By Frank Lewis
August 14, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
If the Ohio Department of Transportation and other government bodies need the support of Portsmouth City Council for the Portsmouth Bypass Project, they are apparently not going to get it.
“I think it’s the height of arrogance,” Portsmouth City Council President Steve Sturgill said, after Portsmouth Mayor David Malone sprung the resolution on them at the last minute following the Portsmouth City Council meeting Monday.
The resolution read in part - “The LPA (city of Portsmouth) agrees that all right-of-way required for the described project will be acquired and/or made available in accordance with current State and Federal regulations. The LPA also understands that right-of-way costs include eligible utility costs. The LPA agrees that all utility accommodation relocation and reimbursement will comply with the current provisions of 23 CFR 645 and the ODOT Utilities Manual.”
The resolution continued - “Upon completion of the Project, and unless otherwise agreed, the LPA shall not be held accountable for any maintenance of said highway.”
Malone presented the resolution and said ODOT wanted it as an emergency issue. That is when Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows asked, “Mr. Mayor can you tell us why they want our approval now. They didn’t seem to want to talk with us about it previously.”
The conversation went down hill from there.
The issue centered around what Portsmouth Council President Steve Sturgill said was ODOT’s non-response to a request to meet with Council, and his perception that the city was not invited to the meetings, which were by invitation only.
“Actually they have met with me as the representative of the city.” Malone said.
“What happens if we say no?” Meadows asked.
“I think the project would still go on,” Malone responded.
“It’s the height of arrogance, for the Department of Transportation and our State Representative to come and ask us to do something like this, after several of us have asked them to sit and talk with us about this issue,” Sturgill added.
Sturgill said he attended one of the meetings after his employer told him he should go to find out what they were talking about.
“I asked them (ODOT) to come and talk to City Council and at least show some respect about - ‘hey, the county seat, we’re moving through with this bypass, and we’d like to have your concerns and your input,’” Sturgill said. “If this is a matter of formality, after the fact, this makes no sense to me.”
Sturgill made reference to - “some public comment meeting that didn’t get advertised.”
Sturgill continued - “I wrote and asked for an audience - asked them to come here for 15 minutes. Again, they obviously didn’t need input to begin with. They’re going to do it no matter what we say.”
Sturgill referred to the project as “bypassing our community, which is only going to lead to further financial issues for us.”
Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas said the resolution is only that the city would be responsible for anything it wants to do outside the parameters of the project.
“So if we ask for something in our section, we would have to pay for it,” Haas said. “That’s what we’re agreeing to.”
One section of the resolution reads - “The State shall assume and bear 100 percent of all of the costs of the improvement. The LPA agrees to pay 100 percent of the cost of those features requested by the LPA which are determined by the State and Federal Highway Administration to be unnecessary for the Project.”
“I’m not necessarily opposed to the bypass,” Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson said. “But I am opposed to the fact that they won’t come and speak. Shawnee State, when they wanted to close Third Street, they were here for several meetings; King’s Daughters, when they wanted to do things on the (Scioto) Trail, they came here. Is it really asking too much for them to come in and make a presentation on us?”
Kevin E. Johnson then put the nail in the coffin - “I make a motion that we go with alternative No. 3 and take no action on this.”
The vote was unanimous.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.