BLUEFIELD — How the city can get help to repair or replace a local bridge which was closed after state inspectors declared it was unsafe was a subject which came up again Tuesday during the November meeting of the Bluefield City Board of Directors.
In June, the Grant Street Bridge was closed to traffic after a state inspection revealed serious structural problems. Vice Mayor Barbara Thompson-Smith and City Manager Dane Rideout asked Gov. Jim Justice about the situation last October while the governor was visiting the Mercer County Airport. Justice said then that he would speak with Norfolk Southern Railroad officials about the situation since the railroad owns part of the bridge. Justice also said Nov. 8 while visiting Mitchell Stadium that he would look again at the situation.
During public comments at Tuesday’s city board meeting, Charkera Ervin of Albermarle Street, who said she knows people who depended on the Grant Street Bridge, asked if a local committee had been formed to address the ongoing problem.
“There are people in town with time who would be very committed to this,” Ervin told the city board.
Rideout said the city’s plan now is to form a committee at the beginning of the new year. The city has been talking with the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and still gathering information.
Another Bluefield resident, Allen Siegel, said the other ways to reach the neighborhood which used the Grant Street Bridge are not adequate. The other ways are “longer and harder,” and could be more difficult to travel with the arrival of winter.
Bluefield resident Shelia Brooks said the city needed to do more than keep asking Justice for help. She urged the city to contact State Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, about the bridge. She also said she would like to see a state highways report about the bridge and a list of about 50 other bridges in the state that need to be replaced.
“I think writing and waiting and just trusting Justice to go to the railroad is the wrong approach,” Brooks stated.
Mayor Ron Martin replied that “everything hasn’t been pinned on Justice. We’ve spoken to other leaders including Chandler (Swope).”
In other business, the board voted to approve the second reading of an ordinance providing for an exemption from business licensing, and business and occupation tax, for vendors at certain festivals. The ordinance also eliminates the permitting requirement for flea market sales, yard sales or garage sales held in residential neighborhoods.
Board member Bobb Williams voted no, saying he thought the fees, which are not very expensive, were there for a reason. In a time when the city is “struggling for money, every dollar counts,” he said.
Martin said that he has been on committees trying to solicit vendors to come into the city.
“It’s very, very difficult,” he stated. “We’ve actually given things for people to come here.”
Getting vendors to local festivals has helped bring people into downtown Bluefield, which then generates B & O taxes while local businesses benefit from the traffic. And enforcing the permitting for garage sales is difficult and takes a lot of the officers’ time. Williams said he agreed with the flea market part of the ordinance.
Thompson-Smith said the ordinance could be revisited at a later date if necessary.
In the city manager’s report, Rideout said city employees have been working overtime and on weekends to remove leaves; this is to keep them from going down storm water drains and plugging up the system. The city is also coming off one of its largest paving schedules for some time; 20 different streets have been paved this year, he stated.
The weather Tuesday was “a good warmup” for this year’s winter snow removal, Rideout said. He asked the city’s residents to be careful about where they park, especially at the bottom of hills and at intersections. Motorists need to leave enough space for snowplows to pass, and vehicles will be towed if they are blocking a street.
Fire Chief Rick Cary showed the city board one of the new pagers that was purchased recently with a $163,222 FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant award. One part of the grant, about $126,688, covered the purchase of updated communications devices: radio/pagers enabling the department to communicate across borders with a single device. The devices allow the department to communicate across borders with a single device, support its mutual aid agreements, provide communication between members and support joint communications with personnel from other towns.
The second part, about $36,534, will cover exhaust systems for both the Central Fire Station as well as Station 3 on Cumberland Road, according to Cary.
Art Riley of the Bluefield Downtown Merchants Association asked the city’s residents to remember that the Bluefield Christmas Parade will be Dec.14 at 1 p.m. The parade’s organizers are still looking for entries.
“We still need people in the parade,” Riley said. “This parade is a real labor of love.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com