship said. “If these kids play sports, when they get home they are driving an extra hour.”

A contractor was expected to begin work on removing the rockslide Tuesday, Carrie Bly, a communications specialist with the DOH, said. The rockslide occurred April 6. Bly said the work is estimated to cost approximately $25,000 and should be completed by the week’s end.

Amanda Lester, another concerned parent from the Panther area, said there is no easy detour around Route 1.

Lester said alternate routes are either long or difficult to use. Railroad tracks going from War to Iaeger are blocked, and the alternate route is a dirt road that takes school buses and other vehicles into the back woods, she said.

“The only other road is through Little Cub,” Lester said. “It’s a mountain road, and you have to use four-wheel drive even to get there, and it’s a one-lane road that makes it hard to use because everyone’s using it.”

Marlene Bailey, also of Panther, said neither an ambulance nor a state police cruiser would be able to get into the community if needed.

“The ambulances can’t get in and the state police can’t get in,” Bailey said. “And the (children) don’t get in until late in the evening. These little elementary school kids — that’s hard on them.”

Ray Bailey, a member of the McDowell County Commission, said a private coal company offered to remove the rockslide at no cost to the county or state. However, Bailey said the DOH wouldn’t let the coal company clear the road.

“The state road wouldn’t let them do it,” Bailey said. “Kids are having to be bused through Panther, Isaban and Mohwak to get them to school, and senior citizens can’t get an ambulance to come into the community unless you go through Hurley or Gilbert.”

Bailey said the state could have saved money by allowing the coal company to complete the job.

“The money they could have saved by letting the coal company clean it up, they could have used that to do some major work on Route 52 and other areas, including the potholes (motorists) are getting buried in,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he has contacted Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and House Majority Leader Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, for help. White issued a statement Tuesday saying he had been in contact with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and had been assured that the rock removal process would start by today.

Bly said emergency traffic such as an ambulance — in the event of an emergency call — would be allowed to pass through the edge of the rockslide. Bly said the DOH must contract out the rockslide removal project. Allowing a private company to do the job creates a liability and safety issue, Bly said.

“Here is the issue,” Bly said. “We’ve worked with companies before in hauling away rock. When it comes to hauling away rock, that is fine. But we worry about their expertise in doing that (removing a rockslide). And there is a liability. We are dealing with utility lines, and if someone gets hurt. If it was just hauling away the rock that is fine. But when it comes to the intricacies of removing rock — they are not experts. That is why we are bringing in a contractor to do the work. It’s just not that simple.”

— Reporter Greg Jordan contributed to this story.

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