By Dakota Baker
Ronceverte City Council held their monthly meeting on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. In attendance were councilmembers Gail White, Tanya Hazelwood, Scott Vogelsong, and City Recorder Leah Smith and Mayor Deena Pack. The meeting opened with a public comment period, with concerned citizens taking the floor to voice their opinions on the flood mitigation project planned for the bottom of Ronceverte Hill.
Funding for the project was originally announced in Nov. 2021 by Gov. Jim Justice with the following description: “Project: City of Ronceverte Storm Water Project. CDBG-MIT Amount: $8,800,000. Description: This project will construct stormwater infrastructure improvements to reduce flood hazards in the City of Ronceverte. The storm water project will serve 1,750 residents by reducing flooding along streets and sidewalks in the city. Improvements will include storm drain upgrades and storm drain improvements to aging infrastructure.”
The funds are being made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant Mitigation Program (CDBG-MIT). The program helps communities impacted by recent natural disasters carry out strategic and high-impact activities to mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses.
Citizens voiced concerns that the property owners who own land where the flood mitigation project is taking place were not made aware of any of the plans until Oct. 27, 2023, when an assessor called and inquired about buying their properties. There was also concern as to why in a meeting held on Friday, Nov. 3, they were not given an explanation as to why properties needed to be bought for the flood mitigation project instead of leased from the property owners. Citizens also stated none of their questions were answered at the meeting held on Nov. 3.
There were also questions as to why citizens haven’t been made aware of the details of what is happening with the funding for the project, and how the funds are being spent. A concerned citizen demanded their questions be answered and said that this project makes them feel unwelcome as new business owners. Another speaker said he has asked the city to consider another engineer for the flood mitigation project, one who is more knowledgeable on the subject.
Mayor Deena Pack addressed the crowd: “I know there has been a lot of confusion and miscommunication regarding the Storm Water Mitigation project on Ronceverte Hill over the last week. We’ve been working on this project for some time with our legal and engineering team, as well as other professionals to obtain grant money. As mentioned, it is $8.8 million for this project… An appraiser did make contact with several property owners last week. We were surprised to learn that this was the first time some of these property owners had heard of the project. I do apologize to the people at the meeting on Friday that it went down that way, it was not our intention.”
Mayor Pack went on to say that there is misinformation being spread about the project via social media, and there is nothing about the Flood Mitigation project that is intended to be kept secret, or classified, and at no point in time has anyone from the city stated this project was classified. All steps regarding the project must be voted on by City Council. All invoices for the project have been voted on and approved by the city council. Mayor Pack also shut down the rumor of an “artificial river” stating, “There is absolutely no plan to create some sort of artificial river for tourism purposes, as I was advised today.”
Mayor Pack also addressed an incident that took place Nov. 6 where a gentleman who grew up in Ronceverte was involved in an accident. She asked that the community keeps the family of the victim and the driver in our thoughts.
Council also covered old business regarding Ordinance No.2023-10, Arts & Crafts and Yard Sale Permits, and 2023-11, Rules and Order of Business. A motion for a second reading of Ordinance No. 2023-10 and 2023-11 was proposed and approved. The second reading of Ordinance No. 2023-10 was to amend the $10 event fee, which has been removed.
A proposal was made for the City of Ronceverte to become a “Rail Fan” location. Rail Fans are individuals who travel to watch and take pictures of trains. If the City of Ronceverte were to become a “Rail Fan Friendly Train Watching Location” it would allow those individuals to come to the area and view the trains. This proposal is currently being considered by the Parks and Recreation Committee. A motion to table the proposal until Parks and Recreation votes on whether Ronceverte should consider making the city a Rail Fan location was approved by council.
No comments were made by the police department or water and street departments.
City recorder Leah Smith spoke about a recent Accelerate meeting she attended. Ronceverte is one of the six communities in WV chosen to participate in the Accelerate program. According to their website, “The Accelerate WV program supports community leaders who are wanting to work together as a team to make a lasting impact on the economic well-being and quality of life for their fellow residents.”
Communities who are a part of the Accelerate WV program receive: support to develop community teams made up of a diverse set of 7-10 community leaders; program support, resource connections, and project-specific training will occur across four group sessions, and monthly community-based meetings; professional on-the-ground coaching services to work through goals and obstacles; peer learning opportunities with other communities in the cohort; Brownfields site assessment and building revitalization strategies; Technical support for building reuse and revitalization; provide direct assessment and analysis services for sites, evaluating buildings for renovation and remediation opportunities and providing technical assistance to complete environmental studies, structural analyses and other related reports needed for site development; Entrepreneurial development and training services; and more.
The Trick or Treat event hosted on Oct. 28 by the River Festival has a great turnout this year. Normal Trick or Treating that took place Halloween day was also a great success with an abundance of kids participating. Many citizens also participated in the House Decorating contest. Jason Morgan took the first place prize of a $100 gift certificate to Lionakis Diner.
A Silent Auction BINGO will be hosted by the River Festival on Friday, Nov. 17, at the fire department, doors open at 5:30 p.m. There will be BINGO, 16 other games, a silent auction, and a 50/50 raffle for the Fire Department. Local businesses are invited to donate prizes to the Silent Auction BINGO event.
The annual free Thanksgiving Dinner will be held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, from noon to 4 p.m. at the fairgrounds. It is a free Thanksgiving dinner, no questions asked, just to show up and have a great meal. Volunteers are welcome and encouraged to come the day before to help prepare food and the day of to the event, to hand out food, and help clean up. All leftover, unopened, food is donated to the local food pantry.
The Ronceverte Parade will be held the first Monday of December, moving the December City Council meeting to Dec. 11.