After years of wrestling with the problem of rundown, weed-strewn vacant homes, the town of Westernport is turning up the heat on miscreant property owners, leading the way in an anti-blight campaign that is also taking root in Piedmont and Keyser.
For more than five years, Westernport officials under various mayoral administrations have alternately pleaded with and threatened the owners of a dozen or so rundown houses in the town, all to no avail. Frustrated that such efforts have not met with success, Mayor Daniel Laffey and the Town Council turned to Allegany County government, which employs a tenacious and effective code-enforcement officer in the person of retired State Trooper Jerry Michael.
Earlier this month, after the Council had adopted the necessary ordinances, Michael toured some of the worst spots in town with Laffey and Council members Robert Lupton and Pete Davis. Wearing a pistol and a badge, Michael was all business – as he has been in the five-plus years he has enforced junk-abatement and blight ordinances throughout Allegany County. Given his record of accomplishment in taking on property owners who refuse to abide by the rules, the days are clearly numbered for the blighted properties on Smoot, Clay and other streets in town. Either the owners will finally step up, or the buildings will come down.
 The Town Council is to be commended for making the issue of blight a priority, and for enlisting Michael to the cause. More than just an eyesore that drags down nearby property values, blighted homes that are unsecured and open to the elements represent a true health hazard, harboring rodents and providing a gathering spot for teen drinking parties.
Across the Potomac, Piedmont is also taking on some longstanding blight problems, demolishing the deteriorating St. Anne Hotel as a  threat to the public. Caught up in the spirit of renewal, the owner of the big old building across from the Piedmont Library tore down that structure, which had long been a decaying eyesore in the heart of town.
Keyser is also catching the anti-blight bug. At the Aug. 11 Council meeting, new Council member Clint Faulk handed the building inspector a list of more than a dozen properties with tall weeds or rundown structures. “We need to take action on these properties,” Faulk said.
Blight is more than just ugly, it's a serious threat to the community which, left unchecked by aggressive enforcement of housing codes, spreads to other properties. We applaud officials in all three towns for improving their citizens' quality of life by taking on this problem.