Huntington Council to re-evaluate position on Etna Ave. project

The Huntington Common Council has decided to re-evaluate its position concerning the proposed - and once voted down - Etna Avenue project after new information and funding sources were presented to the council at its meeting on Tuesday, July 14.

And one city councilman plans to hold his own public meeting to find out what the community thinks about reviving the project.

Huntington Mayor Steve Updike invited several individuals from various city and county offices, as well as the community, to attend the July 14 council meeting to voice support for the project, which would have widened Etna Avenue and improved drainage along that street. Construction would have begun in 2013.

Last month, the Common Council voted down the project in a split 4-3 decision.

At that time, the majority of the council believed that the city didn't have the funds to pay for its 20 percent share of the project. The Indiana Department of Transportation had already provided for the rest of the cost, or 80 percent of the total price through a $2.58 million grant.

Though the grant was supposed to be returned to INDOT the day after the council voted to kill the project, Updike says he felt that the council did not give the Etna Avenue Project a fair chance, and he did not return the money in hopes of gaining a more thorough hearing on the subject.

County Commissioner President Tom Wall was present at the meeting to discuss the possible use of three county drains that run below Etna Avenue as an option to reduce the cost of the project.

Wall says that two of the three drains are blocked, but once they are cleaned out, the city could use those right-of-ways to help solve the drainage problem on Etna Avenue. The original plan had called for a new drain to run the length of the street from near Jessup Street to the Wabash River. But, if the city were to use the county drains, the city would save upward of $600,000, based on estimates provided by the city engineering office.

"My responsibility is to those businesses on Etna Avenue that experience flooding," Wall says, explaining why the county wants to help with the project.

Wall cited several businesses on the street that want to expand, but cannot because of drainage and flooding issues.

In addition, Wall told the city council the county commissioners had agreed at their meeting the previous day to put $75,000 toward the project.

"You may be wondering, ‘Why not more? Why not less?'" Wall said to the council. "The reason is because the county is already spending $700,000 at two intersections on the other side of the bridge."

Wall referred to improvements the county will be making at the intersections of CR 200N and Etna Road and CR 300W and Etna Road outside of the city limits to improve traffic flow to the Riverfork Industrial Park. Each of those projects will cost around $350,000 to complete.

Dave Schoeff, of the city engineering office, says that Huntington needs to examine other possible sources of funding, including the County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) and the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) in the city. The engineering department estimates that more than $6 million can be collected from these two funds over the next four years.

Still, council members want to make sure city funds are used efficiently before voting on the project a second time.

Councilman Jason Fields, whose district includes Etna Avenue, plans to host a public meeting to discuss the issue with residents and business owners along the street.

"The information we were presented with tonight was a lot better than the information we had before," Fields said after the council meeting.

The public meeting that Fields is hosting will take place on Thursday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m. at Drover Park on Etna Avenue. Attendees will be presented with the three new possible scenarios, maps and graphs. In addition to Fields, representatives from the city engineering office will be present, along with another councilman and possibly the mayor.

"We need to ask ourselves, one, ‘Is this good for the people?,' and two, "Is this fiscally responsible?,'" Fields says. "I'd like to find out how the people feel."

The council is expected to discuss and vote on the project a second time at its morning meeting on July 28.