The Times West Virginian

August 18, 2013

Fish or cut bait correct message when it comes to the riverfront

Times West Virginian

— It’s time to fish or cut bait.

That’s the message that the Marion County Commission has for the City of Fairmont over a deal to trade the county’s 100 block of Adams Street for the city’s piece of Palatine Park.

The county wants to develop the riverfront using land it purchased from CSX in June. The county wants to use land that extends from the Bauer Building/Election Center to the site of the former Low Level Bridge and clear out space for walking trails, restrooms, fishing docks, boat docks and ramps, a splash park, picnic tables, parking, pavilions, a water garden and maybe even a gazebo for weddings.

It’s something that has been on the planning wish list of the city for more than a dozen years. What the city has lacked is major funding to even start such an endeavor or an anchor business that would keep the momentum of development going.

Even without an anchor business, the county can achieve great things with the plan it has released. With that $800,000 investment, there’s no doubt that weekly fishing tournaments could be held along the banks of the Mon River. And there is major money to be had from those kind of tournaments — from beds being filled in local hotels and motels to purchases being made in stores by out-of-town guests to seats being taken in local restaurants by hungry fishermen and their families.

So we’ll say it again. It’s time to fish or cut bait.

Why? The city has yet to even talk about the trade. There has been very little discussion at Fairmont City Council meetings, other than updates from Charlie Reese, the director of the Marion County Development Office. There hasn’t even been an executive session in the nearly two months since the county unveiled the plan to city council.

These types of discussions, as we all know, have to take place during official meetings. The city says it needs time to dot I’s and cross T’s. But if there has been no official discussion of the proposal, we say the nine elected members of city council seem to be dragging their feet on even discussing what the county has to offer, much less giving it serious consideration. They haven’t even asked for public comment to gauge what city residents want to see. After all, aren’t these elected members of council accountable to the people who put them there?

When council members have expressed concern over trading property, not once have they mentioned Fairmont residents. Yes, council serves as a steward of public funds and property, but we elect them to make the decisions based on what is best in the short-term and long-term for the city and its residents, not their legacy or ego.

Council has said it will discuss options at its Aug. 27 meeting behind closed doors. They are within their rights to do so, as consideration of the purchase, sale or trade of property is a matter that is exempt from open-meeting laws.

But on Aug. 27, we certainly hope that council comes out of that chamber with an answer. Yes or no, the county is going to move forward. Having a fully developed riverfront, including the city’s portion of Palatine Park, would be ideal and in the best interest of all residents of Marion County, including the nearly 20,000 who live in the City of Fairmont.

Few would say a developed riverfront is a bad thing. If that’s the case, does it matter who got the job done? Have egos gotten in the way? Are leaders more concerned with equity than what’s best for the residents of the city? This decision now rests in the votes of nine members of city council.

After two months, it’s time to make a decision. Your residents deserve one. Fish or cut bait.