City Hall News: Week of October 18, 2021

Meeting this week are council’s Municipal Properties Committee, the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission, the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission, the Elkins Sanitary Board, and the Elkins Board of Zoning Appeals. Council meets Thursday.

On Tuesday, at it 4 p.m. meeting at the Darden House, the Historic Landmarks Commission will discuss its upcoming report to city council and review a report concerning the Darden House. Old business items include ongoing monitoring of conditions at Maplewood Cemetery.

The Municipal Properties Committee meets Wednesday at 9 a.m. This meeting will open with a hearing on a citizen request that the city abandon unopened sections of Wilmoth Avenue and Main Street, in Second Ward. The committee will also discuss future uses of the city’s parking lot at Seneca Mall and the design of new welcome signs to replace the old iron signs on Randolph Avenue and Harrison Avenue.

Meeting later Wednesday, at 4 p.m., the Board of Zoning Appeals will orient and train new members prior to a zoning appeal planned to be scheduled sometime in November.

Also Wednesday, at 5 p.m., the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission meets at the Phil Gainer Community Center on an agenda that, in addition to recurring reports, includes the item “Riverbend Park sewer project—Elkins Little League.”

The Sanitary Board meets Thursday at 6 p.m. The agenda has not yet been posted.

Council meets Thursday at 7 p.m. The agenda may be adjusted through Tuesday. Current items include a proposed contract for new time clocks and related software from Tyler Technologies and consideration of a proposed $5,000 capitalization threshold for fixed assets.

Elkins Friends of Trees is hosting a work day at the Kump House on Saturday. Starting at 9:30 a.m., volunteers are needed to plant trees and install fencing to protect heirloom apple trees from deer. Visit the Elkins Friends of Trees Facebook page for more information: www.facebook.com/ElkinsFriendsOfTrees.

Utility bill and in-city Fire & Rescue Service Fee payments are due by Tuesday. Third quarter business and occupation (B&O) tax returns are due by October 31.

Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue.)

Update 2: River Street Boil Water Advisory Lifted

Update as of 10/17, 10:13 a.m.: The boil-water advisory for River Street customers has been lifted.
Update as of 10/16, 10:15 a.m.: River Street customers remain under a boil-water advisory. The next update will be Sunday.

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Original post (October 14th, 2021 | 3:27 pm):

As a result of a water-main break, water customers living on River Street are now under a boil-water advisory. The earliest this advisory can be lifted will be  Saturday, depending how quickly repairs proceed and a sample may be taken. We will post updates as more information is available.

Water system employees are working to restore service as quickly as possible. Estimated time of repair is before midnight tonight.

Boil-water advisories are issued out of an abundance of caution because positive pressure has been lost and the possibility of contamination exists, not because contamination has been detected. Detection of contamination requires analysis by an independent lab. For more information about what to do under a boil-water advisory, click here.

Notification will be sent out when the boil water advisory is lifted. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and appreciate your patience during this time.

To keep up to date on these and similar announcements, please follow the following channels:

Update 2: Edgewater Boil Water Advisory Lifted

Update as of 10/15, 9:41 a.m.: The Edgewater boil water advisory has been lifted. Lab tests detected no contamination in our sample. Thank you for your patience.

Update as of 10/14, 8:35 a.m.: Repairs are complete and water service has been restored. However, Edgewater Drive customers remain under a boil water advisory. A water sample is being collected and taken to an independent lab in Clarksburg for testing, a process that requires at least 24 hours to determine whether or not any contamination has occurred. The boil water advisory will therefore remain in place until at least noon on Friday.

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Water Outage in Much of South Elkins

There has been a major water-main break in the 200 block of Edgewater Drive.

As a result of this break, water customers living on Edgewater Drive are now under a boil-water advisory that can be expected to last for approximately the next 48 hours.

Work to repair this break will result in a widespread area of low or no water pressure in South Elkins. Water system employees are working to restore service as quickly as possible.

Boil-water advisories are issued out of an abundance of caution because positive pressure has been lost and the possibility of contamination exists, not because contamination has been detected. Detection of contamination requires analysis by an independent lab. For more information about what to do under a boil-water advisory, click here.

