Fires an issue in Pottawatomie County

By The Mercury

Pottawatomie County has had seven incendiary fires in 2012, with four of them still under investigation.

Bruce Brazzle, fire supervisor, told county commissioners Monday that three arson fires at St. Marys last month, as well as one at St. George earlier in the year, remain under investigation.

“We’re still working leads and conducting interviews,” Brazzle said of the St. Marys fires, including a major blaze Nov. 23, which destroyed a partially demolished grain elevator and threatened much of the downtown area.

Suspects in an Onaga fire earlier this year go to court in January, and suspects in a fire at St. George and Green Valley have reached plea agreements with the Pottawatomie County attorney’s office, he said.

“Some got a slap on the wrist and some got some jail time on the deal—reduced sentences,” Brazzle said.

Brazzle said his office is actively working with the sheriff’s department and the state fire marshal’s office on the three incendiary fires at St. Marys.

“I’m sure you’re doing a good job,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich. “I just hope it’s not for nothing.”

“So do we,” Brazzle said.

In other business Monday:

• Appraiser Lois Schlegel said property sales in the county have kept apace the past few months and have exceeded the previous few years.

“We’re looking pretty good for the year. At this point we’re way above anything for the last three years,” Schlegel said.

There were 61 property sales for both the months of October and November, bringing the 2012 total to 593 sales––well ahead of the 529 total for 2011.

“It’s been very active for property sales and new construction,” Schlegel said.

• Commissioners urged Leu Lowrey, public works director, to continue exploring options for repairing the deck on the Belvue Bridge, which spans the Kansas River and connects Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee Counties southeast of Belvue.

The commission last month received a proposal for a polyester concrete overlay as a relatively inexpensive solution to repairing the deck of the aging bridge.

“If this would work it would buy us some years to plan for what we need to do for the long term,” Hartwich said.

The condition of the deck, however, is critical to making the proposal a viable solution, according to Lowrey.

“The real question is the deck,” he said. “It could be the best product in the world, but if it doesn’t bond to the deck it’ll just pop off and you’ll put yourself in a worse situation.”

Commissioner Pat Weixelman urged further testing of the deck to determine if the polyester concrete is a viable option.

“That’s (Belvue Bridge) been a bigger topic than the courthouse over here, so I think we ought to keep at it,” Weixelman said.

• Commissioners were critical of the condition of the job site at the new justice center under construction at Westmoreland.

“It’s one of the trashiest job sites I’ve ever seen,” Weixelman told Trisha Fruendt of SMH Consultants during her weekly report to the commission. “It’s a safety issue. It’s just junk…it’s trash.”

Hartwich agreed. “I haven’t seen anything that trashy in quite a while,” he said. “A clean job site improves productivity.”

Fruendt said she would relay the commission’s feelings to the general contractor.

• The commission adopted a resolution in support of the concept of a Flint Hills Welcome Center near the intersection of Interstate-70 and K-177 south of Manhattan.

Commissioners received an update on the concept last week from representatives of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. The resolution does not commit the county to funding for the project, still in the exploration stage.

• The commission approved a preliminary site plan for a 60-by-50-foot building in Green Valley Business Park as a distribution warehouse for Frito Lay. The building will include an office and three truck bays, according to Gregg Webster, zoning administrator.

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