STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County commissioners balked Thursday at committing $25,000 to a trails study until they saw membership from “across the river”.
Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission Director Mike Paprocki and BHJ Transportation Engineer Matt Townsend were at Thursday’s meeting to mobilize financial support for the proposed study, which would determine the best way to connect the Panhandle Recreational Trail in West Virginia to trails in Jefferson County. . Paprocki asked commissioners from three counties — Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson — as well as the towns of Steubenville and Weirton to each commit $25,000 to the study.
When he presented the proposal to commissioners last week, Paprocki said the study would cover Brown’s Island, the Market Street Bridge and the new bridge under construction between Wellsburg and Brilliant. The new $131 million bridge already incorporates pedestrian and bicycle lanes into its design.
The commissioners were clearly bothered by the lack of support from their government counterparts in West Virginia.
“No one wants to go first” Paprocki responded, telling the commissioners he had had “very positive discussions” with the other governing bodies, although he admitted that Commissioners Hancock had not been receptive “Because they see very little benefit to it, other than the town of Weirton.”
“Mike, you just told me you were getting favorable responses,” Commissioner Dave Maple intervened.
“That’s how mean-spirited it gets sometimes – that’s the frustration we have with the way the federal government is setting up these programs,” Paprocki responded, later adding that, “Hancock is waiting for Weirton to commit to the project – everyone is waiting for everyone to step in.”
Steubenville City Council had also voted 5-2 against the lawsuit, but Paprocki met with them for a second time earlier this week. Subsequently, 4th Borough Councilor Royal Mayo passed emergency legislation that would put it to a vote by council at this Tuesday’s meeting, although it’s unclear whether he has the votes. to adopt it.
This is due, at least in part, to their desire to see the Market Street Bridge transformed into a bike/hike connector connecting the Panhandle Trail to the Steubenville Heritage Trail – up Market Street to Fourth Street and then north on Franklin Avenue to Belleview Park, eventually connecting to the Conotton Creek Trail.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy had named the Market Street Bridge as its preferred route for the 3,700-mile Great American Trail – a cross-country route stretching from Washington, DC, to Washington State. More than 2,000 miles of trails have been completed, and local developers say a study on how best to connect the states recreationally has been completed.
The commissioners pointed out that one of the maps BHJ used to sell the project to local governments didn’t even include the Market Street Bridge as a possibility, and said it appears different groups were getting different information. Townsend took blame for the bridge not appearing as a possible route, saying it was strictly a mistake on his part.
Maple was still not appeased, questioning Paprocki’s characterization of his discussions with other government entities as “get a favorable response.”
“I’m going to challenge you on this, just so I can get rid of it”, said Maple. “I understand that you told the Steubenville City Council that you had a ‘very positive’ conversation with us. Nobody votes on it, but you keep telling everyone there was a conversation positive. Why do you think after you left here that you had a positive conversation with us?”
“Because I felt we had a positive conversation” Paprocki responded, calling his last meeting with the city council a “positive conversation” as well.
“We went back to Steubenville City Council on Tuesday and had a really good conversation,” he said. “I felt it was very positive.”
Commissioner Tom Graham, meanwhile, wanted assurances that if they spent the money, there would be benefits for Jefferson County residents.
“I believe you said last week that this study you are proposing to us is only for Jefferson County,” said Graham.
“It’s not just Jefferson County, we’re also looking across the river,” Townsend replied
“Didn’t you say last week ‘only’ Jefferson County?” Graham persisted.
“I believe the question I was answering, or I thought I was answering, was that it would benefit Jefferson County, and the answer is yes,” said Townsend.
“I don’t think that’s what I asked for” Graham replied. “I think I asked several times last week (whether our money would only benefit Jefferson County) and the answer was yes.”
“To be clear, this is going to benefit the Jefferson County side and also West Virginia,” Townsend clarified.
Mayo, who was present at the meeting for the presentation, also spoke up, saying: “I think the question that you kind of ask him that we were concerned about … is if (the city) puts in $25,000 and you put in $25,000, what I don’t want to see is somebody across the river don’t put money. and then the study includes them.
“If they don’t give money, don’t look for what’s best for them”, he said.
