Lewisburg Fire Chief reports on river rescue

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At the Lewisburg city council meeting last Tuesday evening, Fire Chief Joseph Thomas reported on a water rescue the fire department participated in during the last weekend in April.

The story began with a call reporting that two people had not returned from a boating trip on the Greenbrier River. A man and a woman, both in their 20s, had embarked on the river from the Renick area in a Jon boat and did not returned as expected, said the young man’s grandmother, who anticipated their return by 8 p.m. that evening.

According to Greenbrier Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Joshua Martin, a trooper from another county was dispatched to do a cursory search at Caldwell, but found no one there. After a second call from the 911 Center came in, Greenbrier County Deputy Billy Mitchell conducted a more extensive search. Beginning at Caldwell, he drove north via the river trail and, around 4:30 a.m., hearing faint yelling, he located the couple sitting on a big rock about a half mile north of the Anthony bridge.

Since Frankford’s fire department had no water rescue equipment, Thomas, a member of Lewisburg’s water rescue squad, was notified and got them off the rock as daylight began to break.

The couple apparently lost control of their boat when they encountered some rapids around dusk, Thomas said. They lost their boat and were dumped in the water. Unsure how deep the water was, and reluctant to attempt to swim to shore in the dark, they clung to a large rock in the middle of the river for 10 hours before they were found. The couple managed to light the one remaining oar on fire either to warm themselves or to guide the rescuers to their location. Things might have ended differently, but as it was, the two were unharmed and obviously glad to be found, though badly chilled and possibly hypothermic, Thomas said.

In other city council business:

  • As everyone knows, Lewisburg is built atop a maze of karst caverns that occasionally cave in. Rain water flowing through the caverns, eventually to the river, erode the karst and can cause damage to roadways, parking lots and sometimes structures when the surface caves in. This week, Mayor John Manchester announced that underground structural work has begun beneath Lewisburg’s City Hall foundation. Twenty-five pier moorings will be imbedded in the bedrock at the rear of the building where a large hole was recently discovered – estimated to be 10 feet in diameter and seven feet deep – seriously endangering the structural integrity of the building. Once the moorings are in place, concrete will be funneled into the hole at a bid cost of $375,000. The work is expected to take five to six weeks to complete, the mayor said.
  • Council member Josh Baldwin confirmed that the Tuesday, May 16, council meeting would be his last. Baldwin has opted to not seek reelection in June. Having served for seven years on the city council, Baldwin also served as chair of the parks commission. Manchester extolled Baldwin’s stalwart advocacy for the city, crediting him as a person who asks pointed questions.
  • Zoning Officer Chuck Smith reported on two developments in town, stating that Greenbrier Motors plans to enlarge their display lot on north Jefferson Street, and Lee Street Partners are cleared to start renovating the old public school building on Lee Street. They plan to create efficiencies, one-bedroom apartments and studio spaces in the school’s old classrooms.
  • Manchester announced the cost for the repairs to city hall has put a sizable dent in funds set aside for planned budget expenses. A case in point is an upgrade to both Hollowell and Dorie Miller’s ballpark outdoor lighting systems. Late last year, the city was awarded a $60,000 matching grant from the National Parks Service to install new LED lighting for the ball fields. The grant called for a 50-50 match, meaning the city would need to pony up the same amount, which, when combined would pay for the materials and installation of the lights. The bid for materials came to $113,995 and the bid for installation was $6,635.

The mayor said he sought help from the county’s arts and rec grant program in asking for $30,000 to help the city out, reasoning that Lewisburg’s park facilities are used by residents from all over the county. However, since the county zeroed out the grant funding to Lewisburg to support White Sulphur Springs’ pool project, Manchester said the city will seek other options.

  • Three speed humps are scheduled for two Lewisburg neighborhoods, said Public Works Director Roger Pence. Two will go on Court Street and the third one will be added to Maple Street.
  • The annual Click or Ticket program is in operation between May 12 and 29, said Police Chief Tim Stover. Officers will be out watching and ticketing motorists not heeding seat belt laws.
  • The mayor said the next city council meeting, normally scheduled for the third Tuesday of the month, will be held on the third Wednesday, on June 21, instead, because the third Tuesday, June 20, is West Virginia Day, a state holiday.