BELPRE - Although a large amount of funding for the city's Riverfront Park has been removed, the city is not giving up on the project.
"I have no intention to let the Riverfront Park project go," said Mayor Mike Lorentz.
On March 30, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, announced to city officials the funds earmarked for the project were no longer available.
At one point, $375,000 in grants were appropriated to the project through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntington. Now, because those funds were left to languish, the corps of engineers was given approval to reappropriate about half of those funds for an emergency project in 2009.
"I can't help but feel that this is all political," Lorentz said. "It all makes no sense to me why kill one project ready to go into construction to fund a job not ready for anything."
During the announcement, Johnson, who is running in November against former seat holder Democrat Charlie Wilson, said his two predecessors - Wilson and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland - did not follow through on the project and the money was never authorized for use on the Riverfront Park.
The original plans for the $8.2 million Riverfront Park project, which was to encompass a little more than 1,100 feet of land on the river side of Civitan Park, included larger boat docks, a walking path and possible amphitheater.
In 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers told the city the project amenities would include an excursion boat dock large enough to accommodate deep draft vessels, such as the American Queen; removable boat docks that float and include a gangway and retaining structure; multi-function riverfront access service with a shore-type landing for smaller water craft to allow the use of canoes and wind surfers; and a 2,500 maximum occupancy amphitheater for cultural events.
Construction was expected to begin in 2010 but nothing ever happened.
"I did vote in favor of the authorizing measure to begin construction on the Belpre Riverfront Park in 2010," Wilson said. "(Construction) was slowed up by opposition and I don't see why it did not begin."
Wilson said the bill to begin the construction died in the House of Representatives committee.
"The funds were there, but authorization was blocking construction," he added.
Johnson said the corps of engineers asked him to take the remaining $187,000 in funds to put toward other projects in the area. He said lack of action by Wilson and Strickland kept the project from construction.
"Bill Johnson has had three chances to authorize the construction of the park when the funds were available and he didn't," Wilson said. "The project has been in the works for 10 years and I don't understand why he would move the funds.
"It was pointed out I didn't do my job and (Johnson) has let it go while I worked to move it forward," Wilson said.
Moving forward with the project is something Lorentz is hoping is still possible with what little money is left.
"I have spoken to the corps of engineers, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and made a lot of phone calls to see what can be done this week," Lorentz said. "I've made so many phone calls it's pathetic."