National Guard Leveling Abandoned Houses - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

National Guard Leveling Abandoned Houses

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON – When floods or damaging storms hit the state's communities, the members of the West Virginia National Guard can be counted on to come to their aid. Now the National Guard is responding to a very different kind of emergency – an epidemic of abandoned houses that long has threatened Huntington.

A contingent of Guard members and an array of heavy equipment moved into Huntington's Fairfield West neighborhood in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 12. Their 30-day mission: Demolish at least 40 and as many as 50 dilapidated houses in Fairfield West and other Huntington neighborhoods.

Work immediately started on leveling some of the demolition effort's first targets – 17 structures located in the area between Hal Greer Boulevard and 20th Street, from 8th to 12th avenues.

The arrival of the Guard surprised neighborhood residents, who said they had been given no notice of what was planned. Nonetheless, several residents said they would be happy to see the ramshackle houses gone from their neighborhood.

Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe said the demolition effort has been in the planning stages for months and that while the first homes to come down are in the Fairfield neighborhood, the list of those to be demolished includes houses in Guyandotte and West Huntington as well.

Wolfe noted that the city has been slowly demolishing houses when it could find the funds to do so. But at the city's slow pace, it would take two years to demolish the 40 to 50 houses targeted in the 30-day effort that's now in progress.  

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin visited the scene on Thursday, Sept. 13, to inspect the work and underscore the inter-agency cooperation that marks the operation.

In addition to the National Guard members and city of Huntington workers involved, state Division of Highways crews and private contractors are at work as well. The U.S. Attorney's office also is involved and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin joined Gov. Tomblin and Major Gen. James A Hoyer, West Virginia's adjutant general, for a news conference at the demolition site.

Prior to the news conference, Goodwin described the demolition effort as part of a broad-based attack on the drug trade and other criminal activity in Huntington.

"We've removed the criminals that caused the problem," he aids. "Now we need to go back and remove the structures that housed the problems."

Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook offered a similar view. Holbrook described many of the abandoned houses as "magnets" for crime and said their removal "is gong to have an impact."

Huntington long has been struggled to deal with abandoned houses, but the Great Recession dramatically increased their number. When houses were put up for auction for non-payment of property taxes on them, the city purchased some of them. About half the houses slated for demolition are city-owned. When the sites are cleared, the property will be offered for redevelopment.

City officials have repeatedly said the abandoned houses aren't just eyesores but a serious threat to the public health and a breeding ground for crime.

Huntington has experienced dozens of arson fires in the past year, and most of those fires targeted abandoned homes. Many of the houses slated for demolition show fire damage from blazes that happened months ago, Police say drug abusers and the homeless have frequently broken into the houses and illegally use them for shelter. And health officials say the houses are infested with rats and other pests.

 

 

 

 

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