Steubenville Council will continue marina debate

STEUBENVILLE — Calling proposals to develop Steubenville’s riverfront “a nice dream,” 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna on Tuesday had proposed ending the debate about what to do with a $100,000 state grant for the marina and instead ask lawmakers to redirect the funding to other recreation projects.

Villamagna’s motion died, however, but only because 3rd Ward Councilman Eric Timmons still had questions and 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul felt they should honor a request by Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn, chair of council’s recreation committee, to continue the discussion June 18.

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoretto also voiced concern that 4th Ward Councilman Scott Dressel, who missed the meeting due to a health issue, wouldn’t have a chance to weigh in if they took action in his absence.

Villamagna said afterward he’s confident he has enough votes to at least ask state lawmakers to amend the verbiage of the original award so the money can be spent elsewhere in Steubenville’s recreation system, “and if we can’t get it (redirected), then we’d put the $100,000 into the marina.” Villamagna said he’s “not against the marina,” but feels the money can be better utilized elsewhere in the system.

“We on council sit here every week and listen to complaints about our parks,” Villamagna had said during he meeting. “We listen to (department heads and City Manager Jim Mavromatis) tell us all the time there isn’t enough money or manpower to do everything that needs done in our parks in a timely manner — all three do an extremely good job under these conditions. Do we want to create more recreation that we can’t take care of? (Do) we want to close tot lots that children use while sinking millions into an abandoned property that will benefit a few?”

Villamagna’s motion came after a nearly 45-minute presentation by Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District Watershed Coordinator Aaron Dodds, a certified landscape architect and economic development specialist.

Dodds urged council to use the $100,000 grant in hand to leverage another $300,000 in Clean Ohio Greenspace Conservation fund money that could then be used strictly for recreational activities, or even use it to go after additional grant dollars.

He also pointed out efforts are already under way to develop Jefferson County’s section of a national rails-to-trails network, reminding council the rails-to-trails organization is a federal agency “with a lot of lobbying power.”

“With trails comes tourism, and with tourism comes economic development,” he said, suggesting communities across the U.S. are seeing $300,000 to $1 million in economic activity with every half-mile of rail-trails developed.

“The possibilities are endless,” Dodds insisted. “But things have to start somewhere.”

Asked by Hahn to weigh in, Jefferson County Port Authority Executive Director Evan Scurti said he “likes the vision, the concept of trying to leverage” additional funding with the $100,000 state grant, while former mayor Domenick Mucci Jr. said, “In my opinion, a water line is the first thing you need down there.”

Villamagna, though, was unconvinced, insisting, the area in question “is very narrow, and you have the railroad tracks” to contend with. He pointed out they’d applied for the $100,000 grant before council realized the extent of the city’s infrastructure and spending needs, which include state-mandated municipal court security improvements, security enhancements for the municipal building receptionist, crumbling infrastructure, vacant and dilapidated properties, weeds and looming water tank and reservoir maintenance, condition of playgrounds and parks, repairs to an historic sandstone bridge at Beatty Park, flag poles and a welcome sign at Third and Market streets.

“I’m not anti-marina, I think the marina should be worked on at some point,” Villamagna said. “It’s going to be profitable some day, but we can’t afford to do it. It’s a nice plan, a nice dream.”

DiLoretto said marinas are a good thing, “but we can’t take care of our existing parks. Mr. Mavromatis is coming in with a proposal in the fall to reduce the number of (play sites) from 12 to six.”

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella, who served on the marina committee years ago, said there “could be potential down there to enhance the entrance to the marina.”

“(And) leveraging money, I always like to leverage money,” Petrella said.

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons expressed reservations about asking lawmakers to reassign the grant money to other recreational purposes, saying he was “afraid we’ll lose it” altogether if state lawmakers don’t want to go through the process of amending the change.

Though unable to attend the meeting, Dressell said he’d like to see the city use the grant money to begin concrete repairs at the marina.

“Let (Hahn) have the meeting next week,” Paul to Villamagna. “Then we go from here.”

Hahn called another recreation committee meeting for June 18, saying she “assume(s) we’re all in agreement” that no water department funds would be utilized.

In other action, council was told Belleview Park’s baby pool will soon be opened for the first time in eight years.

The pool’s opening has been delayed by mechanical issues.

Hahn asked council to consider recruiting residents interested in serving on steering committees for individual parks and playsites, pointing out people tend to be passionate about individual sites, not the park system as a whole.

Police Chief Bill McCafferty told council he understands their concerns with high weeds at vacant and dilapidated properties in town, pointing out 10 or more complaints come in almost daily. But as the ordinance is now written, he said they can’t do pre-emptive mowings or weed killings until a property has gone through the court system.

Mavromatis was authorized to sign the contract with James White Construction Co. for Phase II of the water updates.

Also passed was a change to the table of organization reclassifiying a water meter reader position in table of organization to water/wastewater line locator.