By Lyra Bordelon
In addition to Town Council’s letter about policing shortfalls and public calls for Mayor Travis Copenhaver’s removal, council approved the first reading of a design loan ordinance totaling $600,000 for water infrastructure, addressed the finances behind storm drain issues remaining from the flood of 2016, and heard comments on Howell Street and drainage throughout the town on Thursday, August 13 in a socially distanced meeting.
A massive water project for the town of Alderson has been in the works for the past few years. In the Thursday meeting, council approved the first of three readings needed to approve a bond that would borrow money for the project’s beginnings.
Totaling $600,000, the bond would be repaid over a three-year period, with the “money necessary to pay the interest” until the maturity of the bond borrowed as part of the bond.
“The proceeds of the [bond] will be used to finance pre-construction cost for the proposed water project, such as design, accounting, real estate, and surveying,” explained a memo from Steptoe and Johnson, a law firm working with the town on the project. “By issuing the [bond] for these pre-construction costs, the town can avoid an immediate rate increase and have the project designed and ready to file with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.”
The a public reading of the resolution has to be passed three times by council, including this first passage in August, a second in September, and a third, alongside a public hearing, currently planned for October.
Ongoing efforts to repair Alderson after the flood of 2016 continue.
“About the only way to secure the last ten percent payment from FEMA for the work that’s being done to finish this side (Monroe County) of the river, we had to have funding to secure about $250,000 to be able to pay our percentage,” Copenhaver said. “Everything is being done in the free money and everything that’s being done has to be reimbursed after the project is complete. … When we asked the Infrastructure, Jobs, and Development Council (IJDC) for these funds, I was shocked that it came without interest. … We’re very fortunate to have the relationship we have with the IJDC. [They] are going to give us a grant for $250,000 to take care of the last part of the FEMA project and after FEMA has closed out their part of the project … the town pays it back without interest.”
Previously, the town was granted additional funds from FEMA after West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Executive Direction Mike Todorovich visited the town and saw the progress made.
“We’ve been though everything we could to get the most bang for our buck with FEMA. We, by rights, should be paying 25 percent of $4 million,” Copenhaver said. “… Alderson was the only FEMA award grantee [in West Virginia] to get an advance down to 10 percent instead of the 25 percent.”
Among the eight project lists the town has been working on since the flood of 2016, the town still has $250,000 left remaining to return to FEMA. Noting that the town couldn’t touch the money unless “we all go to the penitentiary,” Copenhaver explained the money has remained with the town since FEMA has not collected it.
“The projects have to be completed before they can be finalized, as far as the paperwork and payments,” Copenhaver said. “We’ve been sitting on $250,000 in the bank for the past four years that we’ve not been able to pay back because of the close out process. That adversely effects our audit because the bank only insures a certain amount, up to $100,000. We’ve been trying to turn that money back in for about two years but it’s not going anywhere cause, obviously, FEMA’s not in any hurry to take their money back.”
Jason Ward approached Town Council to address the conditions of Howell Street.
“Until I lived in Glenn Ray, I didn’t know much about [Howell Street],” Jason Ward explained. “When you live down there and the railroad crossing is blocked for a scheduled closure, and sometimes it’s an unscheduled closure, and CSX has it blocked early in the morning or late in the evenings. It’s a very narrow road. … I’m just really concerned, if there’s an emergency down in Glenn Ray, how can we get a fire truck or ambulance [down there]?”
Copenhaver noted ambulances, but not firetrucks, are able to cross the bridge and that CSX trains are “not supposed to block the crossing for more than 30 minutes at a time.” He also noted another possible answer – Copenhaver met with West Virginia Conservation Agency about Hardwood Creek, “asking them for a complete street redo and part of that is to change the design where it exits the river. If we can go straight into the river … that would take care of the bridge issue as well.” In addition, another costly option was provided after a Department of Highways study approximately six years ago.
Copenhaver also stated he “would try” to get some town crews to make brush improvements to the road visibility.
In other business:
• Several citizen concerns about water drainage throughout the city were raised, with Copenhaver explaining that the “problem is … the money to fix it.” For example, fixing one local football, according to “estimates by Rick and the Wiseman foreman,” would cost about $60,000, Copenhaver said. “That’s to go to the bottom of Lee Street, at Lee Street and Cedar, put a box and four drop inlets in to catch the new drains that’s are on the bottom of the street and completely bypass the football field.”
• The liquidation of a K9 unit enabled Ford Explorer “that was part of the problem with the police department’s budget,” according to Copenhaver, was approved, allowing the city to raise funds for newer vehicles for the department.
• Judy Lohmeyer was approved to serve on the Alderson Library Board.