County Commissioners Discuss Marlinton Flooding with Army Corps of Engineers

Ken Woodard, the Chief of Planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spoke via Zoom Meeting at September 6th Pocahontas County Commission Meeting about options to mitigate flooding in the Marlinton area. Commission President Walt Helmick led off this discussion by saying that flooding damages appear 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 river bed to determine how much sediment there is and to present options as to how the sediment can be removed from the river. Helmick also said he has received a report from the WV Department of Environmental Protection. In their 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 WV which 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 between 6 to 8 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 it could just refill with sediment again.  He suggested having the Corps conduct an expensive hydrology study. He said the Federal Government would only pay for 2/3 of the cost of the study while the state or local governments would be responsible for the remaining 1/3 cost. Even if done, that study might not recommend dredging the sediment from the river. Woodard said that if the study did recommend the dredging, the Federal Government would pay the first $100,000 of the cost of dredging then would only pay half of the remaining cost, up to ten million dollars, with the state or local governments needing to pay the rest of the cost.

Sam Felton told Woodard that he understands that Greenbrier County portion of the river has already been dredged, but Woodard said has no knowledge about that.

Fred Burns told Woodard that people here are tired of having studies done yet no action implemented to mitigate the flooding has resulted.

John Simmons told Woodard that Interstate Hardwoods dredged the river near their plant a number of years ago and built up the banks, and this has alleviated the flooding at their plant.

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 commissioners 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 there being 1400 students in the county, instead of based upon the 949 students in the county schools. Ruth Bland of the Board of Education was at the meeting and pointed out that this year there are actually only 901 students enrolled in the county schools. She said that extra 1400 Rule funding helps pay for additional teachers and service personnel that are nor 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% of the Special Education costs although they require the schools to provide many more expensive Special Education services which it does not pay for.

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 Senior Services provide, including the number of  miles driven to provide those services and the number and costs of meals they provide to the senior community.

The commissioners approved the Region 4 Hazardous Mitigation Plan and issued a resolution of support for it.

They also discussed a salary issue with two Deputy Sheriffs while in Executive Session then they returned to open session and approved a pay settlement with the Deputies.

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 for signing some legal documents.

Mark Smith of the Pocahontas County Public Service District asked the commissioners 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 dollars from a grant and loan for this but the bids came in at 3.4 million dollars instead of the anticipated 1.9 million dollars. 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 commissioners could use some of their 1.6 million dollars of American Rescue Plan (ARP) money to help fund that additional cost. The commissioners told him they have already committed all of their ARP funding. Smith then asked them for a letter stating the commission had no ARP funding left which they could present to possibly help obtain extra grant money or a loan to pay for that increased cost. The commissioners agreed to do that.

The commissioners then reviewed the status of their ARP funding. Commissioner Helmick said they have committed one million dollars of their 1.6-million-dollar ARP 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 commissioners temporarily recessed their meeting to visit and examine their site at the former Hanover Shoe Property in Marlinton.  They did this to see where the Pocahontas County Saddle Club proposes to build improvements to their rodeo grounds they lease from the county there. The Saddle club wants to renew their lease on the property with a long-term lease so they can build improvements to their rodeo grounds there, including a roof over the competition area. After reviewing the site, the commissioners asked to 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.

The commissioners also approved the Title II, (rather than the Tittle III) selection process for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; agreed to advertise to fill an appointment to the WV Solid Waste Management Board, and approved a Letter of Understanding with the Fire Departments, as required by WV Law.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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