Mount Jackson pledges $15,000 to Knob acquisition plan

MOUNT JACKSON –  In an unusually busy Town Council meeting  Tuesday, Councilman Ron Shepherd unveiled his plan to resolve the ongoing issue of protecting the Knob.

“I think we’ve come up with a solution to get this project rolling along,” Shepherd said. He proposed that the town pledge $15,000 as well as matching Mount Jackson residents’ donations dollar-for-dollar up to an additional $10,000, to be delivered by Dec. 31.

The motion passed unanimously, but not without debate.

Currently, the 137 acres overlooking Mount Jackson that contain the Knob are privately owned. The Conservation Fund has raised over $300,000, according to Shepherd, and has asked the town  to help pay for various closing costs, which are estimated to come to less than $50,000. The fund plans to acquire and hold the property until it can be transferred to the Forest Service.

With many of the town’s reservoirs, springs and wells below the property in question, several council members expressed concern over future development disrupting their water supply.

“We’ve got to preserve and protect that water on the remote chance that our grandchildren may not have that water supply,” Councilman Donald Pifer said. “I don’t think we really should consider anything else.”

Councilman Ken Hackenbracht said the watershed is “critical.”

Councilman Dennis Andrick, however, questioned the likelihood of future development up on the Knob.

“I’ve been up there. I can’t see anybody building (on the property),” Andrick said. “It would cost them — roughly, conservatively — a million and a half to make access to that point, without even getting into building a house or whatever type of structure.”

Ultimately, his concerns were mollified, and the motion passed with all council members voting in favor.

Another question on the agenda was the adoption of the new Comprehensive Plan. After taking in survey data from both town residents and students at Stonewall Jackson High School, Berkley Group Director of Planning Todd Gordon presented the new plan, emphasizing the need for slow growth.

“If you grow slowly, it’s an opportunity to keep doing the good things that you’re doing and to pay attention to providing transportation, and utilities, and parks and the other things,” Gordon said. “I think if you end up growing quickly, for example if you find a major industry or major commercial user that wants to come to town, it will put pressure on you to grow faster.”

The council voted to delay voting on the adoption of the plan until November’s meeting to ensure that every council member had enough time to read through the document.

Other motions throughout the evening passed without much conversation. Following a recommendation for approval by the Planning Commission, the council voted to grant a special use permit to renovate an existing structure at 5791 Main St. into nine apartments. Pifer and Andrick abstained.

The council also voted to move forward with Phase II of the sidewalk project, which aims to install sidewalks along both sides of U.S. 11.

The final matter concerned the Old Triplett School contract of sale. Todd Holtzman, the applicant, requested a 20 percent reduction in the price of water and sewer fees detailed in the contract, because the number of units to be built had been reduced from 20 to 16. The motion passed, with Pifer and Andrick again abstaining.

Police Chief Jess Sterner took the podium to announce that his officers are now equipped with Narcan, a nasal spray designed to treat narcotic overdoses.

“The opiate epidemic has gotten real bad, we’ve had 33 deaths in the valley this year, which is more than we’ve had all of last year,” Sterner said. The reason for equipping his officers with Narcan is twofold, Sterner explained; to save the life of an opioid user experiencing an overdose as well as to protect officers in the line of duty.

“Five, six months ago, in that state of Ohio, a police officer was going through a car and came in contact with fentanyl, which is a synthetic opiate-based drug. Fifty to 100 times more potent than morphine,” Sterner said. “One eye drop from fentanyl can kill a person. It took four dosages of Narcan to save that police officer’s life.”