At the Marlinton Town Council meeting Monday night, Pocahontas County Schools transportation director Ruth Bland shocked members of council with her report concerning motorists who disobey signs when Marlinton Elementary School is loading and unloading school buses.
Bland said it has been an issue for quite some time, and she, the board and faculty are concerned for the safety of the students.
“It has become quite serious,” she said. “There are buses lined up on both sides of Ninth Street and we do have motorists actually driving through the middle of those buses, even when the lights are on.”
“And I’m in the middle of those buses,” classroom aide Tabbi McCoy interjected.
The teachers who are on bus duty, including McCoy, have fluorescent safety vests and flags to direct traffic, but the issue continues.
Mayor Sam Felton contacted the West Virginia State Police and Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department to have at least one officer on duty during loading and unloading times, but it is difficult to guarantee an officer is available every day.
Bland said having an officer does help, but she said there are other measures she would like to take.
“We are now equipping our school buses with Angel Track Systems where there are cameras on the outside of the buses that are right below the stop arms that go to the front of the bus and behind the bus, and we are able to pick up license plate numbers,” Bland said.
She added that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently signed Senate Bill 13 which has slightly changed the law concerning motorists passing school buses.
The law now allows for the use of license plate numbers to charge individuals in the crime. For a first offense, the minimum fine is $250 for passing a stopped school bus that has flashing lights. The maximum fine for first offense is $500 and no more than six months in jail.
A third offense charge includes an automatic 24 hours in jail.
With those solutions in place, Bland asked council to consider her proposal to place signs on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue to ensure motorists know they cannot pass the buses when they are loading and unloading.
“One of the proposals that we would ask is that we place bigger, brighter, bolder signage in that area so they know that those buses are loading from 3:30 to 4 p.m. every afternoon and from 7:30 to 8 a.m. every morning,” Bland said.
Councilmember Norris Long suggested having the streets officially closed during those times – an action the state Department of Highways would have to approve. Long also said the state will need to approve any signs.
Whatever the cost or action needed, Bland said she is willing and ready to do anything to ensure the safety of students.
“There has to be something done that the motorists understand that we don’t want you in between there,” she said. “Perhaps the citizenry does not understand that we do transport three-year-olds on our buses. We have three-year-olds all the way up to nineteen and twenty-year-olds on our buses. They are the most precious things we have in our community, and we must protect them. We just need a little bit more help on being able to manage Ninth [Street] and Fifth Avenue as we’re loading and unloading.”
Council agreed to help the school in any way it can. While council did not vote on the issue, it did give verbal agreement to the signs, as well as offered to loan sawhorses to MES to block the streets while the buses are there.
Felton also suggested the buses park diagonally in order to completely block the street and intersection while loading and unloading.
Bland thanked council for its assistance and said she would return with updates if the issue continues.
Council was agreeable with regard to signs for the school, but less so when it came to a 12 foot by 24 foot sign proposal from Ric White, who owns and installs outdoor advertising for businesses in towns and cities.
White gave a presentation to council in which he proposed installing a sign at the intersection of Routes 219 and 39, near the bridge in Marlinton. White said the sign is a way for town businesses to attract attention of motorists who may bypass downtown Marlinton as they travel through the county.
On his signs, White rents space to businesses for a monthly fee.
Council shared several concerns with the proposed sign.
Councilmember Mark Strauss said because Route 39 is a scenic byway, there are strict rules concerning advertising. He also said the land where the proposed sign would be erected is owned by the Marlinton Housing Authority and White would have to discuss the sign with its board.
Strauss added that he was opposed to having a “double stack” sign for the town.
Recorder B.J. Gudmundsson said she was more concerned about the image a 12 x 24 foot sign would give the town.
“First off, I am seriously opposed to a sign of this kind at the intersection in Marlinton,” she said. “Any kind of a sign immediately gives a perception of what your town is all about. It tells people what the landscape is about. I am opposed to this.”
Gudmundsson added that the planning commission is just now forming and approving a sign of this nature may be premature before a comprehensive plan can be drafted.
“The planning commission is just starting to meet and working on a comprehensive plan to try to have done in the next year or so, and there’s going to be a lot of public input where the community is going to come forth and tell the planning commission what their vision for the town is and what they want to see the town look like for the next ten years,” she said. “I think to do something like this before the community and citizens have an opportunity to say what they want the landscape to look like is premature, regardless of promoting business.”
White said he understood council’s concerns and stated that if a double stack was out of the question, then he would look for alternative sites for the sign outside of town limits.
In other news/updates:
• Pocahontas County Farmers Market co-president Jo Debra Gandee reported that the markets in Marlinton and Linwood will continue this year, while the Green Bank market has closed. In its place, Gandee said they will have a small market in The Village at Snowshoe and one at Cass.
• 13th Avenue resident Kenneth Faulkiner addressed council as a representative for himself and his neighbors. Faulkiner said 13th Avenue is having drainage issues and asked council to replace the four inch sewer line with a six or eight inch line.
Mayor Felton said council will try to get the issue fixed by the end of the month.
• Council will hold a special meeting April 19 to lay the levy.
• Council declared April as Fair Housing Month.
Council approved the following action:
• Appointment of Jake Krack and Shawn Irvine to the Marlinton Housing Authority. Krack will serve a three year term and Irvine, a four year term.
• Region IV requests for Water System Improvements Project – Resolution 4 and the Small Cities Block Grant Award and Resolution.
• A $200 donation to the Pocahontas County High School carpentry class. The class assisted the town with renovations to Main Street benches.
• A $500 donation to the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau trout stocking fund. The donation will come from the hotel/motel tax section of the budget and will be used to stock streams within town limits.
• A budget revision and resolution to transfer $1,000 from the city hall fund to the planning and zoning commission fund.
• To participate annually in Wreath Across America – a ceremony in which wreaths are placed at the cemetery, in this case, Mountain View Cemetery, in honor of servicemen and women. The ceremony will take place in December and be conducted by the Vietnam Veterans of America and Boy Scout Troop #33.
• The second reading of the Marlinton Tree Ordinance.
Marlinton Town Council meets the first Monday of each month, at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Marlinton Municipal Building.