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Kasich visited, bridge exploded in February

December 21, 2012
From staff reports , The Herald-Star

February was a month for big news, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich making an historic visit to Steubenville and hundreds turning out on a chilly, winter morning to view the explosive demolition of the Fort Steuben Bridge.

Kasich presented his State of the State address on Feb. 7 in Steubenville, the first time in history the event was moved outside the Statehouse in Columbus.

Kasich said he moved the venue to Steubenville to show he's interested in being involved with residents in all parts of the state. Steubenville High School was chosen for the site because Wells Academy, the primary school on its first floor, earned the state's top scores in state testing proficiency in math and reading for the 2010-11 school year.

State and local lawmakers as well as community residents filled the school's auditorium for a 90-minute speech in which Kasich called for reforms in education and work force training and acknowledged the future of the shale drilling industry.

The governor mentioned public speculation of a local cracker plant for the oil and gas industry but focused his comments on MarkWest and its plans to develop new processing plants in Harrison and Monroe counties.

With Kasich came many state legislators and officials, who visited Easter Gateway Community College, the Jefferson County 911 Center and Department of Job and Family Services, American Legion Post 33 and Bantam Ridge Elementary School in Wintersville, among other sites, to discuss issues and hear concerns.

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Later that month, hundreds of area residents gathered atop the hill near Buckeye Street in Steubenville, at Freedom Way in Weirton and even along U.S. Route 22 to view the demolition of the Fort Steuben Bridge on Feb. 21.

Many used video or digital cameras or a cellular phone to shoot photos as at about 7:15 a.m., the bridge's towers and cables and trusses fell with a series of explosive blasts, each detonated only milliseconds apart by Controlled Demolition Inc. of Pheonix, Md.

As a precaution, the Veterans Memorial Bridge, state Route 7 and the Ohio River were closed to traffic within a 1,000-foot radius of the span.

Pieces of the bridge, some weighing as much as 120,000 pounds, were lifted from the Ohio River by crane and loaded onto barges, as crews worked to meet the Coast Guard's requirement that everything be removed within 24 hours following the demolition.

Prior to the blast, crews with the Joseph B. Fay Co. of Russellton, Pa., contractor for the $2.3 million project, removed the span's 1,225-foot deck in 10-foot sections.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation said before the blast small explosive charges were set off in the river to deter fish from entering the area.

A section of the Ohio River tower was left because city officials plan to convert it into an observation deck, with a pedestrian bridge leading to it from the Steubenville Marina.

ODOT called for the bridge to be closed in 2009, citing deteriorating conditions, costs to rehabilitate and maintain it and decreased use since its weight limit was lowered to prohibit heavy trucks. The move resulted in the bridge's traffic flow dropping from about 20,000 vehicles per day to 6,000 vehicles per day, officials said.

Wasseem Khalifa, district bridge engineer for ODOT, said cracks were found in the deck during a routine inspection and they indicated the span's joints had begun to fail.

The span opened in 1928 as a private toll bridge and was the first Ohio River suspension bridge to have a concrete floor. A free facility since the 1950s, when the state of Ohio became its permanent owner, it underwent several rehabilitations.

In other news in February:

The construction of three new, voter-approved high school stadiums in the Tri-State Area was proceeding smoothly, as Weir, Oak Glen and Toronto high schools prepared for football seasons at new homes.

All three former stadiums had been demolished, and construction began in January for the Weir and Oak Glen stadiums. Toronto solicited for bids to replace its stadium in February.

Built in the 1930s, the Toronto stadium was renovated through $700,000 raised through a bond measure approved by voters in November 2010 that also included construction of a new district building. Changes included new home-side bleachers, entrance facade, restrooms, pressbox and fencing as well as handicapped-accessible accommodations. It has retained the name Clarke Hinkle Field, for the football hall-of-famer who hailed from Toronto.

Plans for the Weir and Oak Glen fields included artificial turf, seating for more than 3,000, restrooms, game locker rooms, concession stands, a press box, scoreboard, sound system, upgraded lighting, repair and resurfacing of an eight-lane track, fencing, additional parking and handicap-accessible accommodations.

The stadiums were made possible through a $37 million bond levy and $19 million from the state School Building Authority that supported other projects in the school district.

All three stadiums are now complete.

