Saturday, July 3, 2004

Covington officials cite CSX for bridge 'eyesore'



By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - A railroad bridge with rust and cracked, peeling paint is an eyesore and a hazard, Covington officials say.

Fed up with CSX Transportation's failure to respond to years of complaints, Covington officials say they were left with no choice but to cite the railroad.

Now, railroad representatives must appear before Covington's code enforcement board July 14 to explain why CSX has failed to maintain its bridge at 15th and Wheeler streets, said Elaine Hollis, a Covington code enforcement officer.

"That's by far the bridge that generates the most complaints from citizens and city officials and even a few people who are visiting Covington,'' Hollis said. "They all want to know, 'What's the deal with that bridge?' "

The railroad failed to contest its June 21 citation within the required seven days, Hollis said. Each day the bridge's problems go uncorrected, CSX faces $200 in fines.

The bridge was last painted sometime before 1978, Covington officials say.

"It's probably a health threat if nothing else because of the possibility of lead-based paint," Hollis said.

Hollis said CSX representatives told her that the railroad can't afford to maintain all of its structures throughout the United States.

"The railroad thinks they can do whatever they want, that they don't have to answer to any government," Mayor Butch Callery said.

CSX officials did not return calls Friday.

At another railroad bridge on Huntington Street, CSX cuts the grass three times a year, often letting the grass get as tall as 4 feet between cuttings, Hollis said.

To address that situation, Callery said he plans to ask city workers to cut the grass and put a lien on the property.

Recently, Covington approved a higher property tax for blighted and abandoned properties, after lobbying for a change in state law. The rate of $11.50 per $1,000 assessed value is nearly five times the normal property tax rate.

Covington officials estimate the city has about 400 rundown and abandoned properties that serve as havens for criminals and reduce property values in neighborhoods.

Greg Engelman, Newport's chief financial officer, said he hopes to present a blight-tax proposal to officials in that city by August.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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