Sidewalk projects have go-ahead from council

NEW CUMBERLAND-Two New Cumberland sidewalk projects that have been languishing for months will move forward now that they have the go-ahead from City Council.

The projects involve repairing the Station Hill sidewalk, closed since June 2012, and removing trees on Second Avenue so that handicapped-accessible ramps can be installed, Mayor Linda McNeil said.

On Monday, council voted 3-2 to accept a quote from Magnone Glaspell Masonry & Construction, of Weirton, to repair the Station Hill sidewalk that parallels state Route 2 and was damaged by years of heavy truck traffic.

McNeil said the work, at an estimated cost of $7,395, will begin as soon as possible.

The project generated some debate among council members who disagreed over whether repairing the sidewalk is a priority.

Some council members, including Ward 2 Councilwoman Miriam Hess, said the sidewalk will only be damaged again and the real issue is truck traffic through town on Route 2.

“Station Hill is like a thorn in our side,” Hess said. “We have a lot of structural issues in this town that need to be taken care of that that money would better serve.”

Others, including Ward 1 Councilman Pat Jones, said the crumbling sidewalk is a continuing hazard to pedestrians.

“I most definitely am not in favor of keeping that sidewalk closed,” Jones said.

In the end, McNeil broke a 2-2 tie, saying, “The appearance of the town is important.”

Councilwomen Hess and Judith Bartley voted against the measure, while Councilmen Jones and Will White voted for it. Councilmen Brian Webster and Shawn Marks were absent.

Although she broke the tie in favor of the project, McNeil acknowledged that truck traffic will continue to pose a hazard to the sidewalk, saying, “It is an investment we may come to regret.”

Council closed the sidewalk to pedestrian traffic in June 2012 after several slabs came loose and it was deemed unsafe. Although marked by orange barrels and signs since then, the sidewalk continues to be used by pedestrians, McNeil said.

In response to concerns that the sidewalk will only be damaged again, Jones said truck traffic through town can be rerouted while the concrete “cures” and the quality of concrete is better than it used to be. “It took tractor-trailers 30 years to bust that (sidewalk) up,” he said.

Also Monday, council accepted a quote from Ken’s Tree Service, of Lisbon, Ohio, to remove 15 trees behind New Cumberland Municipal Building and two trees along Second Avenue.

The latter trees must be removed because their roots have damaged a sidewalk that the city wants to improve with handicapped ramps, McNeil said. The Ken’s quote was for $1,600, plus $60 to $70 to remove the stumps and grind the roots, said George Hines III, community service director for the city.

Hines said the work will begin as soon as possible.

The city already has verbal approval from the property owner to remove the trees in the 1000 block of Second Avenue, McNeil said. A third tree that did similar damage has already been removed.

The city has long-term plans to make the sidewalk handicapped-accessible, but first it must make repairs to areas that are impassable, McNeil said. Once the trees are removed, further repairs can be made, she said.

The project, which envisions ramps along Second Avenue at the intersections of Sedgwick, Grant, Lincoln, Porter and Marshall streets, would rely on grant funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program.

City officials were able to get an extension on the grant through December 2014, so they need to make the sidewalk ready now or risk losing the grant, council members said. “I think this is something we need to take action on because it’s tied in with the grant,” Hess said.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the sidewalk has been deemed historically significant by the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office. Several Works Progress Administration, or WPA, stamps dating to the 1930s can be seen in the sidewalk concrete.

The WPA, a government agency created by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, employed millions of people in public works projects during the Great Depression. The WPA stamps suggest that the New Cumberland sidewalks were built by WPA laborers sometime in the 1930s.

McNeil said the city recently reached an agreement with the state in which the city will remove the stamps and display them in the Hancock County Historical Museum or the city building.

In other business Monday, council:

* Agreed to donate the old Mack property to Magic Tree Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by New Cumberland natives Patrick and Adam Vulgamore, for the purpose of developing a community garden.

The property, located at the intersection of North Chestnut and Jackson streets, will change owners once a survey confirms the proper boundary lines, McNeil said.

Hines, who sits on the Magic Tree board, said the 45-by-100-foot property likely will be cleaned and prepared for development during West Virginia “Make it Shine” Day in April.

* Learned that newly-hired city police Officers Kevin Richman and Donald Longstreth will enter the West Virginia State Police Academy in April, with an anticipated graduation date of Aug. 15. They will be sworn in sometime before April 28.

* Approved revisions to the city employee handbook, including making the police officer probation period one year.