Council members speak out against MUB’s White Park plans

MORGANTOWN — Members of Morgantown City Council said they don’t understand why the Morgantown Utility Board wasn’t more up front about its plan to clear hundreds of trees in White Park for the placement of a raw-water pipeline.
Further, some said they would be willing to entertain taking the park off the table if MUB cannot provide alternatives that don’t include significant impacts to the public space.
The 30-inch pipe will connect MUB’s George B. Flegal Dam and Reservoir, which is currently under construction, with the utility’s treatment facility.
MUB has said the route of the pipeline has been part of the project’s plans since they were publicized in a series of open meetings back in late 2015.
MUB has also said in order for the gravity-fed pipeline to function given the topography, it must follow a pretty specific path, which runs through the park. Deviating from that path would require a multi-million dollar pumping station, according to MUB.
Members of council question why they were unaware of the project’s potential impact on the park until recently, when hundreds of trees along the park’s main trail were marked for removal — prompting immediate public backlash and the convening of a hastily organized meeting at MUB headquarters last Friday.
BOPARC Director Melissa Wiles said she was also unaware of MUB’s plan to clear the trees until the markings showed up.
Councilor Rachel Fetty, who also sits as a member of BOPARC as well as the city’s tree board, said most of the information she’s received about the issue came from members of the public.
“I don’t recall [MUB] ever discussing a 20- to 60-foot swath cut through White Park. At no point did I hear a single word uttered indicating that was going to happen,” Fetty said. “That’s frustrating because the park is public property. It’s city property. It belongs to the city, and we can’t do anything with that park without discussing it with the public. I don’t feel like that was done.”
MUB Assistant Manager and Chief Engineer Doug Smith said the path along the trail was chosen in an effort to reduce the number of trees impacted — as roughly 15 feet has already been cleared for the trail.
Smith presented an alternate path through the park, but noted it would actually result in the removal of more trees as the entire 40-feet of clearance needed would have to be timbered.
“I don’t understand why the park was ever made available. It should have been off limits from the very beginning and MUB should have been conscious of working around that,” Councilor Mark Brazaitis said, explaining removing hundreds of trees, particularly along the trail, would dramatically impact the user experience.
According to city code, the removal of any tree larger than six inches in diameter from public space requires the signature of the city manager.
“Certainly council works with the city manager and the city manager works with council. I’m sure the city manager would do what city council wanted in that case,” Councilor Ron Dulaney said, calling the current plan, “intolerable.”
According to the city, “MUB staff is working closely with the city administration in regards to White Park. In general, there are several factors that the city manager considers when reviewing requests regarding the disturbance of public land such as environmental and community impact. The city wants to ensure that the aesthetic quality and recreational benefits of White Park are maintained and to minimize the impact on the environment.”
Deputy Mayor Jenny Selin, who along with Mayor Bill Kawecki, was on council when the reservoir and pipeline plans were presented, said she does not recall any mention of White Park and she’s interested to see what alternatives MUB can provide.
“I think it’s up to MUB to show multiple routes, including routes that don’t go through White Park. Show a route using the existing reservoir, a route around White Park as well as their best, most feasible way through the park,” Selin said.
Kawecki agreed.
“I’m waiting to hear what the alternatives are, and I’m open to the alternatives, but I’m not very happy with the initial presentation,” he said.
Councilor Ryan Wallace said he first heard of the plan from concerned citizens and noted MUB General Manager Tim Ball will attend this evening’s meeting of city council to address the topic.
“We would really be dramatically increasing costs to do anything except one of these proposed routes through White Park. It certainly deserves our consideration,” Wallace said, explaining he doesn’t want to see impacts to the park, but “I need to see at what cost the alternatives are available.”
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