Working hard in Belmont County

Dear Belmont County,

It has been a long and interesting month in Belmont County. As usual we are busy working hard, but this past month has certainly brought some new and challenging issues to the forefront. As always, I find myself amazed at the quality of people who live and work in this county. They say “Hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” This month, we all have had an opportunity to witness some pretty remarkable people who did turn up to help.

The rain brought tragedy to Neffs in the form of flooding and destruction. I have to say that I have never witnessed what I saw the morning of June 20th when I drove to West Echo and saw cars over turned and homes ripped apart. The tragedy is far from over, as many still have not been able to return to their homes, some never will and others are still digging through the mud and debris. Unfortunately, we were notified late this week by Ohio EMA that Belmont County will NOT be receiving State or Federal assistance for the June 19th flooding. Dave Ivan, EMA Director, does have a backup plan and reports that we will be working with volunteer groups from VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Aiding in Disasters) to address the debris problem along with assistance from BeCI. Two remarkable volunteers who have “turned up their sleeves” are Ed Watkins and Carrie Fijalkowski who are currently acquiring volunteers and supplies to assist individuals with clean up. VOAD, Carrie and Ed have begun working on long term recovery for these people. The EMA is in the process of getting right of entry forms signed by the residents that live along the creek so that they can proceed with clean up. It is sad the state cannot help, but as usual we are prepared to take care of our own and we will do everything possible to see that what needs done is taken care of.

Monday evening we will be in Barton with officials from the Ohio EPA to discuss the creeks and sewage problems. You will recall we had the EPA in last year to test the creek water as it has been a concern for some time. Tomorrow we will hear the results of the water tests and discuss sewage problems. We have asked the EPA to assist in assessing what, if anything can be done.

I think the people of Barton want to know if they will ever get sewage. We need to determine the cost to see if it is even financially feasible. If it is, then we need to develop a plan that the county can follow over the next few years to fund the project. If it truly cannot be done, then we need to know what other options are available.

We are very close to finally seeing sewage in Neffs. It was apparent that the recent flooding scared many of the Neffs residents, as we were immediately questioned whether or not the funding for the Neffs Sewage Project would be pulled.

The answer is NO. The project continues to move forward and we are hoping that it will go out to bid soon.

We held the first Household Hazardous Waste Clean Up in Barnesville recently and were astounded by the turnout! Kudos to Warren Township Trustee Jimmy Grear for spearheading the effort. The JB Green Team has committed to an annual HHW Clean Up in each county in the future rather than the one in each county every other year in the past. Thank you to all who brought your hazardous waste out. We truly appreciate your commitment to preserving our environment.

I am sure that most of you know of the records catastrophe we have been dealing with in the courthouse. Bob Hunker of the Clerk of Courts brought to the attention of the Records Commission that it looked as though their mezzanine was pulling away from the wall. We hired Vaughn Coast &Vaughn to do an assessment on both the Clerk of Courts and Recorders mezzanines and the attic. We were shocked to say the least to discover that the records being stored on the mezzanine were three times the weight limit allowed. We were stunned to be informed that the attic, which had caved in on the common pleas court room in 1991 was never supposed to house any storage at all. The Records Commission, which is comprised of myself (Commissioner), Andy Sutak (Auditor), Chris Berhalter (Prosecutor), Mary Catherine Nixon (Recorder) and Cindy McGee (Clerk of Courts), took immediate action calling for an emergency evacuation of the courthouse attic and relocation of all records on both mezzanines.

This by all means is no small feat and has required a great deal of effort and hard work from Jack Regis and the entire maintenance crew, summer employees and the employees of all of the courthouse departments. A great deal of character has certainly been spotlighted in this effort. The elected officials involved in both the records commission and those with records in the attic all acted in the most responsible manner. It was an inconvenience that required two offices to be closed and people to stop what they were doing but not one of them complained. Everyone involved took the safety of the courthouse employees and the public to be the most important issue. We are still working on removing files and are working to have the problem with the mezzanines fixed.

Thank you to all who have given of your time to help clean up in Neffs, Bridgeport, Lansing and the other areas that were damaged.

The EMA and its volunteers, Belmont Correctional Institute, The Belmont County Engineers Department, the Salvation Army, Pultney, Colerain, Richland, Pease and Mead Township Trustees, Ohio WV Excavating, ODOT, the Belmont County Health Department, Mayor John Callarik, Neffs Fire Department, JB Green Team’s Executive Director Jack Cera and Tammy Shepherd and the many, many church groups who have “showed up and rolled up their sleeves” in order to help others. Your character is the backbone of this county. It is what makes Belmont County such a special place to live. We care about people here and when things get rough, people show up.