Notification will be sent out when the boil water advisory is lifted. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and appreciate your patience during this time.

To keep up to date on these and similar announcements, please follow the following channels:

Updated: Council Focuses on Infrastructure for ARPA funds

5 Percent Reserved for Qualifying Community-Proposed Projects

Elkins, W. Va., October 11, 2021: The Elkins council is prioritizing infrastructure and physical plant projects as it decides how to spend the $3 million the city is receiving under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). With decisions made at last week’s meeting and its meeting of August 19, council has now allocated 47 percent of the total disbursement, with a large share already reserved for long overdue repairs and upgrades to the city’s water system.

One of last week’s council actions also reserved funds for an engineering assessment to prioritize additional pressing water and sewer projects. According to Mayor Jerry Marco, the city’s infrastructure needs greatly exceed the $3 million ARPA disbursement. As a result, he says, the city doesn’t have the luxury of using much of this money for non-essential work.

“It would be wonderful if we could use ARPA money for a bunch of new facilities and programs and really build out what we’re currently providing to the people of Elkins,” says Marco. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of deferred maintenance and other really urgent work that it would be irresponsible to postpone.”

Federal rules state that ARPA funds may be used in four broad categories: to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts; to provide premium pay to workers performing essential work during the public health emergency; to replace lost public sector revenues; and to make investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

Council’s Initial ARPA Decisions

An online survey that was available in late summer found public support for using ARPA funds to address infrastructure needs. Although an opt-in survey of this kind cannot be considered representative of the population at large, 62 percent of the 232 respondents said they would rather see the city use its ARPA disbursement to make “investments in critical infrastructure.” Only 38 percent supported using ARPA funds for responding to the public health emergency or otherwise directly addressing the effects of the pandemic.

To date, council has decided to spend around $650,000 in ARPA funds on equipment and initial supplies needed to replace decrepit water lines and correct deficiencies that have been identified at the water treatment plant.

Another $450,000 is reserved for city hall projects that will be planned in coordination with council’s Municipal Properties Committee. Likely projects include the installation of a generator to provide power for the police department and other essential city services during emergencies, as well as making the century-old building more accessible for all citizens, such as by installing an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp and an elevator approved for passenger use.

At last week’s meeting, council decided to reserve 5 percent of the total ARPA disbursement for projects proposed by community organizations which fall into approved expenditure categories. Council also allocated $5,000 to the mayor’s Addiction and Homelessness Task Force for the purpose of training peer recovery coaches to assist persons with substance abuse disorder in seeking treatment. Two additional approved expenditures were $10,000 for a website redesign to improve accessibility and reliability and $21,350 for deployment and the first three years’ cost of a software platform to enable automated subscriptions, notifications, and online access to council and committee agendas, meeting minutes, and packets for the public.

These decisions were based on the recommendations of council’s ad hoc ARPA Advisory Committee, which was formed in June, soon after the announcement that Elkins would be receiving $3 million in ARPA Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF). Since June, the committee has been studying U.S. Department of the Treasury rules governing the use of these funds and analyzing suggestions and requests from city staff and the public to determine the most urgent eligible projects.

ARPA Ambiguities

One issue the committee has been grappling with is the fact that there are ambiguities concerning what projects can be paid for using ARPA funds. Certain types of projects are explicitly allowed under the published rules, such as investments in and improvements to existing water and sewer infrastructure. Other sections of the rules are less specific, however, and there is no state or federal process for obtaining advance approvals or authoritative advice.

“Cities and counties across the nation are having to do their best to interpret these rules on their own,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “It’s pretty clear that the water and sewer improvements that the committee is looking at are going to be allowed, but some of the rest of the rules are more open to interpretation. We’re just going to have to do our best to get as close as possible to the intent of the language, but it is possible that some of our proposed projects could be determined ineligible during a later audit.”

For this reason, community organizations interested in applying for portions of the 5 percent council reserved for them will be asked to explain how their proposed projects fit into the federal guidelines. They will also be expected to provide detailed written budgets and other documentation as appropriate to their proposals.

