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Loudon Township officials bring road concerns to Jefferson County commissioners

STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County commissioners had a pair of public participation sessions during Thursday’s meeting pertaining to two very different issues, and one raised a concern that required a lengthy discussion.

The board heard from Loudon Township Trustees Allan Furbee and Paul Simmons through a Zoom conference about the ongoing Amsterdam sewer project, sharing the township’s concerns about how the project is affecting a number of roadways in the township.

Michael Eroshevich, county water and sewer director; representatives from Arcadis, the county’s water and sewer engineering consulting firm; and Carroll County Commissioner Jeff Ohler participated in the call.

Among the township concerns is a road that was a chip-sealed and has been damaged as a result of work being done as part of the Amsterdam project, and it being too late in the year for it to be re-finished. They proposed having the road paved by the contractor, which the commissioners pushed back against.

“I doubt that there is anything in our contract that would ask the contractor to do that,” Commissioner Tom Gentile said.

“The township trustees, doing their job of defending their community, may have a different opinion than what the contractors have as to what is restored back to good condition, which is going to put the commissioners here in a little bit of a pickle,” Commissioner Dave Maple said. “This definition of what restoration means is going to be key to both parties.

“The quicker we can zero in on the areas we think are a concern or we may not agree upon, the quicker we can start working on a resolution. With all due respect to the trustees, there may be a resolution you’re not happy with, or we’re not happy with, but the quicker we can get there, we should.”

Township officials said they are concerned they won’t be able to salt the road when winter weather hits.

Among the other concerns they brought up was a road that the township paved in 2019 that has had three sections cut out of it for the project. The trustees said they were not included in communications about the project, so they were not aware that the road would be disturbed when it was paved.

Arcadis representative Chris Sporer said while the township not being contacted directly might have been an oversight, Carroll County was and there were multiple public meetings the trustees could have attended.

It was noted by Eroshevich at the request of Commissioner Thomas Graham that at least three public meetings were held about the project.

After a lengthy discussion, the trustees and commissioners agreed to find common ground to resolve the issues.

“I don’t blame (the trustees) one bit for bringing these concerns to the table — they should be addressed,” Graham said. “Whatever we’re supposed to do should be done and will be done. We’ll make sure that happens according to the contract.”

The second set of public comments came from county resident Russell Grimm about the lack of high-speed Internet access in parts of the county.

He detailed to the commissioners how, especially during the pandemic, the need for better Internet has became more and more pressing.

“What impact would a school system shutdown like the one currently in New York have on our area in the outlying areas?” he asked the board. “I’ve heard of parents being required to take their children to the library or a McDonald’s just to get connection so they can do their homework assignments.”

He gave the commissioners a copy of Ohio House Bill 13, which part of pertains to county involvement in potential Internet improvements. The bill has not yet been passed by the state Senate.

He said he has had conversations with commissioner-elect Tony Morelli; state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction; the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission; and the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, about Internet issues in the region.

Morelli, who has been attending the meetings and listed expanded Internet service in the county as one of the planks of his campaign platform, noted the issue is one he had worked on as a private citizen and offered to take the lead on the county’s efforts when he takes office in January. He will replace Gentile, who did not seek re-election.

“I am excited a little by changes that are taking place on a federal and state level,” Maple said, noting as things currently stand there is not much within the board’s power that can be done. “County commissioners, under Ohio Revised Code, have a certain amount of powers. And, they’re very detailed. None of those powers include anything to do with Internet.

“I think COVID has really motivated people to start creating new paths and avenues. There is truly a need.”

Maple noted that if the House bill does get passed by the Senate and become law, it could create some opportunities at the county level. He also said COVID could lead to high-speed Internet access being recognized as a utility, rather than just a private service.

“If you live, not even far out, you may live just a little ways out and have not good Internet service,” Gentile said. “I would hope that you see some steps in the Ohio Legislature.

“I think some of the leadership in the new structure of the Ohio Legislature is from rural counties, and I think that’s a big deal,” he added, stating he had a conversation with state Rep.-elect Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville. “You don’t just have your leadership just being from the three Cs. Hopefully that leads to some good things coming from the state level.”

“It’s not a new problem,” Graham said. “We’ve been dealing with it for years through the Jefferson County Port Authority, through BHJ, everybody knows we need broadband in so many areas. If (H.B. 13) gets passed, it’s a starting point. I sympathize with all of you who have lousy Internet. If there is a way to make (improvements happen, I’m all for it.”

With Debbie Hukill of the County Risk Sharing Authority, the county’s insurance provider, present, Gentile raised concerns about the board of health and its coverage under the county’s plan stemming from his attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“As I left the meeting, it left me with tremendous concerns that CORSA, our insurance, is covering the actions of the board given some of the things that I saw happen,” Gentile said.

According to Gentile, he had a dispute with Dr. Patrick Macedonia of the board of health about whether or not the board falls under the county’s insurance.

“When I have a health department board member yell at me and say they have their own insurance … and I have no say in anything to do with that board, when every one of those employees sitting there is a county employee and we have them ensured and they don’t even realize the implications of that, I have a problem,” Gentile said.

Maple asked Hukill to clarify the policy.

“They are listed on the Jefferson County commissioners policy as a board that is covered,” she said, noting she’s never been asked a similar question before.

“It’s a cost-saving measure and it joins you together,” she said.

“If one of their members thinks they have their own insurance and they’re not insured by the county, then I really think we need to have a dialogue of what it is we’re doing.”

She went to say that she would guess that most counties have their boards of health similarly covered, detailing why the policy is set up the way it is.

“The (county entity) pushing us up in claims during the last few years has not been the board of health,” Maple said, citing the airpark board. “I understand (Gentile) is making a (point about) a potential behavioral concern that could be an insurance concern.”

“The difference in some of the loss is what we had at the airport. Granted there might have been one (human resources) case, but 90 percent of what happened there was an act of God, it was weather-related. What I’m trying to point out (about the board of health) is something that is clearly avoidable, and that is a board being irresponsible in the actions they take.”

Maple defended the board of health, pointing out it is mostly comprised of new members.

“I support the current board,” Maple said. “They’re new, very new, and they’ve got a lot of stuff that they’ve got to sort out. Three of those members (joined) within the last year. My concerns were greater a year ago with the previous board.”

“I think educating them is a good idea,” Graham said of Hukill communicating with the board of health. “I think that would be a good thing.”

In other business, the commissioners made appointments for the Airport Zoning Board of Appeals. Gentile appointed Phil Bender, pending a legal opinion on his eligibility because served on the Airport Zoning Commission; Maple appointed Taylor Cain; and Mike Paprocki was appointed on behalf of Graham, who had to leave the meeting early.

The commissioners have two more appointments to make in the coming weeks.

Next week’s meeting will be held on Wednesday because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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