New Chapter

Dear village of Barnesville leaders:

Barnesville is entering a new chapter, one unlike any previous era in its long and celebrated history. The impact of the shale drilling boom will be with us for decades. While we know it will have both positive and negative effects we can’t guess what the sum balance of these will be when the boom is over.

As Village leaders you are faced with new and increased challenges coupled with opportunities that were almost unimaginable a few years ago. The economic benefits that we’re beginning to experience are easy to embrace. We write to support your “go slow” approach to managing this windfall and to suggest further a long-term planning strategy that would be aimed to help Barnesville emerge from the sudden influx of capital as an even healthier and sustainable community. Given what we’ve seen happen to other communities where shale drilling and production started several years ago, this will be a very tall order. The rapid increase of cash is inevitably accompanied by challenges to our small town, rural, friendly way of life that we value highly. We know there will be a need for increased annual expenditures just to keep the peace and maintain the good health and well-being of our citizens.

We propose formalizing a process you’ve already begun. That is to prepare a long-range plan. Where do we want to be in ten years? In twenty years? How can we invest our windfall in a way that most benefits the town long after the shale boom diminishes? You are being offered numerous suggestions for spending; we all have our pet projects. Throughout Barnesville’s history there is a remarkable record of doing a lot with a little. Volunteerism comes to the fore time and again for the things that matter. How can we invest and spend these projected large sums while retaining this vital community spirit?

The plan could include a careful review of infrastructure with a priority list followed by an annual budget boost aimed at renovating, repairing, and rebuilding a portion of infrastructure every year. Map it out so that over a period of 15 years say, all aged components are replaced, emergency repairs are mostly eliminated and maintenance costs are controlled. Additionally community improvements such as the proposed recreation center would be reviewed, including a long-term cost benefit analysis. That plan should be coupled with a network of pedestrian and cycling trails. The Village applied for an ODOT grant just a few years ago that would have developed the 3.25 mile former B & O railroad right-of-way. It was a $1,000,000 dollar project that would have cost Barnesville $200,000. Over 60 letters of support from businesses and individuals helped us score highly, but we didn’t have the $200,000 in hand, so that opportunity was lost. The combination of a community recreation center along with a safe and attractive trail network will attract new and returning residents and help to rebuild a more diversified business community. The benefit analysis needs to include factors that are more than simple economics. What values will be retained and strengthened by our investments?

Let’s collaborate to withstand the winds of change, working together to strengthen the community we love. We encourage you to invite input as part of the planning process and then take the time to plan implementation. With vision, patience, and leadership Barnesville can move through the next decades in a way that successive generations will appreciate. Thank you for stepping up to the challenge,

On behalf of Barnesville Area Rails to Trails Committee,

Rich Sidwell, President