Settlement reached on I-70 project

ST. CLAIRSVILLE Belmont County has tentatively resolved one issue and crossed one hurdle in the ongoing plan to establish a connector road to develop the area around the mall and bring more business and an expanded tax base.

Commissioners motioned Wednesday to approve a settlement agreement in the sum of $48,500 for full and final settlement in the case from 1999 involving Thomas Stewart, Lou Stein and the county. The parties had been scheduled to appear in common pleas court Jan. 24 pursuing an enforcement order for the Lou Stein family to complete work on a section of a township road at the Stewarts’ land.

Stein will pay $48,500 toward the $1.9 million the commissioners were to have given the Transportation Improvement District to complete their portion of the Mall Road extension. Commissioner Matt Coffland said that minus $10,000 in lawyer fees the money would be used for construction work on the first 300 feet at a width of 40 feet from Route 40. The project will widen the road by a further 80 feet and take it through all involved properties.

“We agreed to the settlement and hope to move forward with this road project,” Coffland said.

Coffland said the next phase will involve the TID determining the amount of funding to be provided by the county, followed by a motion during an upcoming commissioners meeting, when the board will decide whether or not to commit to the project.

“Hopefully the next step the county will hold up to their obligation,” he said.

Coffland added that although the court settlement earned added funds for the project, it has meant a loss of six to eight months of construction time for the road.

“We’ve lost some time on the project,” he said. “Hopefully when me move the money, that’ll show commitment.”

The board of commissioners had been in dispute regarding the road project, with the commissioners voting 2-1 against releasing funds to the TID for the project until this issue was settled.

Commissioner Mark Thomas had initially motioned to withdraw the county from the suit on the grounds of legal fees, but chose not to press the motion when the county was able to substitute its own council for outside council. He added that had the county withdrawn from the case, any settlement would have had the same result.

“I think the biggest thing for me is that that matter is settled,” said Thomas. “I think ultimately the parties were able to work through their differences, settle the case, and now get it to the next phase that the county will address as to whether or not we can come to a mutual agreement with all the parties involved about getting the Mall Road Connector project moving and completed.”

He said the remaining issues will be decided later.

“It’s now basically in the county’s hands as to whether or not we want to commit those county funds to what has become a huge public private partnership.”

“The Stewart Family brought this forward so it could benefit the taxpayers of Belmont County,” Stewart said. “That’s what the purpose was, to make sure the court order was enforced and the taxpayers got what they were due. We’ve been for development and for this road project since the beginning.”

“We are glad to have resolved his matter,” said Stein. “This will open up a lot of new economic development for the county.”

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