By Brandi Underwood
OAK HILL —
The $14 million sewer improvement project currently under way in Oak Hill was a primary discussion point at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Council unanimously accepted first reading of an ordinance to again increase Oak Hill Sanitary Board sewer rates as part of the project ultimately aimed upgrading wastewater treatment plants and reducing pollutants entering the New River.
John Tuggle of Pentree Engineering, the project consultant, said that the project is running on schedule.
While Oak Hill’s sewer system works well under normal circumstances, heavy rains cause stormwater to enter the system through breaks in lines, manholes and illegal connections to gutter downspouts.
Water enters the city’s collection system from all directions and overloads the wastewater treatment plants — located on W.Va. 61 and in Minden — which can’t handle the water overload. While it’s primarily stormwater, there are traces of sewage in the water.
From there, the wastewater overflows directly into Arbuckle Creek or Loop Creek, which feed into the New River.
Due to the deteriorating conditions of lines, along with the high profile of the New River Gorge, Tuggle explained that the project must happen, otherwise the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will issue a consent order again the city, along with fines.
“We just finished a smoke test analysis to test the lines, that way we can target the areas that need attention,” said Tuggle. “That’s money well-spent.”
In addition to testing and identifying issues in the lines, the project will also treat the consequence of the stormwater by building large tanks at the plants that will accommodate a heavy rain event. Instead of draining into the creeks, the water will collect and be properly treated.
The first phase of the billing increase will take effect May 1, 2014. The minimum bill will be $24 and a household using 4,000 gallons will see an increase to $42.80.
At the completion of the project, currently slated for September or October 2014, the second schedule of the billing increase will become active, raising the minimum to $28 a month and to $50 for a household using 4,000 gallons of water.
Security deposits and tap fees will also see an increase.
“It sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but all communities have had to face this at one time or another,” said Tuggle. “In essence, it’s going to put you somewhere in mid-range with all the cities in the state.”
In other business, council discussed the mural and funding of a mural to be located next to the White Oak Rail Trail. The current proposed area for the mural merits controversy as the property is privately owned and the upkeep and condition of the area will not be able to be regulated by the city, as mentioned by Councilwoman Mollie Ray of Ward I.
Council will continue to discuss possible placement of a mural and the selection of an artist to create the mural.
“This seems to be an easy project, and it is compared to some, but it is complex at the same time,” said City Manager Bill Hannabass, discussing the construction and plumbing of a pre-fabricated restroom on the property between City Park and the White Oak Rail Trail.
Hannabass also showed photos of the current construction progress of a parking lot, stairs and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant handicap ramp on the premises.
“This restroom has a price tag on it of $60,000,” Hannabass explained.
It was suggested by city treasurer Damita Johnson to finance the restroom as it will be a better investment for the city in the long run, as it is less expensive to borrow funds than spend their own due to low interest rates.
It was agreed that a workshop will be held by council on Oct. 14 to discuss the application to participate in the Home Rule project, which allows some cities and municipalities in the state to make some of their own laws and regulations.
Council also voted unanimously to approve the recommendation from Oak Hill Police Chief Mike Whisman to promote city police officer James Pack to Patrolman First Class (PFC).
The name of the new downtown amphitheater, after a 4-2 vote, was decided to be named the Lively Family Amphitheater.
Lastly, council accepted a $261,240 bid from Southern West Virginia Paving to pave a total of 15 streets and parking lots in the city.
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