Kristi Gieseke appeared before New Martinsville City Council June 2 to address various issues in the Brooklyn section of New Martinsville.
"Other than the fact that we get trapped in Brooklyn-for long periods of time, we never know how long-it would be nice if we had the city behind us to help us," she began. She was referring to the ongoing situation created by the closure of the Main Street Bridge, which leaves the residents of the area south of Fishing Creek, west of the railroad tracks, without an exit if the tracks are blocked by a train.
The deadline for repairs to the piers holding up the bridge is Aug. 15. If it is not completed by then, the contractor will be financially penalized. Therefore officials believe the contractor has a good incentive for a timely project. However, there will be weather days written into their contract. All permits have been obtained.
Gieseke said that many individuals are making calls to the police and CSX, but "not one thing has improved." Gieseke said, "It has been over a year."
In response to her pleading that the city help, Mayor Keith Nelsen said, "We've made the same phone calls. What else do you want us to do?"
Gieseke said she would think it would be important to the city to have a relationship with CSX as it won't just be Brooklyn, it will be the entire town affected as railroad traffic increases along with the burgeoning natural gas industry. She believes they'll want to develop a relationship when it starts affecting them-meaning when other access points besides those in Brooklyn are blocked.
"Just because there are no results, doesn't mean we haven't tried," said Isaacs. It was noted that over the years Recorder Bonnie Shannon has written letters to CSX. Gieseke said she would like to have copies of those letters.
"We aren't a priority to them," stressed Councilwoman Kay Goddard.
"And I feel like I'm not a priority to you," replied Gieseke.
Nelsen says the council will write a letter to CSX and have the city attorney do the same. The mayor said he will give copies of those letters to Gieseke.
As an aside, Fire Chief Larry Couch said in May his department has responded to two calls in the isolated section and had no problem with the trains. The calls were for an odor in a home and lightning hitting a tree that then fell on a mobile home.
In regard to the condition of crossings, Mayor Nelsen said, "They (CSX) are not willing to cooperate. It's one sided. They don't respond to our requests," said Nelsen. "We have made the contact time and time again with them."
Gieseke complained about the condition of the street they often must travel to get out of Brooklyn. The portion is an unpaved stretch between Commercial and Foundry streets on the west side of the tracks. Gieseke said the Foundry Street crossing is the primary way across the tracks as often the trains will not back up enough for them to be able to cross on Commercial Street.
She suggested it be widened or the city pave it. "Something needs to be more official," said Gieseke.
After the meeting, it was discovered that the roadway in question is actually not a city street or right of way, but owned by CSX.
Gieseke also asked council to do something about the buildings in her neighborhood that are not being repaired. She was told the building inspector, Joe Hanna, is working on the issue, but some people don't want to maintain their properties.
"This city does not take the action they can take to help people take care of their properties," former mayor Lucille Blum added to the discussion. She said the answer is always, "We don't have the money."
"You need to go after these people, set an example, and not let the rest of those that take care of their properties suffer for it," said Blum.
Continuing the topic of dilapidated buildings during her time in the public forum section of the meeting, Blum once again asked that something be done about the condition of some properties in town.
"This is the Parlor City for crying out loud! You couldn't invite a rat into that parlor!" emphasized Blum. "It's not fair to good citizens and you all were the ones elected to make the change."
She also apologized because the problem started when she was in the mayor's office.
Isaacs told Gieseke to make a list of properties that need to be repaired. Shannon added that there are complaint forms in the lobby of the city building; Gieseke said she would fill them out.
In the department head meeting prior to the council meeting, Hanna reported that he had recently been able to take care of some property maintenance issues simply with phone calls.
"We've come to the time when it would be nice to have some money in the budget with which to do some mowing," said Hanna.
Resident Fran Caldwell asked why that money was taken out of the budget. Council replied that it was never in the budget to be removed. It was proposed to be added to the budget, but the city could not afford it, noting a loss of $60,000 in revenue from the county's tax collections.
Hanna said there is a plan for some Maple Avenue properties and the property behind the old New Martinsville Grocery Building, now the Orum Building, has been mowed. Caldwell, who lives in that vicinity, said she had noticed that action. "We are killing groundhogs, opossums, and raccoons in our neighborhood," said Caldwell, who added that the nuisance animals are getting into garbage and creating a mess. Hanna said he believes there is an ordinance that calls for garbage to be in a sealed can.
In other building matters, Hanna said construction of the new Holiday Inn Express at the Riverfront Plaza is progressing nicely. "The project manager has been very good to work with," noted Hanna.
Patrolman Jason Utt gave the monthly police report in Chief Tim Cecil's absence. He said in May the department made 46 arrests, issuing 22 traffic citations. "That's a little low, in my opinion," said Utt.
He explained that the lower number might be attributed to the Wetzel County Sheriff's Office executing a driving under the influence and seatbelt grant in town. But he added, "It was good to have them out also."
Utt also asked council, in the department head meeting, if there is any room in the budget for an in-car camera for the new cruiser. He estimated the cost would be $4-5,000. The new officer said it would help with officer safety, officer training, insure professionalism, complaints, insure accurate report writing, statements, courtroom preparation, officer accountability, and safety habits.
"I see it as a tool to enhance the training experience," said Utt, noting, as a relatively new officer, it would allow him to revisit a situation and see what he did right and wrong.
Council said the cruisers previously had cameras, citing a few cases where the recordings had been instrumental. Utt said if any of the cruiser currently have cameras, he does not believe they are working.
"You can't continue to do law enforcement the way we're doing it. It's got to be projected to the future," said Utt.
While he said the department is looking into applying for grants for in-car cameras, he said any financial assistance would be appreciated. Council suggested that fairly recently they had passed an equipment fee of $20 added to each traffic ticket the NMPD writes. That money can be used for equipment purchases as suggested by the department and approved by council.
"It's up to you guys how much you get into that account," said Shannon.
Someone suggested more cell phone violations tickets could be written. However, Utt said the legislation for that relatively new law does not allow fees to be added to the fines.
Councilwoman Isaacs brought up the subject of animal control. "We've got to do something about these cats," said Isaacs.
She cited people in their 80s who are unable to use their porches because cats have taken them over. Isaacs has reported them through the police and it doesn't appear that anything has been done.
Also, Chuck Stora reported that the New Martinsville Hydroelectric Plant is having some major problems on Unit 2. The wicket gate was flopping, so they shut it down on May 8. They had to dewater the unit to work on the problem.
After they fixed that issue, they decided, for the first time in 26 years, to look at the lower end of the wicket gate. When they did, Stora said, "Everything fell out in pieces."
Normally the repair to their current problem is to completely remove the gate, send it to a shop, and have it machined. That route would be a "multi-million project" and would likely take six months to a year. Stora said the local plant has decided to take a different approach.
"We are the first ones to try to fix it in place," Stora told council. It would be a major procedure to take it out.
They have purchased a $21,000 boring machine to assist with the project. Stora predicts the unit will only be down five to six weeks if they can make the repairs in place.
This isn't the first time New Martinsville's hydroelectric plant has done something innovative that no one has done before. A while back they did a procedure as a temporary fix that Stora believes would have lasted years, if they hadn't replaced it, as expected.
"They say it can be done as long as they don't cut into the weld of the wicket gate," said Stora. "We'll know more by, maybe, next week."