Steubenville Police Capt. Paul Harbert resigned after an internal affairs investigation began in February after he allegedly fired shots from an assault weapon into his personal vehicle in the basement garage of his house in the city's West End.

City Law Director S. Gary Repella said city officers on Jan. 31 responded to Harbert's residence. He was transported to Trinity Medical Center West for a mental and physical problems. Repella said officers found evidence of several rounds of ammunition fired into Harbert's vehicle in the garage.

No charges were filed against Harbert.

Work began Feb. 14 on the $2.3 million Pottery Addition sewer project as county, state and local officials held a groundbreaking ceremony.

The county was under an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandate to install the sewers because of a faulty community septic system that was allowing raw sewage to be dumped into the Ohio River.

The county received $600,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding obtained through the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission, $150,000 from the Ohio Public Works Commission, a $817,736 no-interest loan from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and $817,736 grant from the OEPA.

"This is a great day for Jefferson County and Pottery Addition," said Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham.

Graham noted the EPA was forcing the county to do the project but also provided the bulk of the financing.

The county has reached an agreement with Steubenville to treat the sewage.

With the original Starpointe Business Park near Florence, Pa., nearing capacity, site preparation began in February for Phase II, which will add about 100 usable acres to its development base.

Officials with the Pittsburgh-based real estate company serving as lead developer and broker said Phase II envisions larger parcels of 10-40 acres, though they have the flexibility to subdivide it into smaller spaces if a prospect needs less.

Crews had to move more than 3 million cubic feet of dirt for the project and also install utilities and infrastructure.

Mountain State Carbon found the answer to its backup water supply woes by partnering with the city of Follansbee to buy and install a higher-efficiency pump and filter.

Water, essential to Mountain State's safe operation, is needed to generate the steam to charge the plant's coke oven, evacuate the oven chamber and run its turbines. A water line piggybacked on a railroad bridge between Steubenville and the plant was problematic in cold weather and would have required several hundred thousand dollars in repairs for continued use.

The new pump and filter eliminates the need to truck supplemental water in when turbidity made river water unsuitable for use, making it both a cost-effective and timely solution to the plant's water issues. The upgrade cost Mountain State about $24,000, while the city made about $42,000 in related improvements.

Eastern Gateway Community College eclipsed its historic enrollment records again, with new enrollments pushing the school to an all-time high student count of 2,519 for the spring semester. A 40 percent increase in new students fed the large increase, with Jefferson County recording 25 percent more new students. The 40 percent included large increases in new students for Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties at 118 percent, 70 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Efforts to secure funding for a wider, longer runway at the Jefferson County Airpark continue, with local elected officials saying they'd had "very positive conversations" with the Ohio Department of Transportation about the need for funding.

Traffic in and out of the airpark has steadily increased as oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale has gained momentum in Jefferson and surrounding counties. While numbers have substantially increased, the runway is 600 feet short of the 5,000 feet needed to safely land jets, meet insurance requirements and earn Jefferson County the coveted "regional" airpark designation.

The airport authority hoped to leverage the shale drilling boom to get government funding for the upgrades.

Concerned that too much federal intervention could choke Ohio's fledgling shale oil and gas drilling industry, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and two other conservative members of the House Subcommittee on energy and Mineral Resources were in Steubenville Feb. 27 for a field hearing on hydrofracking.

The hearing featured a cross-section of opinions, pro and con, from 11 Ohioans, including Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman, while a handful of protesters used catcalls and chants to register their dissatisfaction with the process before being escorted from Eastern Gateway Community College's lecture hall.

Steubenville Council agreed at a special meeting on Feb. 9 to sell to Chesapeake Energy up to 700,000 gallons of treated wastewater, raw river water or treated potable water a day for fracking operations over a five-year period.

Chesapeake needs the water for its shale drilling operation near state Route 152 north of Richmond.

City Manager Cathy Davison said the company will pay $5 for every thousand gallons.

Steubenville Fire Chief Terri English, the first woman in the city's fire department and one of only a few female chiefs in Ohio, retired on Feb. 20.

"I had to prove to some of the guys that I could do the job when I was hired. And I had to prove I could keep them safe if we were all out on a call. I don't remember being nervous. I was excited when I started, but I also wanted to make sure I did everything right. There was a lot to learn," said English.

After becoming chief in 2001, English obtained about $1.3 million in grants for equipment for the department.

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