‘How Bad Must the Roads Get?’: Marshall County Superintendent Demands Action

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Crook speaks Wednesday during a town hall meeting at the Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department. Photo by Alan Olson

MOUNDSVILLE — The superintendent of Marshall County Schools made a frank demand Wednesday night about the poor conditions of roads in the county: “Somebody’s going to get killed, and we need to fix the roads before that.”

Jeffrey Crook described crumbling cliffs in Marshall County to a panel of invited speakers during a town hall meeting at the Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department. Crook was, himself, also a speaker during the event. While identifying a dilapidated portion of Middle Grave Creek Road — backed by several comments from the more than 100 others in attendance, who asked, “Which one?” — Crook said road conditions in the county were bad enough that the district was beginning to consider closing some bus routes because they are impassable.

“I’m picturing a bus going down, stops at the ‘alternate traffic’ stop sign, and when the bus goes, that (road) collapses into the river and hurts our kids,” Crook said, drawing applause. “These slips out here are getting so bad and so dangerous, we may have to consider closing some of our routes. … With the road conditions, you elected officials need to find this stuff out, now!”

Crook praised West Virginia Division of Highways workers, who he said worked with the school district exceedingly well. But he called on legislators to put pressure on the state to take more meaningful action.

“What’s it going to take? I don’t want it to be when our kids get hurt, or our drivers get hurt, because of a slip,” he said. “I’ve seen video of these big tractor-trailers, when they come up to the road where there’s a slip, they run my bus into the ditch. … God knows, it’s going to be on me if something happens to our kids, and I’m not going to be responsible for that. I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure these roads get fixed, now.”

Most of the blame for poor road conditions was placed on heavy trucks and other equipment using the county’s roads for oil and gas work. Resident George Bamberger, who is the marketing director for a local law firm, expressed frustration with the wear and tear put on the roads by the equipment. He asked for companies to be held accountable for the damage.

“At the end of Nixon Ridge, there are two big pipeline companies putting big workloads — Blue Racer and TransCanada,” he said. “Both companies have a responsibility to sign a performance bond to take care of Nixon Ridge. … They promise to restore the road to a condition it was in before they used it. Of course, the road’s already in deplorable condition from previous use, so you go out there and survey it, and of course the contention of the companies is going to be, ‘Hey, this is the condition before we began to use it.’

“Then you have Blue Racer and TransCanada both using the road, both saying the other one is the one that caused the damage,” Bamberger added. “In addition, the road’s broken. It’s not a matter of putting more gravel down or repaving it. That’s not going to repair Nixon Road. All that traffic has broken the bed of the road. It needs restored, not just repaved.”

Several elected and appointed officials representing different levels of government and public works attended the nearly three-hour meeting. They include delegates Joe Canestraro, Mike Ferro and Lisa Zukoff; state Sen. Mike Maroney; Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Cecil; and Marshall County Commissioner Scott Varner. Ferro is a county-commissioner-elect. Maintenance assistant Justin Cain represented the Division of Highways District 6. He fielded numerous questions ranging from the transparency of government to the status of long-suffering potholes.

One resident questioned Cecil as to how effectively enforcement was being handled on the trucks, many of whom, the resident said, came through his neighborhood at high speed.

“We’ve had some problem areas, and as we get those complaints, we assign officers to them,” Cecil said. “One of the traffic lights on U.S. 250 we had guys who routinely ran the light. Photos were taken, we actually charged the individual and cited them with traffic violations. … I’ve got 18 patrols, deputies, to cover this entire county of 306 square miles. We have more secondary roads than any other county in W.Va., and that’s between answering calls for service, accidents, criminal investigations, drug investigations. Personally, I think we do a pretty good job.”

Cain said many problems and frustrations with road conditions are because of a breakdown in communications and a lack of assurance in which agency people should contact for various issues. He said the DOH is working on those issues internally.

“I think we’ve got some more things in place to make sure the left hand is talking to the right hand,” he said. “I think we’re doing a little better at coordinating in some capacity. I know it’s happened, but hopefully it won’t happen as much.”

The senators, delegates and officials-elect present all took notes — holding note pad aloft when questioned — on the concerns their constituents had raised.

Earlier in the meeting, several of those attending asked questions about how money has been spent, and where the money would come from to fix other problem areas. Neither Cain nor others were able to address those questions.

Resident Steve Yoho took issue with the answers he did receive.

“That’s the problem — no one’s 100 percent sure,” Yoho said. “Transparency is what we need. It’s too easy to just say ‘I don’t know’ all night long.”