By Cassady Rosenblum
Word has gotten out that Tucker County received considerable American Rescue Plan funds this year– $1.3 million according to the state. The county commission heard funding requests from a citizen and several towns.
Melissa Bonner asked the commission for financial assistance with her new nonprofit, Life In Him, which is a youth nutrition and exercise program with an optional Bible component. Bonner requested ARP funds to hold fitness workshops at different parks throughout the county, and to purchase a small trailer she plans to use to collect gently used athletic equipment that local families can then access for their children. Commissioner Moore asked what fundraising Bonner had already done, and said he was unclear on whether the ARP funds could be used for such a program, noting that he thought the projects had to be COVID-19 related. Administrator Shelia DeVilder said she would do some more research to see if Life In Him might qualify.
In the past, the county commission has seemed most inclined to fund infrastructure-related projects. On September 22nd, the commission voted to award $322,149 dollars of ARP funding to the Canaan Valley Public Service District and $121,327 dollars to the Hamrick PSD for items such as propane water heaters, and a new truck for doing waterline repairs.
Representatives from Hamrick, Thomas, and Davis appeared before the commission to ask for more money for more water and sewage-related projects. Hamrick asked for a used truck to haul their equipment, Thomas asked for $380,000 to build a new water tank, and Davis asked for approximately $148,000 to make improvements to their water and sewage systems.
With respect to both Thomas and Davis, the question of future development loomed large. Both towns acknowledge they’re currently dumping too much wastewater into the Backwater River when it rains, and are under order from the WV Department of the Environment to get their storm water issues under control since it is rainwater infiltrating the sewage system that causes the sewage to overflow. Dave Watson, an engineer from Civil Environmental Consulting, said it will cost Thomas $15 million dollars to fix their entire system.
However, major population growth in the county cannot happen until these systems are fixed. The DEP will not permit more wastewater to pollute the river, and therefore any potential large-scale housing developments are on hold until Thomas and Davis can update their infrastructure. The commissioners agreed a work session is required to decide how to prioritize the towns’ requests.
The county commission also heard updates from several county employees, including Sheriff Kopec and PVFD Fire Chief and OEM Director Kevin White.
Sheriff Kopec reported that in the last month, there were 111 9-1-1 calls made in the county that resulted in police action. Kopec also said that his department is getting new car door unlocking equipment to be used in the case of an absolute emergency, and that all his officers are now carrying epinephrine autoinjectors, or epi pens. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department is now offering several new car services, such as issuing new registration cards. Kopec said interested citizens can learn more from Facebook.
White reported that after searching for a missing person in the Fernow Forest “24/7 the first seven days,” the search has been suspended. “Unfortunately 99% of our people are volunteers,” White said, “and they have to go back to work.” White said that 35 different resources, groups, and entities had been deployed to search for the missing person, and added that there are some plans to continue the search in the works.
White also gave an update on the county’s COVID-19 numbers, noting that, to date, there have been 1,037 confirmed cases in Tucker County–representing about 15% of the population–and 19 deaths. White expressed reserved optimism that cases seem to be going down. In the first half of October, there were 79 new cases, compared to 266 in September, 132 in August, 5 in July, and 2 in June. “I don’t know what we can blame it on,” said White referring to the late summer spike, positing “we got lax with our efforts, and were tired of being locked up, and threw caution to the wind.” White also reported a vaccine booster clinic was scheduled in the firehouse, and 400 booster shots were expected to be administered then thanks to the health department.