“Any organizations thinking of applying to use ARPA funds need to keep in mind that this is a much more formal process than requesting contributions from the city’s general fund,” says Sutton. “The ARPA rules do allow the city to disburse some of these funds to community organizations, but they are considered subrecipients under the legislation and must follow all of the same documentation requirements and potentially be subject to the same audits as the city.”

First Bite of the Elephant

“As I said earlier this year, $3 million may sound like a lot of money but, with the high cost and competition for materials resulting from ARPA funds going out nationwide, it’s just not going to go as far as it would have a few years ago,” says Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco. “That is why I have cautioned council and citizens to taper their expectations regarding this funding.”

The mayor gave examples of just a few of the many projects the ARPA Advisory Committee is considering.

“We have a $35 million state-of-the-art water plant up on the hill, but we’re pushing water out through 100-year-old lines,” he says. “We have bridges that are in desperate need of attention. City hall is not ADA compliant. To top it all off, it’s recently been brought to our attention that the flood control system is going to need some work as well.”

Many of the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs were not brought to the attention of elected officials until late summer, according to the mayor.

“The existence of these problems is not exactly a surprise, but the magnitude of it all is only just now coming to light,” says Marco. “We can’t give an exact bottom line on all of it, but safe to say we’re looking at tens and tens of millions of dollars of urgent infrastructure work needed in the near term.”

Addressing all of these problems will carry a price tag greatly exceeding the city’s ARPA disbursement, but what that price tag is won’t be clear until after the engineering assessment council authorized last week, as well as further research and analysis by city staff.

“The remaining 53 percent of the ARPA funds we haven’t allocated yet will help us address some of this, but it’s just the first bite of the elephant,” says Marco. “We are actively seeking other funding sources as well, and of course we are following negotiations about the infrastructure bills in D.C. closely. These are problems we can solve, and we have a good team working on them, but it’s going to take time and work and it’s not all going to be paid for with free money from the federal government.”

ARPA funds are being distributed in two equal disbursements, half in 2021 and half in 2022; the city received its initial tranche of ARPA funds this summer. ARPA funds cannot be used to cover expenditures made prior to March 3, 2021. Funds must be obligated no later than December 31, 2024, and expenditures to cover those obligations must occur no later than December 31, 2026.

For more about City of Elkins planning concerning ARPA funds, including a link to the results of the online survey, visit our website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/arpa-funds.

City Hall News: Week of October 11, 2021

Meeting this week are council’s Public Safety Committee, Rules & Ordinances Committee, and Personnel Committee. Adopt-a-Tree applications will be accepted through Friday. The city does not close for Columbus Day; the street sweeper will run as usual.

The Public Safety Committee meets Monday at 9 a.m. The committee will hear an update on plans for procuring body-worn and dashboard cameras for the police department, costs for proposed demolition projects, and planned steps to address misuse of shopping carts. The city’s public safety officials will also make reports.

The Rules & Ordinances Committee meets Wednesday at 9 a.m. Agenda items include consideration of changes to city laws regarding the use of “street legal” UTVs on city streets, sidewalk ownership and responsibility downtown, and parking in alleys.

Meeting Thursday at 9 a.m., the Personnel Committee will take up agenda items including a personnel matter in the Operations Department, proposed hours for the executive secretary, staffing in the water distribution department, and the reappointment of the city treasurer.

Applications will be accepted through Friday for the Elkins Tree Board Adopt-a-Tree Program, through which residents can obtain a free tree for planting in front of their homes if they agree to water and maintain it. Read more here: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Adopt-a-Tree.

All of these meetings will be held in person at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue).

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Now Accepting Nominations for “Extra Mile Heroes”

November 1 is Extra Mile Day, and Mayor Jerry Marco wants to hear nominations from the public.

According to Extra Mile America, the organization coordinating this program, the purpose of Extra Mile Day is to celebrate the capacity everyone has to create positive change in their families, organizations, and communities by “going the extra mile. On Extra Mile Day, mayors of more than 500 cities across the nation will recognize three individuals or organizations in their local areas that “go the extra mile” in volunteerism and service.

