Cornelius board prepares for upcoming challenges
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – While Thursday night’s town board meeting was the last for long-time commissioners Jim Bensman and Thurman Ross, the board’s agenda was focused on major issues facing commissioners in the next two-year term, including the Red Line Rail Project, the Red Line Trail Project and the future of local emergency crews.
In a pre-meeting at Cornelius Town Hall, commissioners heard from Cornelius Fire Department Captain Greg Shaner and Asst. Fire Chief Kevin Fox on the lack of paid firefighters, a problem exposed by an Oct. 28 fire that severely damaged a large home on Norman Shores Drive.
Cornelius fire units arrived at the scene late because they had to drop off personnel at the fire boat tied up at the Peninsula Yacht Club.
“If we had gotten there 10 minutes early, it could have been a different story,” Shaner said. “This was a major incident for us. It was a very large house, very large fire.”
Blame the slow response on the lack of paid personnel, Shaner said. The department needed more people at the fire immediately because of its size and potential to get worse.
Currently, Cornelius pays to have four firefighters at each of its two stations during the day and three on nights and weekends. For the past three years, the department has asked for money to add a fourth firefighter on the night and weekend shifts, Shaner said, but the board has never added it to the budget.
According to Thursday night’s presentation, another firefighter would alleviate the problem of having to drop a firefighter off at the fire boat before speeding off to investigate an emergency.
With one more firefighter in the budget, crews could head off to a fire directly without wasting valuable time making sure one of their own gets to the boat.
According to Shaner, the department currently has 10 personnel trained to drive the boat, which the town acquired in August of 2010. The department wants to double the number of boat-qualified firefighters during training this winter, he said.
Responders also struggled to put out the Oct. 28 blaze because of a combination of low water pressure and elevation on the peninsula.
“The houses sit on what used to be meant for trailers,” Shaner said. “Now it’s occupied by 17,000 square foot houses.”
The department also encounters water pressure problems around the Kings Point Marina area, Shaner said.
Cornelius Town Manager Anthony Roberts said the town and fire departments will work together this winter to address some of the issues plaguing the departments.
Red Line trail
Also Monday, commissioners endorsed the concept of a 30-mile corridor of paved greenway that would stretch along the Red Line commuter rail across seven jurisdictions from Mooresville to Charlotte. Thus the name, Red Line Trail.
Gwen Cook, the county’s greenway planner and a representative of the Red Line Trail Initiative Group, said the paved trail gives pedestrians and cyclists alternative access to the Red Line Rail, Cook said.
“It is separate from the Red Line Rail,” Cook said. “The two are separate, but they enhance each other so much.”
More and more people are looking for an area with a greenway that allows them to travel without their cars, and the planners estimate the greenway would see more than a million trips per year, Cook said.
However, the price of a pedestrian greenway isn’t low. The project will cost nearly $1 million a mile, she said.
“We are convinced it is feasible. We are seeking funding to go into a more detailed master plan and looking for connections to make it work with the rail,” Cook said. She and her team are looking for grants to fuel the project, but eventually, all seven jurisdictions will need to pitch in financially.
Cornelius commissioners also discussed the latest draft of what they expect from the town’s Rail Task Force. Commissioners want the task force to evaluate the work Charlotte Area Transit Systems consultants have done on the project, Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said. “It is really a catch-all for reviewing items, questions and concerns as the project relates to Cornelius.”
Commissioners agreed the task force should work with similar groups in the other seven jurisdictions affected by the commuter-cargo rail project, but they want the task force to stay more focused.
“We need real veteran and experienced leadership for this task force,” Commissioner Dave Gilroy said. “I would hope to see some bankers and some people with experience in public infrastructure.”
In other business, the board also:
• Amended the operating budget to take $165,000 from the town’s 911 fund to purchase off-site storage containers.
• Established a lighting rebate program for Electricities customers to promote practical, sustainable energy conservation. Customers will receive a a rebate of 35 cents per watt saved when the company’s more efficient lighting system is installed. The program is part of legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 1997 that promotes energy efficiency in the state through the implementation of renewable energy standards.
Commissioner Ross received a standing ovation from those in attendance for his 16 years spent on the board. Commissioner Bensman, who was in Philadelphia with his family, worked briefly with the board via telephone.