July 2002 Highlights

Hazardous material spills:   Two recent spills of hazardous materials have affected the Southwest Ward and pointed to problems in our state’s system of environmental law enforcement.  First, the fire which burned down a warehouse near downtown resulted in a slug of toxics-contaminated water washing into and down Peters Creek.  (Peters Creek flows through heavily-used Hanes Park and through Brunson Elementary School’s grounds before crossing into the Southwest Ward near Baptist Hospital.  Many neighborhood children play near where the creek crosses under Crafton Street.) 

While the incident is under continuing investigation, it appears from reports that over a hundred toxic chemicals were stored in that warehouse, and had not been reported to environmental agencies or the fire department as required by law.  As a result, firefighters started using water instead of foam on the fire.  This reporting failure put our firefighters at greater risk and ran a toxic brew into our stream, killing the aquatic life and putting children and pets who may get into the creek at risk.  I joined with Northwest Ward Alderman Wanda Merschel and others to call for comprehensive follow-up testing of the stream, so that we can determine what public risks remain and what needs to be done about them.  We also called for a review of other facilities in the city which may have failed to make complete reports of toxic materials storage, so that we can avoid such dangerous messes in the future.  We will continue to follow up with the responsible agencies to see that this is done.

Earlier this week, another spill took place at the Sara Lee plant on Stratford Road.  About 2,000 gallons of sulfuric acid spilled from a tank, and some of it leaked onto a neighbor’s property on Mission Road.  Her dog got into the acid and was seriously injured.  Neighbors in general did not learn of the spill until after that injury; fortunately, it appears that no one else was hurt.  It appears that the required report of the spill was filed, but that there was a breakdown in the notification process that should have warned neighbors.  I plan to contact plant neighbors, company officials, and emergency agencies’ staff to help determine how the breakdown in public notice and protection which occurred here can be prevented in the future.

Transportation improvements:   There are some important items to note from the July 18 meeting of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), on which I serve as one of Winston-Salem’s representatives. 

First, the TAC on my motion approved using additional funds made available by the state Department of Transportation for improving traffic signals and signal systems.  Making these signals operate more efficiently both improves safety and reduces congestion.  For example, if you’re familiar with the signal lights at Miller and Cloverdale, I hope that you’ve noticed that they’re operating more smoothly lately.  Poor timing and some broken sensor wires had been slowing them down and backing up traffic at that intersection.  I pressed the city transportation office to get to the repairs there because of safety concerns from the congestion.  With more state funding redirected toward signal efficiency, we can make those kinds of improvements around the city.  This newly redirected state funding should bring to Forsyth county for this important work an extra $245,000 in the first year, $468,000 in the second, and additional assistance for another six years.  Incidentally, that’s money that had already been collected in taxes, and was sitting idle in the Highway Trust Fund—but is now being released to deal with these serious transportation maintenance needs.

Second, the new area Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) has the widening of Hanes Mall Boulevard bridge over I-40 on to begin construction in fiscal year 2004.  I’m afraid that Hanes Mall Boulevard is likely to remain Winston-Salem’s “poster child” for traffic congestion for years to come, but at least I can report that some help is in the works.

(Of course, no amount of new road construction can save us from the results of poor planning.  I’m asking about traffic impacts in connection with every rezoning or planning proposal that affects our traffic trouble areas.)

Police/fire radio system:   Most of you will be aware that the current police/fire/emergency radio system for the city is antiquated and creates safety problems because of spots around the city where signals can’t get through.  City voters approved bonds two years ago for a new system, to fix those problems.  The Board of Aldermen this summer approved a contract for installation of the new system.  It isn’t fixed yet, but the solution is now on the way.

Budget update:   The city does not have a new budget yet, because we are still waiting for the state legislature to pass its budget, letting us know what we can expect in state-collected revenues for the coming year.  As I’ve reported before, the governor has already this year withheld millions of dollars collected by the state for local governments (including Winston-Salem), in order to keep the state budget from going further into the red.  Cities and counties across North Carolina have called on the state legislature to approve legislation which will keep that from happening again.  Those bills have gotten tied into the whole state budget process, and a final resolution is still pending.  The Board of Aldermen have now adopted two one-month interim budgets, and we will have to act on an entire year’s budget and tax rate by our first meeting in September. 

Traffic issues update:   I’m continuing to work on addressing traffic safety trouble spots in our area.  This Thursday night, August 15 at 7 p.m., at the Little Creek Recreation Center, I will be meeting with residents of the southern Jonestown Road area and city transportation staff to discuss how we can deal with speeding problems on Jonestown Road. 

The draft comprehensive study and recommendations on “traffic calming” is about to come back from consultants to the city’s Traffic Calming Task Force this month.  I’m looking forward to seeing it, and supporting the volunteers and staff on the task force in moving comprehensive traffic solutions forward.

Constituent services notes:   I’ve got several interesting items to report this month.

I’ve heard back from neighbors of Hathaway Park (between Lawndale and Anita Drives) that increased police patrols seem to be helping deal with reports of problem activities there.

A continuing problem with dust and dirt from a large construction site on Kester Mill Road has just been called to my attention.  I’ve gotten the neighbors in touch with city erosion inspection staff, and we will get the problem addressed.

An active member of its neighborhood association put forward a suggestion that should help preserve historic Ardmore sidewalk stamps from the early 1900’s during construction work.  If you walk or run the sidewalks around Ardmore you’ll have seen dates like 1922 stamped into the concrete.  Protecting those squares during street construction helps to carry forward some of our city’s history for future generations.  (Thanks to Clark Harper for the idea.)  Of course, this also reminds me that there are a lot of blocks, especially in our newer neighborhoods, where we still need to get sidewalks—we’re working on that too!