Belmont County takes stock of damage
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — After heavy storms and flooding struck the area Sunday, Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann invited county Emergency Management Director Dave Ivan to give an update Wednesday on the state of the county and its response.
“We’ve had quite bit of rain,” Meyer said. “He’s given us updates on a continual basis since this thing started pretty heavily on Sunday evening.”
“On Sunday we saw roughly 2.3 inches of rain in the county between an hour and a hour and a half. The majority of that rain fell across the St. Clairsville area moving southward,” Ivan said. “Basically all the way into Neffs, out (Ohio) 149, all the way into Glencoe. We’ve been out doing damage assessments (Tuesday).
“Sunday night we had a report of a vehicle in a creek with possibly someone trapped in it (in Neffs), so Monday we did an extensive search. We found the vehicle and we came to find out that vehicle was parked, was picked up by the flood waters and taken down the creek,” Ivan said. “We debunked a few rumors and found out it was fine. There was nobody reported missing.”
Ivan added that his department has been focused on damage assessment for the past few days.
“We’ve been going around the county, looking at all affected areas, seeing how much damage we’ve got,” he said. “Paperwork will be going out to all the townships and municipalities in regards to the damage they received. This is a rather lengthy process. It just doesn’t happen overnight. We’re a week and a half out before we have any firm numbers as to what we’re looking at. The whole time we’re in communication with the state.”
He said the American Red Cross also has been in the area, going door-to-door and asking if residents require cleanup kits. Ivan added that crews are also available to assist in mucking out basements.
Ivan said there are thresholds for public and private damage that must be met before the state will make a declaration of emergency.
“We have to have, statewide, collectively about $17 million worth of damage,” Ivan said. “It doesn’t just have to be Belmont County. If other counties have experienced problems due to this event also, all that collectively comes together.”
Guests included Richard Hord of Martins Ferry, who inquired about the state’s 10.5 cent additional gasoline tax and added 19-cent tax for diesel fuel, which went into effect in July. Hord asked about the impact of the funds on infrastructure maintenance.
Meyer said up to $1.8 million would be going to each county in the state, with Belmont County expecting to begin collecting by spring. Afterward, Belmont County Engineer Terry Lively said his office might receive an additional $1.7 million.
“They’re both estimates. We can’t spend money based on estimates. We’ll have to wait and see what comes in,” Lively said, adding that this will be in addition to the $5 million budget of two years ago from license plate fees and gas tax. “The increase is significant.”
Lively noted last year’s decision by the commissioners to increase license plate fees meant an additional $800,000, but much of that has gone to matching funds for repairs after heavy rains in 2018. The increase will likely mean a budget of more than $7 million.
“The gasoline tax … whatever that’s going to be when we get a full year of it, that I plan on doing some paving, some equipment repair, maybe some guardrail replacement with it, but then again we’re having another year this year like we had last year with the constant rains and damages,” he continued. “Even though I’m hoping and planning to do some paving next year, there’s no way to know what’s going to happen the rest of this year. If it continues the way it has the first half of the year, I may be spending all that money on keeping roads open with slip repairs and rebuilding road that have washed out. It’s certainly my hope and intention to do some paving next year, but we’re going to deal with whatever Mother Nature (has for us). … It’s a little hard to plan for next year if we don’t know what’s happening this year.”
In other matters, at the request of Richland Township officials and residents, the commissioners have drafted a letter of opposition to a possible injection well that a New Jersey-based company intends to place at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ohio 331. The application is being reviewed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The letter states that while oil and gas interests are and will remain a valued part of the county’s future, the presence of an injection well at such a highly traveled site has raised concerns. The letter will be sent to the governor and other state officials.