Belmont council hears how property ownership poses snag for intersection project

T-L Photo/LENNY WITTENBROOK Cody Gilliam of Rice Energy, standing, talks with Belmont village officials about obstacles to a planned road widening project.

BELMONT — A setback in plans to widen the intersection where Ohio 147 and Ohio 149 enter the village was the topic of a special meeting of Village Council.

Village officials had been cooperating with Rice Energy since September on the project, which would significantly widen the intersection to better accommodate large truck traffic.

Cody Gilliam, representing Rice Energy, was at the meeting Monday with a packet containing the proposed plans and news that the village does not, in fact, own the old B&O Railroad bed adjacent to the road where the widening was to be done. According to Gilliam, CSX Transportation, with which the B&O Railroad merged in 1987, owns and has been paying taxes on the property since the merger.

Gilliam told council that the discovery posed a “hiccup” in the plans and that it would be up to the village to obtain the rights to the land in question before construction could proceed.

After some discussion, members reached the consensus that it is important to seek a solution that can be executed swiftly, since officials had hoped to get the construction underway this spring.

In the end, council voted to give village Solicitor T.J. Schultz permission to approach CSX about the village obtaining the property or at least gaining a right of way for the improvement to take place.

During public participation about the project Stephanie Ault, who lives near the intersection, questioned whether the intersection being widened would invite even larger trucks and equipment to be moved through the village and voiced concern over the noise made by the trucks, especially when they engage their “jake brakes,” or gear down, while going down the hill past her house.

“It’s a state highway, sorry,” Gilliam responded while acknowledging the possibility of heavier loads. He went on to explain that Rice Energy had paid for the paving of Water Tower Road to provide another artery to its sites near the village. He said XTO Energy is responsible for a lot of the traffic through community, as it is using Ohio 149 as its main route to get to acreage where it is working in the Bellaire area.

He added that the widening of the intersection, while it would benefit Rice Energy, is being done primarily as an act of goodwill and community stewardship. He also offered to install signs to curtail the use of “jake brakes” as soon as the village passes legislation that would allow him to do so.

Mayor Stan Sobel summed it up, “Whether we widen it or didn’t widen it, they’re still going to come through there. Hopefully this will all coalesce into getting this done so it can benefit the community.”