By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — A substantial jump in the number of fires that have occurred in the landscaped medians on 10th Street prompted the Board of Public works to examine what changes could be made this year.
According to Jeffersonville Fire Department Chief Eric Hedrick, the fire department responded to one mulch fire in the median area in 2011 and 56 in the same area during 2012. The total number of grass and much fires in Jeffersonville more than tripled, from 24 in 2011 to 87 in 2012.
Mayor Mike Moore said his understanding of the deal — which was entered into under the previous administration — is that the mulch used in the medians was supposed to be fire retardant. Public Works Director Rick Lovan agreed.
However, City Attorney Les Merkley said there is no provision in the contract that stipulates the mulch be fire retardant.
“The bottom line is, unfortunately, we have a contract that was entered into prior to us coming in and ... we are obligated to abide by that contract, despite the problems we’re experiencing,” he said.
The contract with Walnut Ridge Nursery includes a two-year maintenance agreement and is set to expire at the end of 2013.
“If it’s that big of an issue, which looking at the numbers it is, is there not a way we can work out something where the mulch can be removed?” asked Bryan Glover, board member and city councilman.
Merkley said the contract could be amended through mutual agreement if Walnut Ridge agreed to the changes. For the last year of the contract, the cost of the mulch is listed at $48,000 and up to $44,644 could be spent on services.
Dennis Julius, an owner of Walnut Ridge and city councilman, agreed that the contract specified what type of mulch to put in — a hardwood mulch — but not that it had to be fire retardant.
As a result, the board discussed any options that may be available to avoid the fires or replace the landscaping this year.
“I can tell you from experience that there is no such thing as fire-retardant mulch,” said Stormwater Coordinator Deb Ashack. “All hardwood ... is flammable.”
She added that when the fires occurred they should be examined.
Julius said many of the fires caused are because of people throwing cigarette butts out their windows and the likelihood of fires increase in the dry, summer months.
“We have discussed in the past whether or not to go to a gravel,” he said.
But Julius said if the landscapers swapped out the mulch, it would be much more expensive and questioned the aesthetic of a change to a gravel or rock.
“The price of product would almost be double,” he said.
He added that because the gravel also weighs about 10 times as much as the mulch, the labor cost to transport and spread the product would be higher.
“It’s a dilemma in our industry,” Julius said referring to mulch fires. “We are looking all the time at new products.”
The board of public works also approved the demolition of a home in the 700 block of Higgins Drive.
Planning and Zoning Coordinator Linda Mills said when the property was examined there was only about 20 percent of the roof remaining intact. Planning and Zoning Director Shane Corbin added that there was a person living in the property while part of the roof was missing, but she is no longer in the home.
“It’s a dangerous structure,” he said. “We’re at a point where we just need to get the house down for public safety reasons.”
Corbin was asked whether or not proper notification was given to the former resident about the potential demolition of the property.
“We’ve gone beyond our due diligence to notify her,” he said. “We notified her more than a month ago that she needed to get her things out. I wasn’t comfortable with that, even telling her to go back in the house and get anything. That’s how bad of a situation it was.”
The condemnation was unanimously approved by the board.
POLICE STATION MANAGER
As the city moves forward with its plans to construct a new police station on 10th Street, Merkley has recommended the city hire a project manager. At Wednesday’s board of public works meeting, the personal service agreement was approved.
The city agreed to hire Clinton Deckard of Construction Solutions LLC to manage the project for an amount up to $120,000.
“This would be paid out of the bond proceeds,” Merkley said. “In the long-run, I think it will make more sense to have a project manager and also in the end, the project manager can usually save us some money.”
The bond resolution adopted by the city council earlier this week will still have to go before the city’s Redevelopment Commission and a public hearing will have to be hosted before final approval is granted.