James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@heartlandpublications.com
November 18, 2012
Officials with the Ashe County Rescue Squad said it has “no plans” for the land on Clarence Lyall Road outside West Jefferson, property that also involves the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department and local business owner Steve Halsey.
“On behalf of the rescue squad, I would like to apologize to Steve (Halsey) for any miscommunication we’ve been involved in,” said Captain of the Ashe County Rescue Squad Ricky Roark.
This apology is in response to a proposed land swap offered by the Ashe County government, which came to a boiling point during a commissioners meeting on Nov. 5 that Halsey and officers of the Fleetwood VFD attended.
“I feel like I’ve been pushed into it (the land swap), one way or another,” said Halsey during the Nov. 5 meeting.
In July 2011, the Fleetwood VFD leased land adjacent to property owned by Halsey through 2099.
Against the advice of the county, the Fleetwood VFD spent more than $15,000 to install a underground water tank on the newly-leased property, only to discover the N.C. Department of Transportation currently owns that piece of property for the future widening of 221.
Because of this, members of the Fleetwood VFD are concerned the county could force them to move their tanks and then use the land for a building to house Ashe County Rescue Squad equipment, said Fleetwood VFD Chief Steve Craven.
“There were talks of using that land for a rescue squad building during the early stages of the land swap,” said Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell.
During the Nov. 5 meeting, Mitchell said as N.C. 221 widens, county officials asked “would it be smart to have rescue out there?”
Although the Rescue Squad did consider using the property for a building and equipment, the Rescue Squad ultimately decided the property was too small to use, said Roark.
While the rescue squad was still interested in the property, Roark, along with fellow rescue squad member Robert Poe and Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, surveyed the property.
“The survey showed the property was way too small for the rescue squad to utilize properly, and we were no longer interested,” said Roark
“The size of the property wasn’t that only problem,” said Roark.
When Roark approached Halsey about purchasing the property, Roark decided the land was too expensive. “Halsey wanted more than the rescue squad was willing to spend,” said Roark.
According to Roark, this meeting, to his knowledge, was the last time anyone representing the rescue squad met with Halsey to discuss the property.
During the Nov. 5 meeting, Halsey said Poe met with him once more to look at the property.
After the Nov. 5 meeting, Mitchell said “I think what happened was Poe might have suggested to Halsey that a straighter property line would accommodate a rescue building better. That may have led to the pressure Halsey felt.”
Mitchell also said the county wasn’t counting on acquiring the land for the rescue squad for everything else in the land swap to “fall into place.”
Roark said he’s sorry Halsey felt he had been pressured, but the rescue squad never intended to pressure Halsey to agree to the land swap.
“On Friday, I spoke with Steve (Halsey) to see how he was feeling, and he told me he did feel like he was being pressured to do the land swap and that’s the last thing that I want,” said Roark.
“The Ashe County Rescue Squad has no plans whatsoever to purchase or build next to Halsey’s property. The goal of the rescue squad is to help people in Ashe County, and we would never try to push an action that could cause problems for anyone,” said Roark.
“Again, I’ve apologized to Steve on my behalf, and on behalf of the Ashe County Rescue Squad.”