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Manhole thefts in city pose threat, Towarnicki says
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer
Recent manhole lid thefts throughout the city are posing a serious threat to area residents, motorists and animals, Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki told Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.
Towarnicki told council members that “quite a few” manhole lids, and in some instances frames into which the lids fit, have been stolen in recent weeks.
“Obviously, that’s a very serious issue for wildlife, pets, individuals” and motorists who might not realize the lids are missing, he said.
He did not give a specific number of lids that have been taken.
Manhole lids are 24 or 25 inches in diameter, Towarnicki said. When the frame is removed as well, a hole 21?2 to 3 feet across is left in the ground.
The holes are from 2 to 3 feet to as much as 10 to 15 feet deep, Towarnicki said. That poses a danger to pedestrians and pets and also to motorists, who could incur severe vehicle damage or cause accidents if they run into an uncovered hole.
Towarnicki said each lid costs about $250, plus labor, to replace.
He said he presumes the lids are being stolen so they can be used to weigh down vehicles that are being sold for scrap. A heavier vehicle would bring a better price, he indicated.
The lids, which are made of cast iron, do not have much value, he said.
Towarnicki encouraged residents who see suspicious activity around manholes to call 911 and report it.
Also during its meeting Tuesday, the council:
• Heard from Bryant Gammon, a representative of Highmark Engineering LLC, which plans to develop property on Spruce Street for a Dollar General store.
Gammon discussed the retailer’s plans to build a 9,100-square-foot store on a six-acre site at 1150 Spruce St. To do so, officials have asked that the property be rezoned for commercial instead of professional use.
Councilman Gene Teague asked Gammon why Dollar General would rather build a new store than use an existing property, such as the former Food Lion building nearby on Spruce or a location in the shopping center on Brookdale Street where the supermarket now is.
Gammon said he could not speak directly to those properties, but in general, available sites are not as large as Dollar General requires; there is less autonomy in a strip mall or other rental setting; and Dollar General likes to design its stores based on a single prototype “to make an identity for themselves.”
Gammon speculated that the other properties might be more expensive than the one Dollar General selected.
Gammon also said that building a more “dressed up” building, such as one with all-brick siding, would cost about $40,000 to $50,000 more than is in the budget for this store.
Council agreed to schedule a public hearing on the rezoning request May 8.
• Endorsed the city’s current transportation priorities, which will be included in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six-Year Improvement Plan.
The top priority on the list is work on Liberty Street, followed by widening and realigning a section of Fayette Street and endorsing the building of Interstate 73 and the widening of U.S. 58.
Towarnicki noted that funds are not available for most of the projects.
• Heard from Councilman Mark Stroud, who asked Towarnicki to prepare a report on stop signs recently installed at the intersection of Old Spruce Street and Corn Tassel Trail. Stroud said he has heard comments from several residents about the new stop signs.
• Agreed to set the city’s budget presentation at 7 p.m. April 26. Budget work sessions will be held at 4 p.m. May 1 and May 3.
• Adopted on first reading zoning ordinance amendments pertaining to pawn shops. Those and other agenda items will be reported on in the Martinsville Bulletin on Thursday.