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Wellsburg council: Oil Can Derby can move forward

WELLSBURG — Plans to hold the Wellsburg Oil Can Derby have received the green light from Wellsburg City Council, with certain conditions.

On Tuesday council granted a request from organizer Fred Marino to hold the soapbox derby-style race on Fourth Street on Independence Day, provided he and others involved adhere to recommendations by state public health officials at that time.

Since the race, a longtime city tradition dating to 1946, was revived several years ago, many area residents have gathered along the street on the morning of Independence Day to root for boys and girls ages 8-14 as they careen down the steep hill.

Trophies are awarded to participants and the car judged to have the best appearance.

Though council unanimously granted the request, some said it wasn’t an easy decision.

First Ward Councilman Danny Dudley noted there are reports of the coronavirus spiking in some areas since quarantine orders were lifted.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Della Serevicz said organizers have advised they will provide masks to those requesting them and comply with health-related recommendations.

Council was told Mike Bolen, administrator of the county’s health department, had warned it would violate current health restrictions. But Bolen, who was called for comment, said while earlier he had recommended against it, current conditions suggest a spike may not occur locally at this time. He added because the event is outdoors, attendees can and should practice safe distancing.

City Solicitor Ryan Weld noted Gov. Jim Justice has ruled fairs and festivals may be held beginning July 1 while establishing guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment by staff and social distancing among attendees, among others.

The derby has been held in conjunction with other events planned by the Wellsburg 4th of July Committee.

On Tuesday Mayor Sue Simonetti said the volunteer group was faced with a difficult decision when it decided in early May to cancel the fireworks display and other activities and should be applauded for its efforts over the years to present a weeklong celebration of the holiday.

The issue of deteriorating buildings also arose during the meeting.

Weld said efforts to communicate with the owner of such a structure at Sixth and Main streets appear to have failed and he will recommend the city’s building inspector investigate.

He said the building has historic significance and he hopes it can be restored.

First Ward Councilman Jack Kins told him, “I want you to do everything you can to save that place.”

City Police Chief Richard Ferguson said he’s concerned about a dilapidated structure between 25th and 26th streets on Charles Street. He said while it’s unoccupied, there have been signs of activity there and he’s concerned about someone getting hurt.

Ferguson recommended boarding the doors and windows to prevent access.

Weld said its chimney fell onto the roof of an adjacent building, and it also should go before the city’s building enforcement committee.

Council was told its owner was interested in donating the property to the city, but Weld said that’s not a practical solution for every dilapidated building.

Fourth Ward Councilman Charlie Harris said dilapidated buildings continue to be an issue in his ward and he knows Weld has been working to address a number of them.

Council also agreed to extend the probationary period for two new city police officers by six months.

Last month Ferguson told council they haven’t been able to complete their training because the state police academy has been closed by the pandemic and have been assisting with investigative work for now.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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