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County officials warn commissioners against volunteer demolition

April 01, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS and DON AINES
  • Terry Baker (R)
File Photo,

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Uneasy about spending taxpayer money to tear down an old railroad station on Trego Road, Washington County Commissioner Terry Baker had rallied his fellow commissioners to volunteer for the work themselves when county legal and risk advisers burst into the room to veto the idea.

Baker made the suggestion Tuesday during the weekly meeting of the commissioners as an alternative to having a contractor tear down the dilapidated building, which officials have said was in danger of collapsing onto the road.

A preliminary quote for the demolition was about $26,000, county Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said previously.

"It's just been eating at me, and I'm thinking, here we are, all young men sitting around here, we should be about trying to save the taxpayers and county some money," Baker said. "Why don't we try to get our bodies together and go down there and tear the building down ourselves?"

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Baker suggested using county dump trucks and equipment for the job, recruiting additional volunteers from the Washington County Agricultural Education Center and bringing any salvageable material to the agricultural center for use in restoration projects.

"A little manpower, a couple chain saws, some trucks, and we can get the job done," he said. "So that's the challenge to the commissioners."

With a few jokes about who would be running the chain saws, the other four commissioners quickly agreed.

That was when county attorney John M. Martirano stepped in to ask if the commissioners were serious.

"From an insurance standpoint or a liability standpoint, I would suggest that we don't do that," Martirano said.

Kroboth also weighed in, warning that county employees would be needed for coordination and to operate heavy equipment, and they would have to be paid overtime if the work were done on a weekend.

"I think you're making it out to be more than what it is," Commissioner William J. Wivell responded. "I don't think you really need to have county employees there."

The commissioners volunteered to sign waivers, but Commissioners President John F. Barr said he was uncomfortable opening the project up to volunteers from the general public because of ramifications if one of them stepped on a nail, twisted an ankle or was injured by a piece of equipment.

"Unfortunately, this has become typical of the nation as a whole," Wivell said. "You can't do anything anymore without a threat of a lawsuit."

Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey said he understood the commissioners' good intentions, but warned that if someone got hurt, the undertaking could become more expensive than hiring a contractor.

George William Sonnik III, the county's human resources director, also advised against the idea.

"The risk administrator has sent me over to say, 'Don't do this,'" he said.

The commissioners agreed to move on with their agenda and discuss the idea further outside of the meeting.

The train station is privately owned, but the owner is recently deceased and there was some uncertainty as to who is now responsible for it, Kroboth said previously. The commissioners voted 3-1 on March 16 to seek bids for the demolition after Kroboth said the hazard was too great to wait until the ownership matter was resolved. Baker voted against the idea then and Wivell was absent from that meeting.

Kroboth said Tuesday the county was still preparing the call for proposals and had not put the demolition work out to bid.

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