Officials primed for bridge mediation

BENWOOD – City Council authorized three officials to act “in the best interest of the city” when they travel to Columbus next week for a mediation session regarding the old Bellaire Toll Bridge.

Mayor Ed Kuca, Police Chief Frank Longwell and City Attorney Eric Gordon are to visit the office of U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley at 9:30 a.m. July 16. The Benwood leaders and bridge owners Lee and Crystal Chaklos of KDC Investments and Delta Demolition are to discuss what the owners can do to meet the requirements for a demolition permit in Benwood.

The parties had until the end of the day Tuesday to submit their ideas for a possible resolution to the judge.

Representatives from KDC and Delta Demolition were on the agenda to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting, but did not attend. Kuca believed this was because the judge advised the parties to not speak publicly about the specifics of the case prior to next week’s mediation.

Council members want the city officials to stand firm on seeking a $1 million performance bond from the bridge owners, and they also want the demolition complete within three months after it begins, Kuca noted. Council members previously said they would accept a $500,000 cash bond, but they would prefer the owners secure the $1 million performance bond, they indicated Tuesday.

“I hope the judge will agree with what council said tonight,” Kuca said Tuesday. “Because of the situation with the industrial park, Undo’s and the houses under the bridge, it has to be taken down in a timely manner – at least the section over Benwood.

“We have about 125 trucks a day that come in and out of that industrial park, and we can’t allow that to cease,” he continued. “That’s our revenue money. We have to keep these businesses operating. Council doesn’t feel that’s too much to ask.”

In other matters, council approved hiring Bill Piccard, 50, as a member of the Benwood Police Department. Piccard is a retired Wheeling police officer who recently worked with the Bethlehem Police Department, Longwell said. Piccard will be paid $36,000 annually and receive full benefits.

“We have to change our strategy and go with hiring older, more experienced officers,” he said. “It’s costly to send young officers to the academy. If they do pass, they don’t stay very long.”

Younger officers are seeking more excitement and opportunity – often leaving the Benwood Police Department even if it means a cut in pay, Longwell noted.

Piccard replaces Officer Travis Morando, who resigned to take a job with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department.