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Intersection plans, water projects keep Smithsburg officials moving ahead

January 09, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG - In Smithsburg, Town Hall is adorned with black drapes mourning Police Officer Christopher Nicholson, who was killed in the line of duty Dec. 19.

But inside Tuesday night were stacks of agendas that included property maintenance issues, a livability code update and funding requests - a reminder that the day-to-day demands of running a growing town do not slow for grief.

In addition to hiring a new police officer and upgrading the police department's equipment, priorities for the coming year include addressing safety issues at the busy intersection near the town's schools, installing a new water storage tank and completing several projects at Veterans Park, Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said.

The town will hold a meeting Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall to discuss ideas for improving traffic at the entrances to the town's schools on North Main Street, Myers said.

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Without a stoplight, the entrances become congested at the start and end of the school day, and a steep hill limits visibility of children using the crosswalk and vehicles turning out of the schools, she said.

"For about half an hour there, it's a nightmare," Myers said. "It's a wonder that nothing serious has happened there."

In the past, efforts to install a stoplight at the intersection were stalled when the county turned down funding to align the entrance to the high school and middle school on one side of the street with the entrance to the elementary school on the opposite side, Myers said.

However, state, county and school board officials have been more receptive to the idea in recent months, she said.

"Everybody wants to see something done," she said.

Progress has also been steady on the water tank project, which will involve installing a new, 350,000-gallon water storage tank on Federal Lookout Road to expand the town's water storage capacity, Myers said. The town has received a loan for the $748,000 project from the Rural Utilities Service, a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office, Myers said.

The town is waiting for paperwork to go through for the transfer of land from the Washington County Board of Education, which owns the property, Myers said. She expects work on the tank to begin in mid-summer and be completed by the end of the year.

Another water-related project might take longer to complete, Myers said. A 1995 study revealed problems with the transmission line leading from the water storage tanks to the town, she said.

"It's aging," Myers said. "We just cross our fingers every day that nothing will happen."

Before the line can be replaced, the town will need to conduct a planning and engineering process, consider whether to take the replacement line through a shorter route and find about $500,000 in funding, Myers said.

"It's going to probably be a couple of years, but if we don't get it started, we'll never get it done," she said.

Because grants for this type of project are hard to come by, the transmission line will probably involve another loan, and, ultimately, a higher utility bill for town residents, Myers said. However, she said the town will try to minimize the impact.

"We want to keep the yearly cost down so it doesn't affect our customers," she said.

Last month, the council approved the sale of general obligation bonds to help repay the water storage tank loan.

Another priority for the year will be projects to extend a walking trail at Veterans Park and create a second entrance to the park from Cave Hill Road, along with a small pond on that side, Myers said.

The projects are part of the third phase of a five-year plan for the park, she said.

The town has submitted a grant request for funding to extend the walking trail around the perimeter of the park, crossing behind the new library, she said. Officials are working on grant requests for the other work, she said.

A program Myers began in 1997 to overlay all the streets and lanes in the older section of town will be completed this year with the repaving of Bowman and Newman lanes, she said. Next, the town will begin overlaying the first portion of Geiser Way in the Whispering Hills development, the first of the town's newer streets to need attention, she said.

Other plans for the future of the town have been incorporated in an updated and revised comprehensive plan, which will be presented in a public hearing Thursday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, Myers said.

"Once that's approved, that will show how and where the town wants to go," she said.

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