Ken Woodard, Chief of Planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spoke via Zoom at the September 6 Pocahontas County Commission meeting about options to mitigate flooding in the Marlinton area. Commission President Walt Helmick led off this discussion by saying that flood damage appears to be worsened as a result of the build-up of sediment over the years in the Greenbrier River.
Helmick told Woodard that he wants the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the riverbed to determine how much sediment there is and to present options as to how the sediment can be removed from the river.
Helmick said he received a report from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. In its report, the WVDEP identified the grasses growing in the river near the Rt. 39 bridge as being American Water Willow. The report said that is a native species of aquatic grass that is common in the waterways of West Virginia and is known to trap and build-up sediment. The WVDEP told Helmick that they have documented that the sediment in this portion of the Greenbrier River averages six to eight feet deep.
Woodard said that dredging the river as a way to increase river flow and reduce flooding might not solve the problem long term, since the river could refill with sediment again. He suggested having the Corps conduct an expensive hydrology study. He said the Federal Government would only pay for two-thirds of the cost of the study while the state or local governments would be responsible for the remaining one-third of the cost. Even if done, that study might not recommend dredging the sediment from the river. Woodard said that if the study did recommend dredging, the Federal Government would pay the first $100,000 of the cost then would only pay half of the remaining cost, up to $10 million, with the state or local governments needing to pay the rest.
Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton told Woodard that he understands that the Greenbrier County portion of the river has already been dredged, but Woodard said he had no knowledge of that.
Fred Burns told Woodard that people here are tired of having studies done yet no action is ever implemented to mitigate the flooding.
John Simmons told Wood-ard that Interstate Hardwoods dredged the river near its plant a number of years ago and built up the banks, and this has alleviated flooding at their location.
Woodard said it is possible to get a permit to dredge the river from the banks, but very hard to get a permit to allow any excavation equipment to drive into a river to do it. He provided information about the contact in the Army Corps of Engineers who handles those permits. Woodard said he would plan a trip to Marlinton in the near future to examine the river and offer options to the commission. However, he said most of these options would likely require extensive studies and a lot of local matching funds.
Additionally at the meeting, the commission agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Board of Education (BOE) to allow emergency responders to access the school camera systems during emergency situations.
Since the BOE was being discussed, Helmick pointed out that that the county schools receive an extra $3.2 million dollars a year from the state’s 1400 Rule program. That program provides additional aid to the BOE based upon there being 1,400 students in the county, instead of based upon the 749 students that are actually in the county schools. Ruth Bland of the Board of Education was at the meeting and pointed out that there are only 901 students enrolled in the county schools this year. She said that extra 1400 Rule funding helps pay for additional teachers and service personnel that are not funded by the state and, additionally, it helps pay for unfunded state and federal mandates. Bland said that as an example of that, the Federal Government only pays for 30 percent of the Special Education costs although they require the schools to provide many more expensive Special Education services.
John Simmons delivered the annual update of the Pocahontas County Senior Citizens. He said they have 29 employees, 10 of whom are full-time and the remainder are part-time employees. He described in detail the services that are provided, including the number of miles driven to provide those services and the number and costs of meals delivered to the senior community.
The commission approved the Region 4 Hazardous Mitigation Plan and issued a resolution of support for it.
They also discussed a salary issue with two sheriff’s deputies in Executive Session, then returned to open session and approved a pay settlement with them.
In another Executive Session, they discussed the Opioid Litigation Settlement with Attorney Stephen Skinner, but took no action as a result of their discussion except to sign some legal documents.
Mark Smith of the Pocahontas County Public Service District asked the commission to help pay the additional costs needed to replace the failing sediment screens at the Snowshoe sewer plant. He said they received about $1.9 million from a grant and loan for this but the bids came in at $3.4 million instead of the anticipated $1.9 million. He said the current filters are built into the plant and are allowing sediment to clog up the water treatment process.
Smith asked if the commission could use some of its $1.6 million of ARP money to help fund that additional cost. The commission told him they have already committed all of their ARC funding. Smith then asked for a letter to that effect, which they could present to the agency currently offering the $1.9 million to the project so that they can possibly receive extra grant money or a loan to meet the increased cost. The commission agreed to that.
The commissioners then reviewed the status of their ARP funding. Helmick said they have committed $1 million of their $1.6 million ARC funds to build a Courthouse Annex, while the remaining $600,000 so far committed will be used for:
• $35,000 for the engineering for the PMH Water Project;
• $200,000 for the Thornwood and 4H Camp water projects;
• $35,000 for broadband projects;
• $35,000 for the Family Refuge Center;
• and $25,000 for the lift station at the Tannery.
The commission temporarily recessed the meeting to visit the former Hanover Shoe property to see where the Pocahontas County Saddle Club proposes to make improvements to the rodeo grounds they lease from the county. After reviewing the site, the commission asked the club to obtain a site map from the Assessor’s Office and take it to the County Prosecutor who will draw up a 25-year lease between the commission and the Saddle Club, which will include a renewal option for an additional 25 years.
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