On this November 1, Elkins will be one of those cities. Please submit nominations for this recognition to Mayor Marco by email. Your email should include:

  • The nominee’s name (can be a person or an organization from the Elkins area)
  • Two-to-four sentences describing why this person/organization was selected as an extra-mile change maker

Please submit nominations no later than October 20. Email nominations to the mayor’s office by clicking here or get in touch using the contact information below.

Mayor’s Executive Secretary
Rachel Wickham
rwickham@cityofelkinswv.com
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1110
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241

 

City of Elkins Tree Board Announces Friends of Trees Program

Date: October 5, 2021

Contact: Marilynn Cuonzo, Chair, Elkins Tree Board mcuonzo@cityofelkinswv.com

ELKINS-The City of Elkins Tree Board has recently reinvigorated the Friends of Trees (FOT) program which is made up of volunteers who support tree planting and greenspace projects throughout the city. Former tree board member Katy McClane, who has been active in many beautification projects associated with the WVU Master Gardener program, Emma Scott Garden Club and Elkins Main Street, serves as coordinator of this program.

Recently, FOT members assisted in cleaning up the gardens in front of City Hall and in the Darden Gardens. Future plans include tree plantings at the Kump House, tree nursery maintenance and other projects that will enhance the overall urban forest in Elkins.

“We encourage everyone to get involved,” McClane said. “There are hands-on projects as well as more research-based projects that volunteers could assist with. Everything can make a difference.”

The next Friends of Trees volunteer day is set for Saturday, October 23 beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Kump House across the street from Kroger’s on Randolph Ave. The project includes tree plantings and deer fence installation.

For more information on the Friends of Trees program or you would like to become a member, email Katy McClane: katy.mcclane@gmail.com. Friends of Trees also offers various workshops throughout the year and, those interested are encouraged to visit the Elkins Friends of Trees Facebook page. The Elkins Tree Board meets the first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden House adjacent to City Hall. The public is welcome to attend.

PHOTO CUTLINE: AmeriCorps member Haley Shreve (left) and Friends of Trees volunteer Paula Heinke work hard on beautifying the gardens in front of City Hall on a recent volunteer day.

City Hall News: Week of Oct. 4, 2021

Meeting this week are council’s Finance Committee and the Elkins Tree Board. Council also meets Thursday. 

The Finance Committee meets Monday at 10 a.m. Agenda items include analyzing current accounting for city-owned vehicles and heavy equipment; consideration of a proposal to outsource utility-bill mailing; and hearing a request from the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce for funds to support this year’s Christmas-display contest.  

The Tree Board meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Darden House (next door to city hall). The board will discuss a potential new source of trees for city use. Old business items include planning a tree planting at the Kump House, approving proposed new members, and reviewing the recent garden cleanup at city hall. The committee will also review any applications received for the 2021 Adopt-a-Tree program, which runs through October 15. More about Adopt-a-Tree: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Adopt-a-Tree. 

Council meets Thursday at 7 p.m. The agenda may be adjusted through Tuesday. Current items include the promotions of various fire and police department personnel, proposed changes to the organizational structure of Elkins Municipal Court, and a proposal to shift from enumerated expenses to a standard per diem for city employees traveling on business. Council will also plan an approval process for and consider additional proposed expenditures of ARPA funds. 

Third-quarter Business & Occupation (B&O) tax returns are due October 31. Delinquent utility accounts must be settled before Wednesday, October 6 to avoid disconnection. 

All meetings are at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue) unless otherwise stated.  

Water Line Replacement Near Orchard Street

On Monday, City of Elkins Water System employees will start a three-phase project to replace a water line under a disused alley near Orchard Street that has been the source of frequent leaks in recent years. The project is currently projected to continue through Friday and is being timed to minimize service interruptions in the area.

“We’ll be replacing a two-inch line that has been problematic for the last several years,” says Wes Lambert, chief operator of the Elkins Water System. “We’ve already had to repair this line multiple times this year alone.”

