By Stephen Smoot
The Pendleton County Commission held its second meeting of February last Tuesday. During the invocation to start the meeting, Commissioner Roger Dahmer stated during the opening prayer “by serving You, we are serving the people.”
Lois Carr and her staff from the Potomac Valley Conservation District provided an update on the state and local system of small watershed flood control dams. Throughout the state, 170 small dams, 22 in the South Branch Valley watershed alone, help to contain the rise of potential floodwaters during major storms. Some, such as Dam Site 14 at the head of New Creek in Grant County, serve as tourist attractions. The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources even provides a fishing guide for it. Most, however, create small ponds on property held by private landowners.
According to the West Virginia Conservation Agency, the dams offer an estimated $90 million worth of flood protection for the state. They directly protect 66% of lives and property in the state.
One concern raised by WVCA lay in the recent determination of the South Branch Valley watershed as a “high alert” zone. This does not mean that dams face urgent structural issues so much as that the area has developed dramatically since the federal government ordered their construction almost seven decades ago. More farms, businesses, and homes lay in areas potentially threatened if these dams could not fulfill their function.
They addressed worries reported by concerned citizens about the buildup of sediment in the lakes and ponds over time. “They’re doing what they were designed to do, fill with sediment until it is time for rehabilitation.” Most of them have a 50 – 100 year lifespan. Many of those have reached their life expectancy, but remain in acceptable condition due to work done on them through the decades.
All that said, the dams require consistent maintenance to keep their structural integrity. They require regular mowing to prevent roots from larger plants from breaking down the earthen structure. Farmers are strongly urged to not allow livestock to graze on the grassy surfaces of the outside of the dams. Groundhogs and other critters can also undermine them.
Carr requested a raise in the yearly allotment of maintenance funds, from $7,500 to $10,000. Commissioner Dahmer replied that “you do good work. You do necessary work.” Carl Hevener, Pendleton County Commission president stated, “we’ll look at the numbers and let you know next week,” but added that “it’s when, not if” in terms of the need to continue funding dam maintenance.
Commissioners next discussed the possibility of acquiring a generator for the community building and emergency response operations housed there. It would come at an approximate cost of $35,000.
Commissioner Jimmie Bennett asked “will that run the whole building?” Hevener affirmed that it would, saying that “it’s a little bigger than we actually need, but it’s easier on the unit,” meaning that the generator’s use will not overload and damage systems. Rick Gillespie, coordinator of emergency services for Pendleton County, agreed, saying “it’ll power the whole thing.”
Sheriff Chad Bowers provided a supply chain saga story that could adversely affect law enforcement throughout the nation. Bowers related that he ordered a cruiser a year ago, but that was cancelled. Even worse, the West Virginia State Police saw 52 cruiser orders cancelled. Bowers said the department purchased approximately $10,000 in equipment for the cruiser. He eventually found a rebuilt cruiser in Ohio.
He then added that he was told “if you’re lucky enough to find a cruiser, get it,” and that another source speculated that there might not be a single police cruiser available for sale east of the Mississippi. Gillespie added “a lot of departments are going with pickup trucks” because they cannot find traditional models to purchase.
Gillespie then updated the county commission on emergency services news. The new phone system at the 911 operations center was installed and “good to go.” With the modernized phone system, telecommunicators now have 10 instead of only seven lines with which to work. They also “interface better with computer systems” so well that “information pops up on screen before the phone rings.”
“We hope to make progress,” said Gillespie on continual negotiations with National Radio Quiet Zone authorities about installing a tower near Seneca Rocks. A timber easement forced the consideration of a less than ideal location that would give the tower significantly reduced capabilities due to restrictions. “They’d rather force us to low frequencies,” stated Gillespie, but those would not allow the full use of modern emergency response and patient health technologies in the area.
Gillespie then noted that grants exist that could help fund the reconstruction of the parking lot at the community building in Franklin “through USDA, probably one of their programs.” American Rescue Plan funds can only be used for sewer, water, and broadband.
Amber Nesselrodt, the incoming Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, addressed the commission, saying “thank you for all of your support to get the CVB up and running.” She informed them that she will be providing quarterly reports on the organization’s progress.
Finally, David Snider of Omni gave a presentation on plans for the courthouse annex. He assured commission members that the designs would reflect the historical appearance of both the courthouse and the surrounding area.
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