GALLIPOLIS — A mother approached the Gallipolis City Commission Tuesday evening as part of its first order of business with concerns regarding sinkholes along First Avenue and the safety of area residents.
“Hello everyone, I’m Brittany Burnett,” said the mother. “Today, I’m here concerning what happened to my five-year-old daughter, May 26. I was born and raised in Gallipolis and am a lifelong citizen here and I dearly love this town. I don’t come here today in a negative manner. I’m not here to point fingers. What I am here to discuss is what happened and what could have happened and to discuss possible solutions for the sinkhole situation here in town.”
Burnett said she was sitting outside a home on First Avenue the day in question watching her daughter and a friend play outside. They were playing in a dead end section of Cedar Street on the Ohio River side of the road, which reportedly has no through traffic, according to Burnett.
“The next thing I saw was my daughter drop through the street,” said Burnett. “Her entire right leg had gone through the asphalt in an eight to 10 ft. deep sinkhole with the other knee on the edge and she was holding on with her hands. I immediately ran over and pulled her out. She was screaming and crying.”
Both children were removed from the area and Gallipolis Police Department called. Burnett commended Sgt. Adam Holcomb for his demeanor with the children and thanked him for her daughter’s new teddy bear. The hole was reportedly repaired shortly after.
Burnett said she understood the city infrastructure was old and often had problems with pipes. She wanted to know how the city was addressing issues with sinkholes as she had reportedly heard of three being recorded within the last few weeks.
“To be honest, she could have died that day,” said Burnett. “Not to be drastic, but sinkholes and children are not a good mix. I understand that cost is a primary factor in finding a solution for this, but what about the cost associated from a lawsuit to the city for serious injury or death. This is a problem we need to be proactive about.”
Commissioners expressed thanks for Burnett coming forward and were happy her daughter had suffered nothing more than scrapes.
“Thank you for addressing this and coming forward and in today,” said Commissioner Stephen Wallis. “Unfortunately, we’ve had several sinkholes in our community and trying to find funding, what you brought up, is an issue to have someone come in and check that. We just don’t have a lot of dollars to put towards something of that nature.”
Wallis said the city had discussed improving the infrastructure of town, but to do that, finding revenue was arguably the city’s primary concern in order to execute goals. Parts of the city’s water infrastructure are reportedly over 100 years old, according to City Manager Gene Greene.
Commissioner Beau Sang stressed he felt it was a priority to address the issue due to what may become a death in another sinkhole discovery. He said he desired to see the city push funding about in the budget, if necessary, to address the concern and have a specialist survey the situation for an assessment and estimate of a solution. Greene said he was happy to use funding to take care of the sinkhole problem, but said it was the job of the commissioners’ to pull revenue into town, a thought echoed by incumbent commissioners in the meeting and at past meetings. Greene said the city pursued any grants it was able to address funding concerns, but the city likely did not have the money to replace its aging infrastructure or tackle the sinkhole problem properly.
“Right now, we’re doing the best we can do with what we’ve got,” Greene said at one point to Burnett.
City officials at the meeting discussed the potential for borrowing money to address issues briefly. Sang said he felt the first step was finding a specialist to get an estimate to address sinkhole problems. Commissioners spoke among themselves in consideration of options and entities that could be contacted to tackle the issue before moving on to the next item of the commission’s agenda.
City residents previously voted down three levies geared towards funding police and first responder issues in past elections. The city has also discussed raising property taxes to meet its budget issues, among other options. City officials have said they have avoided taking out more debt due to mounting concerns with keeping up with an ever thinning general fund.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.