Elkins Water Rates to Rise in Bills Due December 19

The increase pays for the $37 million Water System Improvement Project.

City of Elkins water customers will see sizable rate increases in their bills due December 19. Here’s why: The city is commencing debt service on the $37 million package of loans and bonds that funded the new water-treatment plant, pumping station, reservoir, and other critical improvements to the Elkins water system. The new water-treatment plant is anticipated to go into service in December.

[Related: 2017 Water Rate Increase FAQ]

The New Rates
This rate increase is the second of two approved by Elkins Common Council in 2015. The first increase, which went into effect in 2015, covered the increased cost of ongoing operations. The increase that will be seen on bills due December 19 covers the cost of the Elkins Water System Improvement Project and was a loan condition imposed by the project’s funders, according to Bob Pingley, the operations manager for the City of Elkins.

“Just like individuals applying for mortgages have to prove they have the income to make repayment, we had to commit to raising our water rates enough to cover our monthly payments before we could access project funds,” Pingley says, going on to explain that the sole purpose of this increase is to cover the almost $116,000 monthly payments that the city will have to make until 2055. West Virginia law requires that municipal water utilities be run like independent businesses, with no income other than customer payments.

Under the new rates, the cost for customers’ first 2,000 gallons will rise from $10 to $15.25 per 1,000 gallons, a 52.5 percent increase, and the cost for customers’ next 3,000 gallons will rise from $5.49 to $8.50 per 1,000 gallons, a 54.83 percent increase. The full text of the water-rate ordinance, including other rate changes, may be reviewed online here.

Just in Time
The city’s new water plant marks a big step forward from the old plant, which has been in service since 1921. “The people who built our old plant almost a century ago did great work,” says Pingley. “But everything has a lifespan, and the old plant has gotten to a point where we can’t prudently rely on it much longer.”

One of the most crucial capabilities of the new water-treatment plant is that it is equipped with backup generators, which the old plant has always lacked because of the nonstandard design of its 1920s-era electrical system. Lack of backup power isn’t a problem when power outages are brief, but there have been times in the city’s recent history when longer power outages have come close to draining city reservoirs, such as during Hurricane Sandy.

“During the Hurricane Sandy power outage, we got to within about 5 hours of running our reservoir dry,” says Pingley, who points out that—although Elkins can supply backup water to neighboring utilities if their plants break down—no neighboring utility can generate enough water to supply both its own customers and Elkins. “Until the new plant comes on line, if a power outage lasts long enough, Elkins could simply run out of water.”

The effects of losing city water range from inconvenient to grim to terrifying. Conditions in homes would quickly become unsanitary; schools and businesses would close; hospitals and other care facilities would have to limit services and evacuate patients; and dry hydrants and sprinkler systems would make it difficult or impossible to fight fires.

“Everyone at the City of Elkins is going to heave a huge sigh of relief once we shift to the new plant,” says Pingley.

A New Plant for a New Century
The new plant can produce 4,000 gallons of clean drinking water per minute, compared to the old plant’s 3,800. The new plant also provides a positive barrier against waterborne viruses by using filtration membranes, which are replaceable and so can be upgraded as filtration technology advances. A new 3-million-gallon, pre-stressed-concrete reservoir tank, which replaces the welded-steel Crystal Springs and McQuain Road tanks, has also been constructed next to the new plant atop Reservoir Hill in the city’s Wees District.

Because of the hilltop location of both the new plant and the new reservoir, the city’s water distribution system will be entirely gravity-fed for the first time, which Pingley says offers additional customer benefits.

“A gravity-fed distribution system eliminates fluctuations in water pressure, makes the system less vulnerable to shocks from power surges and restarting the pump after power outages, and simplifies flushing lines,” says Pingley. “That should translate to fewer water-main breaks and other service disruptions, less sediment at the tap, and decreased stress on appliances and fixtures.”

More Than Just a New Water Plant
Pingley emphasizes that this isn’t a “water-plant project,” it’s a “water-system improvement project.” In other words, that $37 million price tag is buying Elkins a lot more than a twenty-first-century, state-of-the-art water plant and a new, highly durable reservoir tank. Other water-system improvements include the installation of 43,540 feet of new water lines; the removal of many old, deteriorated sections of pipe; 41 new fire hydrants; and a new pumping station with backup generators and new intakes and raw-water pumps.

“I know no one is happy about this big jump in water rates, but I want everyone to understand how much value we are getting for the money,” says Pingley, who explains that the city’s new water rates are similar to those charged by other West Virginia cities that have also recently completed large water infrastructure projects. “After this project, Elkins will have a much more robust, redundant, reliable water system, which I know everyone wants—not just for ourselves, today, but also for the future generations who will live and work in Elkins. These new rates are simply what it costs to achieve that.”

More than 100 Truck Loads of Snow Removed from Downtown

WS Jonas cleanupWe have gotten some questions about city snow-removal operations. Here’s what’s been going on and what we have planned.

As soon as flakes started to fly on Friday, plowing and road treatment commenced. Crews from not only the Street Department but also the Water Transmission Department, the Wastewater Collection and Transmission Department, and others worked around the clock until the snow ceased and it was clear that primary and secondary roads would remain open without constant attention. Crews were then sent home for some much-needed rest.

On Monday, the Street Department set to work clearing snow from the city’s central business district. You may have seen the barricades as loaders, graders, plows and dump trucks made their way block by block until today, when Davis Avenue was finally cleared from First Street to Fifth Street. In the process, more than 100 dump-truck loads of snow were transferred to Glendale Park.