The source of the trouble has to do with the material the line is made from.

“This line is made from galvanized metal, like a lot of our lines, and unfortunately galvanized line is very prone to corrosion,” says Lambert. “We try to eliminate galvanized lines from our system whenever we get the opportunity.”

The galvanized line will be replaced with a 6-inch line made from C900, an extremely durable, flexible, corrosion-free PVC pipe material designed for potable water systems. Because of their smooth interior wall surfaces, C900 pipes dramatically decrease buildup of the sediments that can cause discoloration at the tap. A similar upgrade from galvanized to C900 is planned soon for a water line on nearby Woodland Drive.

The replacement near Orchard Street will proceed in three phases.

During Phase 1, crews will install a t-fitting and valve on the 8-inch main Orchard Street line.

“We’re starting Phase 1 on Monday at 10 p.m. to minimize impact on businesses and residences,” says Lambert. “Water will be shut off to nearby customers at this time but we’re hoping that won’t affect too many people that late at night.”

Customers should expect to have no or low pressure on Monday night at Third Ward Elementary School and the Randolph Village Apartments, as well as on Orchard Street, Grant Street, Dairy Avenue, Pleasant Avenue, Pine Street, Walnut Street, Nathan Street, Yokum Street, and Westview Drive. Taco Bell and Wendy’s will also be affected.

During Phase 2, scheduled for daytime hours on Tuesday, Lambert’s team will install roughly 500 feet of the new 6-inch C900 line parallel to the old, galvanized line that is marked for replacement. After installation, the new C900 line will be charged with water and chlorinated for a 24-hour period. Then, water samples from the line will be sent to a lab to test for E. coli and other bacteria.

“No one’s water service should be affected during Phase 2 on Tuesday,” says Lambert. “As soon as the water in the new line tests clean, we will be safe to start Phase 3 of the project.”

Phase 3 is scheduled to run during the day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. During Phase 3, water system employees will connect customers to the new C900 line. Each customer is expected to experience only a brief interruption in water service as this work proceeds.

“Once we get everyone connected to the new line, we’ll kill and abandon the old, galvanized line,” says Lambert. “It’ll be a relief to say goodbye to that one.”

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Keeping Our Drinking Water Flowing

So far in 2021, Elkins Water System employees have responded to about five dozen broken water mains. This is in addition to performing planned work to replace fire hydrants,  faulty valves, and related maintenance and upgrades essential to keeping drinking water flowing to our faucets and reducing system losses due to leaky pipes.

Most of this year’s broken mains have been concentrated in South Elkins. These breaks are related to the ongoing project to reduce sewage overflows to the river by separating our current combined sewer/storm-water lines into distinct sewer and storm-water lines. (Learn more about the sewer/storm-water separation project here.) A combination of very soft soils and very old pipes are the main culprits that our contractor and the South Elkins water customers have been struggling with.

After-hours water-main breaks can result in as many as 6-8 hours of overtime per person per break. But what does that really look like?

This photo is from just one day in  September when—after a normal workday—overtime work started at 4 p.m. to help Bear Contracting move a water line for the sewer/stormwater project.

While that work was proceeding, a leak was reported on Bruce Street. Elkins Street Department heavy equipment operators joined this repair effort, but even with that extra assistance, work on Bruce Street lasted until midnight.

But the night still wasn’t over. Instead of punching out and heading home for some already well-deserved rest, Water System and Street Department personnel shifted to yet another leak that had cropped up in the meantime, this one over on Yokum Street. Fortunately, the Yokum break was a small one. It “only” took city employees until 2 a.m. to resolve.

At City of Elkins, we are grateful for this kind of teamwork and for the hard work and dedication of these vital public servants. We hope you are, too.

Pictured: Wes Lambert, Gary Bonnell, Eric “Tiny” Hiner, Remington Stanley (Street Dept.), and—in the trench with shovels—D.J. Shoulder and R.D. Walters. Assisting but not pictured: G.B. Bonnell and Shawn Akers (Street Dept.).

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