MUB, White Park take center stage during BOPARC meeting

MORGANTOWN — The public dialogue surrounding how the Morgantown Utility Board should get water from the new secondary source reservoir currently under construction to its water treatment facility continued during Wednesday’s BOPARC meeting.
The issue has drawn considerable public feedback since coming to the fore late last month, when it was learned MUB intended to clear a path through White Park, and a number of 100-plus year old “witness” trees, to lay the 30-inch, gravity fed pipeline.
MUB has since abandoned that original design but the conversation continues, as evidenced by the two dozen or so residents drawn to the Marilla Center to participate in the discussion.
Doug Smith, MUB’s assistant manager and chief engineer, provided a map with a number of potential options — some of which would use an alternate route through the park to avoid the older trees, some of which would avoid the park entirely and some of which would be reliant on additional investment for either a pumping station or a technique known as directional drilling.
“I don’t know what we’re doing right now because there is no design. We are looking at multiple designs … A new route has not been selected. Right now we’re in the process of public input and outreach,” Smith said, adding “We have not made a decision yet or anything of that nature. Every one of these [options] is a matrix. We’re not going to make everybody happy.”
BOPARC member William Hutchens asked why the body charged with maintaining and operating White Park didn’t find out about MUB’s plan until trees were marked for removal and the public backlash began.
“We’ve been brought into the loop a little late in the game,” Hutchens said. “Do you know why?”
Smith conceded the point. He said MUB’s leadership mistakenly believed the land in question belonged to utility, as the existing Cobun Creek reservoir that serves as a secondary water source for MUB is located in White Park.
“At one time it was ours. It was under our control,” Smith said, explaining that “30-some years ago” MUB traded that property to the city for BOPARC in exchange for the property along Green Bag road, where MUB’s office currently sits.
JoNell Strough, chair of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition, pointed out that the land that is currently White Park was once a field containing dozens of above-ground oil tanks. Those tanks left behind contaminated soil that   has largely gone without any mitigation efforts.
Strough voiced concerns about running a water line through contaminated soil as well as the stirring up of potential toxins as MUB digs through the area.
“That, I think, is a significant public health concern,” Strough said. “It seems to be a major issue that people need to be aware of.”
Smith said MUB has been aware of the potential soil issues since the planning stages of the project and that pipe buried in such areas could be wrapped as an added protection against contaminants, if needed.
Further, he said that by the time MUB starts digging, it will know if the soil is contaminated and what remediation efforts are needed through the utility’s work with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
“Before we have a final design recommendation, we’ll know what’s in the ground,” he said.
Smith ensured the public that the project was on hold indefinitely and that MUB planned to continue  providing information and taking public input until a   decision is reached.
Acadia Blizard, 10, said she hopes that decision spares White Park, where she and her younger brother, Ender, like to walk with their dog, Maddie.
“I love the park and many others do too. It has beautiful wildlife and waterfalls,” she said. “The park is the closest area of woods to my house and I would not know what to do without it.”
Currently, MUB has meetings on this issue planned from noon-2 p.m. on May 24 at BOPARC’s Marilla Center and from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. on May 29, in city council chambers.
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