“That’s a concern I have,” Commissioner Tony Morelli agreed. “It would have been nice if you came and said Brooke County and Hancock County and the town of Steubenville are (in), but we are the first. But you’re right, someone has to come first.
“This is the problem,” said Paprocky. “We want to bring in those dollars. (We have letters of support from federal sources), now we need the local people to step up and do it, but they’re all sitting around and saying, “What is Steubenville doing? What does Jefferson do, what does Brooke do? We encounter this kind of hesitation.
Grant applications are due by noon on October 13. Applicants can request between $200,000 and $2 million in grants.
“We were presented to vote last week, now we are presented to vote this week”, Maple remarked. “It’s on Thursday – knowing all the struggles to get it, why (wait and come to us) so close to the deadline?”
“We had what, six weeks to put this together?” Paprocki responded, adding that while the grant money will also be available in 2023, “Part of what we want to do is put our foot first and learn from the process because if we don’t get the grant we have to go through a review process” and find out what BHJ needs to improve “So we can put another app together and it will be even better.”
Maple asked how they decided to apply for a $625,000 grant, adding, “You (also) said that if you didn’t get all the funding (commitments) you would just apply for the grant for less. .
“We don’t know what it’s going to cost us, we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” Paprocki said, admitting $625,000 “is an arbitrary number.”
Maple told Paprocki he wanted to see a copy of the actual request before making up his mind.
“Do you have the app itself? » He asked. “Can either of us see what you’re applying for?”
“We have a narrative, yes”, Paprocky replied
“Are you asking for money and you have a document you’re ready to report and you haven’t shared it with anyone?” Maple replied
“I shared with you the three-page synopsis, which is pretty much (the plan)”, said Paprocky.
“But that’s not what the licensing authority will see. Why don’t you give me what the licensing authority will see? » The maple persisted.
“We came to you with the three-page synopsis, that’s pretty much what it is,” said Paprocky. “Why didn’t you ask us last week to bring it today?” »
“You’re the one asking for money, not me” The maple cracked.
Townsend chimed in, telling Maple the 10 pages “Explain what the project is about, some data on the difficulties of the region, why it would be useful.”
“You could reduce some of the fears that people have,” Maple replied. “You present us with a three-page statement asking us for $25,000, but there is a 10-page (request) that goes to the grants committee. Share the 10-page thing in advance, with everyone. It’s like the error on the map – it creates concern that what we vote on will be a little different from what is submitted.
Graham suggested making Jefferson County’s participation contingent on BHJ’s support of the other four entities, but in the end the commissioners agreed to hold a special meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m. This gives Paprocki time to find out if the three West Virginia entities are willing to participate. He said he would meet two of them on Tuesday.
Maple said he was bombarded with phone calls, “People get different information, I think that’s why (they) don’t want to engage.”
Morelli said he would personally like to see him cross the Market Street Bridge to Steubenville, “but I wouldn’t have a problem (with any of them).”
“If I thought Market Street Bridge was the #1 priority, if I thought the goal was to go there, I’d be all for it, I’d say we’re going,” Morelli continued. “It’s just disappointing that Hancock didn’t (commit). But I really think… I could be wrong, but I think they have a much better chance of going with Browns Island than we are with Market Street Bridge.
The condition has deteriorated to the point that the West Virginia Department of Highways wants inspections done every three months – a draft of the last inspection report was 3,455 pages – and made it clear that time has passed. began to turn over the span of 117 years when construction of the Wellsburg-Brilliant Bridge began.
Jefferson County Engineer Jim Branagan said he warned his family to stay off the Market Street Bridge, telling commissioners Thursday: “It’s collapsing, it’s not fixable… If it was my bridge I’d close it today, I don’t think it’s safe.”
Branagan said the piers might be usable, “but there is nothing in the (rest) of the bridge that is… cracks everywhere. What scares me are possible anchoring problems. It just scares me.
And even if a private buyer were to step in, Branagan said he would have to be able to demonstrate his ability to repair and maintain the span — no small feat, given its condition.
“That’s why I’m trying to be clear, why it disappoints me, that Hancock (didn’t commit to the study),” Morelle said. “Because it looks like it’s going to be Brown’s Island, and I think it’s still going to be great. All three would be great.