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Guest column/Area must makes plans now for anticipated growth

November 6, 2011
By JOE SCALISE , The Herald-Star

It has been announced that the Steubenville area is the epicenter of one of the largest gas deposits in the world. An influx of jobs and lucrative lease agreement should lead to an economic boon for our area. But this fact alone doesn't mean that our community will flourish.

Without adequate scrutiny, planning and management it could actually be a nightmare in the long run. This is not a time to rush into anything. There are numerous ramifications involved in the recovery process that need to be examined and addressed to ensure that that our environment and citizens are protected. We must prepare for future growth which should include a five- and 10-year plan.

Data on the recovery process is slowly developing and the people that we depend on to run our local government, both county and city, will need to stay abreast of studies and reports to avoid problems down the road. They must also establish who is responsible for any site cleanup in the event of contamination or abandonment of a drilling site. Monitoring community safety should be an ongoing process.

A number of factors come into play in making certain that we are prepared for growth. While we plan for growth and development we must first establish what the lifespan of the predicted economic growth would be. What is the lifespan of a gas well? How is employment effected as the recovery process yields to just pumping and distribution? How many temporary workers will move here and how long before they move on to another site? Municipal services must be fluctuated to handle population influx. Services such as utilities (water and waste water), garbage pick-up, traffic flow, road maintenance and improvement, snow removal, blight demolition and recreational improvement will all have to be assessed and projections for growth will have to be addressed by a five- and 10-year plan. Without forethought and planning, our community will be mired in chaos. If we want to enhance future growth, we must present a modernized infrastructure, adequate housing, expanded health centers, quality schools, more entertainment and recreation facilities and above all a well staffed and equipped fire department and an expanded police presence with big city capabilities.

Our police and sheriff departments must be staffed and equipped to provide a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to crime. There is already sufficient data that shows that while not all transient workers in the gas recovery industry are prone to crime, it is a fact that transient workers with a lot of money in their pockets and not enough available entertainment and recreation tend to push the envelope and we should establish a cooperative effort between police and the court system that announces a zero-tolerance attitude. The judicial system must have the ability to deal with courtroom traffic as well as be provided sufficient jail space to back up the efforts of law enforcement. Training to aid our police in anticipating the types of crimes that are endemic to community growth and transient workers should be developed. And a gameplan for cleaning up the existing criminal element is a must because they will also see the economic boon as an opportunity to expand their horizons. Again, with the help of the sheriff and local police chiefs, data can be submitted for a five- and 10-year plan.

There are many innovations needed to prepare for an economic boon. Some have yet to be identified and that is why it would be fruitful to develop a community planning and growth summit that includes county officials and at least two representatives from each community involved in the projected growth in Jefferson County which, through research and consultation with department heads, can identify shortcomings and future demands. A cooperative effort among communities can assist in sharing planning and development goals.

As citizens, we have the responsibility of electing representation who are qualified and dedicated to staying on top of this coming boom. As a private citizen, you should pass on ideas that may help the planning process to city or county officials. Also, we may have to show some flexibility and patience during an adjustment period. There will be a price to pay for the rejuvenation of our community, but if we all work together, this may be a prime time to return opportunity to the youth of our community and make it unnecessary for them to relocate in pursuit of gainful employment.

(Scalise, a resident of Steubenville, is a member of the community revitalization board and is the city's former service director and a former member of the planning and fair housing commissions.)

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