The next, and final, phase of our response to Winter Storm Jonas will be to look for and clear additional intersections where piled snow could create traffic hazards. Unfortunately, because the arrival of winter weather does not reduce any of the usual, day-to-day demands on all city departments, we will not be able to mount clearing operations throughout the rest of the city similar to the one just concluded on Davis Avenue.

Once again, we thank those residents who complied with the requirement to clear sidewalks in front of their own houses and businesses, checked on neighbors, dug out each other’s cars, and in general behaved like the resourceful, resilient folks this state is known for. It’s fair to say we dodged a bullet where Jonas was concerned (imagine if that snow had been as wet as during Hurricane Sandy, for example), but it seems everyone did a great job rising to the occasion.

Let’s hope French Creek Freddie has some good news for us next Tuesday!

Update Concerning New Billboards in Elkins

As extensively discussed on the city’s Facebook page, two billboards (one LED, one non-LED) are currently being installed in the City of Elkins. Here are some fast facts about this situation:
  • Yes, NEW billboards (LED or traditional) are illegal in Elkins going forward, as a result of the sign ordinance approved in the summer.
  • However, the signs going in at Davis and Randolph and on Harrison are nonetheless LEGAL, because the company that owns them, Legends Outdoor, applied for  sign permits before the final approval of that ordinance.
  • Once in place, these signs are considered “grandfathered,” meaning that the ordinance’s prohibitions against such signs do not apply, just as they do not apply to the several other existing billboards in town. However, the ordinance’s requirements concerning upkeep and repairs, etc., will apply to them. Also, they cannot ever be enlarged.
  • In other words, there is NOTHING the city can do to prevent this sign from going in, AND the city has also taken action to prevent all future such signs from going in. The only entity with any ability to alter the course of this project is Legends Outdoor; their representative, Steve Snyder, may be reached at ssnyder@legendsoutdoor.com and by phone via the information provided on his company website’s contact page.
  • Silver lining: Legends Outdoor has pledged that they will, for free, display information requested by local authorities (e.g., Amber/Silver Alerts, boil water advisories, etc.).
To expand on that last point: Mr. Snyder spoke with Mayor Broughton yesterday. In that conversation, Mr. Snyder reemphasized his company’s willingness to work with the city to broadcast urgent/emergency messages. This could even include giving the city direct access to be able to place an emergency message day or night, but the technical specifics of that capability need to be researched, so this is not yet a firm arrangement.
Mr. Snyder also confirmed that the sign will be dimmed to some extent at night and said that the company might consider turning it off altogether between midnight and 5 a.m., depending on community input.
We have heard from many upset residents about this issue. We want you to know that we hear you and understand why you are upset. However, the current elected leadership and administration of the City of Elkins are committed to the rule of law; we cannot pick and choose who the law applies to and who it does not apply to.
Therefore, no matter how strongly many of us might wish otherwise, there was no magic parliamentary or other maneuver available to council or any city official that could have legally prevented the issuance of this permit, which was due to the applicant (Legends Outdoor) on April 29, before the first reading of the first version of the sign ordinance on May 7, 2015 (and of course even that version was later changed substantively enough to require two further readings, such that it was not finally approved until mid-June). As asserted to us by an attorney retained by Legends Outdoor:
  • “West Virginia law does not give cities the authority to suspend a valid ordinance. See Bittinger v. Corporation of Bolivar, 183 W.Va. 310, 314-15 (1990) (rejecting the city’s attempt to defer consideration of any new permits for ninety days by declaring a “moratorium” on any applications while a new ordinance was adopted).”
  • “West Virginia case law does not support the ability of the City of Elkins to retroactively apply any revised code that may be adopted to my client’s previously submitted applications. See Far Away Farm, LLC v. Jefferson County Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 222 W.Va. 252, 259 (2008).”

Thanks for reading, and we will keep you posted.

EPD: Shots fired on South Davis Avenue

From Chief Craig:

Tuesday morning, at about 2:45 a.m., Elkins Police Department (EPD) received reports of a “shots fired” incident in the 900 block of South Davis Avenue.

EPD and Randolph County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to the scene and discovered multiple shell casings and one expended bullet in a nearby parking lot. Officers observed damage to a nearby business consistent with bullet strikes. Officers also encountered and interviewed two male subjects who may have been involved in this incident.

Based on information collected so far, this does not appear to have been a random incident, but rather an altercation between individuals known to each other. The damaged business does not seem to have been targeted directly and is believed to have been damaged collaterally during this altercation that just happened to occur in its vicinity. We do not believe that the general public is in danger.

We would greatly appreciate the public’s assistance in locating a silver car, possibly a Dodge Neon, that may have been involved in this incident. As always, we also request that the public be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.

In an emergency, please dial 911.
During business hours (8:00-4:30), EPD may also be reached at (304) 636-0678.

Council Shortens Early Voting Period

At its regular meeting of February 7, 2013, the Elkins Common Council shortened the early-voting period for the 2013 municipal election. The new early-voting period will begin Wednesday, February 20 and end Saturday, March 2. Voters who were planning to vote early are urged to review their travel plans to see if might be necessary to instead apply for a mail-in absentee ballot. (Download an application here.)

The location for early voting is in the municipal courtroom at Elkins City Hall, 401 Davis Avenue. This location is wheelchair accessible through the rear of city hall.

During the early voting period, voters may cast ballots from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on two Saturdays, February 23 and March 2.

Any eligible voters may vote during the early-voting period just as on election day; no special reason is necessary and no explanation must be given.

Election day is March 5, 2013; polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Voter registration for this election closes on Tuesday, February 12. For more information about city elections, including the location of the polling places for each ward, click here.

Please direct any questions to the city clerk at 304-636-1414, ext. 1211.