Bluefield Daily Telegraph
City leaders discussed plans and costs associated with the $6 million renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr., bridge to accommodate train traffic at Tuesday night’s city board meeting.
City Manager Jim Ferguson said he had recently discussed the project with Division of Highway and utility company officials.
“Many things need to be completed before the construction can begin, including the complete design and final plan,” Ferguson said. “The final engineering for the project is due at the end of the summer with construction bids set to go out in the fall. If all goes well, construction will begin in the spring of next year. The height of the bridge will be increased to 23 feet, 6 inches to accommodate double-decker trains. Supports will be taken out and the train will be bolted down at both ends. We will have to discuss this as it gets closer as this could create traffic issues. We will be discussing those issues in May.”
Mayor Linda Whalen asked Ferguson to ensure the city is not expected to pay more than originally pledged to the project.
“I think we need to get on record that when we started this project we were only supposed to pay 20 percent of $1.5 million, which was around $300,000,” Whalen said. “After they evaluated the project, they raised the price to $6 million. We told them we cannot pay more than $300,000 as we discussed. We need to get an agreement sooner rather than later that they know we cannot pay 20 percent of $6 million.”
City Attorney Brian Cochran said the majority of the $300,000 the city was to pay for the project came from Norfolk Southern.
“I believe $200,000 of the money was fronted to us by the railroad,” Cochran said. “The city is only responsible for $100,000. Part of the agreement with the railroad is that construction has to begin by a certain date. If we don’t do that, we have to pay the money back. We should also see if we will need an extension on that agreement.”
Whalen and Board Member Pete Sternloff encouraged local residents to contact their state lawmakers about extending home rule to more municipalities in West Virginia.
“Now it is time for the legislature to continue and extend home rule,” Whalen said. “It is extremely important they continue this. It puts ordinances and laws in the hands of local people rather than in the hands of the state. One city, for example, was able to give on-site citations for things like high grass rather than going through a month-long citation process. It really puts things in the hands of the people. Each city has different needs. We are asking our legislators to open the door for more cities.”
Sternloff said home rule allows localities to be more flexible.
“Cities have more flexibility under home rule regarding rules in their own community,” he said. “Right now, we are a very tightly controlled environment in West Virginia. The cities and counties do not have as much control as the state. We need the citizens of our community to call our legislators and tell them to support home rule.”
With Member Tom Blevins absent, the board approved 4-0 a measure to hold a contest to rename the former Colonial Intermodal Project with a $200 prize for the winning entrant.
“When the project was named, it was named temporarily after the Colonial Theater site,” Ferguson said. “We thought 20 or 30 years down the road, no one would remember what that was. We thought this would be a great way for citizens to get involved and have fun. Entries can come to the city hall and the board will judge them.”
City Treasurer Ken Mulkey asked the board to approve his recent report on city’s due to and due from accounts.
“While there has been concern their have been issues in the past regarding these accounts, it is more likely this accounts were not kept up in an accurate or timely manner,” Mulkey said. “We will be working to get these accounts down to zero or as close to zero as we can.”
The board approved the report in a 4-0 vote.
Ferguson updated the board on renovations at the Herb Simms Youth Center and City Auditorium. Ferguson said the recreation department has painted, cleaned and organized, and replaced old bleachers as well as lined the gym walls with mats. He said upcoming renovations of the bathrooms and replacing the gym floor are also planned.
Joanne Boileau with the Children’s Home Society asked the city to consider taking part in a JAG grant to help support youth mentoring programs. Boileau said the city had been the government agent supporting the organization in the past and that the program served all of Mercer County.
Art Riley thanked the police department and Ferguson on behalf of the Downtown Merchants Association for enforcing parking rules in the downtown area. Riley also asked the board if they were making plans to hold a Clean Sweep event in the city.
“I don’t want to start this early, but we have been talking about cleaning up our city and this is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to do so,” Riley said. “I would like to have you all consider holding this event this year.”
Whalen asked Cochran to look into a recent West Virginia Supreme Court ruling upholding a municipal ban on owning pit bulls within the city limits.
The board adjourned into executive session, but returned without action.
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org