MTC addresses infrastructure – water improvement project moves forward, sewage treatment upgrade needed

Jaynell Graham
Marlinton Town Council had a three-item agenda at Monday night’s meeting, the third item of which, took up most of council’s time, and will continue to do so going forward.

After approving payment of invoices in the amount of $373,863.68 for the ongoing water improvement project, Mayor Sam Felton said the town’s water system is “beginning to look like a water plant.”

Wayne Hypes, president of Dunn Engineering, said things are moving along well, but the work is at a critical point as contractors get ready to commission new filters in the plant where older filters are beginning to fail.

This particular part of the process will require contractors to work at night so as not to interfere with “pump time” at the plant.

While the report on the water improvement project was good news, council then entered into a gut-wrenching discussion of issues in regard to its sewage treatment lagoons.

Item #3 on the agenda was “Discuss and/or Act on the Town’s Response to DEP Consent Order and Associated Timeline for a Plan of Corrective Action.”

Region IV Executive Director John Tuggle was in attendance and began his presentation with the words, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

There are few towns in West Virginia that still have sewage treatment lagoons. Most of them have sewage treatment plants.

There are even fewer towns whose sewer rates are as low as those charged by the Town of Marlinton.

The average rate in the state is $41 per 3,400 gallons, while the Town of Marlinton’s rate is just $14.

Customers would see this as a good thing, but the fact of the matter is, such a low rate prohibits the town from being eligible for loans or grants to upgrade to a better system.

Tuggle went on to say that if you took out the Town of Marlinton’s rate from the calculation of the state’s average rate, the average would actually be $46 per 3,400 gallons.

To be eligible for grants and loans the town needs to increase its rate to at least $35.71 per 3,400 gallons.

In addition, the town’s MHI (median household income) stands at .61, which is far below the needed 1.5 to even begin to be eligible for grants and loans.

“Until you get to 1.75, you don’t stand a chance,” Tuggle said. 

The town finds itself facing fines of thousands of dollars as the performance of the lagoons fails to meet Department of Environmental Protection standards.

This has gone on for years, despite the town’s efforts to improve that performance.

“With lagoons, you are limited as to what you can do,” Felton said. 

With high air temperatures and lack of adequate aeration, algae bloom is a major problem at the lagoons, as is the matter of stormwater going into the system, increasing treatment costs as it is treated as wastewater.

Felton said he had considered buying grass carp as a means of controling vegetation, but found out that the turtles at the lagoon would eat the carp.

So that option is off the table.

The town has spent a lot of money on motors for one of the three aerators. Mon Power was called in to see if there was an issue with the power to the lagoons, and found that the power was coming in from the lines, but was not making it through the obsolete electrical boxes.

Tuggle recommended that the town hire a consultant to help it formulate a plan to deal with issues at the lagoons, as well as formulate a plan for corrective measures that would be acceptable to the DEP.

In addition, he suggested that the town look at increasing sewer rates. There has been no increase in those rates in 10 years.

Councilmember Bill McMann said people would be upset if the rates went up.

Recorder B. J. Gudmundsson said people would be more upset if the town’s sewer system failed.

A Special Marlinton Town Council Meeting is set for Monday, September 23, at 6 p.m. to address hiring a consultant to assist council going forward.

In other matters, council heard a report from the Rental Compliance Committee. That committee has developed a recordkeeping system for the Building Inspector’s Office and, in addition, will review the workload of that office. Forms are being reviewed and revamped and the committee will meet with representatives from other municipalities to look at their processes.

The Building Inspector is now required to make mon-thly reports to the mayor.

Web Committee chair Gail Hyer gave a detailed report on that committee’s work which focuses on developing a website that will promote the many assets of the town. The committee will send out surveys to stakeholders to gain their input.

Town policeman Travis Cook reported on his activities for the past two months which included 53 calls for issues ranging from animal control to welfare checks. Since his hiring, there has been a steady decline in the number of criminal incidences.

Cook asked council to expedite its approval of changes to the town’s code, so penalties could be assessed, thereby generating income from fines for violations.

Gudmundsson advised council that it had had two readings of the changes, and a public meeting should be advertised so council could move forward with approving the ordinance.

Nelson Hernandez asked that council address the issue of the numerous vehicles parked at the northern end of Tannery Row. Some of those vehicles appear to be on town property as well as on property belonging to the Greenbrier River Trail. 

People riding on the trail find that area to be “scary,” he said.

The August MTC agenda called for the appointment of a person to fill Joe Smith’s vacant seat on the Planning Commission. Zachary Graham had been recommended by the commission to fill that seat.

Smith had served as a citizen member, but once elected to council, he was unable to serve as there were only two seats for council members – one is held by Felton and the other by Gudmundsson.

At the August meeting, councilmember Chris Curry asked that the seat be advertised to allow interested parties an opportunity to apply.

According to Felton, only one other person submitted a letter of interest, and it was put in the town’s drop box an hour and 48 minutes after the deadline.

Council approved the appointment of Graham, 3 to 2, with Curry and McMann voting against. 

Marlinton Town Council meets the first Monday of each month, holidays excluded, at 7 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.

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