by Trish Rudder
Seeking continued financial support to maintain the county’s flood control dams, Brian Farkas, executive director of the WV Conservation Agency met with the Morgan County commissioners on Wednesday, January 2 along with Jim Michael and Lin Dunham of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District.
Farkas said West Virginia has 170 small watershed flood control dams and the eight dams in Morgan County are among the oldest in West Virginia. The dams were built in the late 1950s and have been maintained through a cost-sharing agreement that has been in place for years.
Within the last two years, Farkas said, two West Virginia county commissions stated the funding agreement was unconstitutional and said the maintenance was a burden for the counties. He said the state attorney general’s office agreed that it was unconstitutional, and a county commission could stop funding dam maintenance even though a county commission signed the cost-sharing funding agreement.
County commissions and municipalities can continue to fund dam maintenance through a new Operational Funding Agreement, which has an escape clause and is a 12-month agreement, Farkas said. He gave the commissioners a draft maintenance agreement and said he is “open to discussion.”
Farkas said there will be an annual meeting with the Morgan County Commission to discuss the dams’ maintenance.
The Morgan County Commission funds dam maintenance with $1,000 a year. The Town of Bath also contributes $1,000 a year to meet the yearly maintenance, which costs $7,000 to $12,000. The state will match whatever the entities contribute. Dunham said the maintenance costs are now about $14,000 to $15, 000 a year.
Farkas said one of the dams has major work needed because water is seeping out underneath the pipe, which must be addressed to repair it. The dam is No. 7, located off Winchester Grade Road.
“We need to determine the cause of the seep and we plan to undertake that in 2019,” Farkas said.
The West Virginia Conservation Agency budget needs to be increased for maintenance because all the dams are old.
“We have been doing delayed maintenance,” Farkas said.
Farkas said because of commercial development below the dams, the county’s dams are “high hazard” dams. He said the county planning department needs to be made aware of these discussions.
Morgan County Commission president Joel Tuttle said “We had a lot of rain this past summer and we know the water in the dams was high but they held.”
Tuttle said the draft maintenance agreement does not mention the costs or who does what.
“If we need 50 percent of the cost, we need to know the number,” he said. Farkas said if the commissioners agree with a five-year plan, “we would come back with an estimated cost.”
Since a slope mower is now needed to safely mow the grass around the dams, more discussion is needed regarding the purchase of a slope mower. The slope at the dams is a 30 degree slope. Farkas said the conservation agency will come back in March. Funding for dam maintenance will be discussed at the second March commission meeting, Tuttle said.
Authority to treat streams
Farkas provided the commissioners with a copy of West Virginia Code Section 7-1-3U, which gives counties and municipalities the authority to treat streams to prevent floods.
The state code said: “To protect people and property from floods, counties and municipalities are hereby empowered to rechannel and dredge streams; remove accumulated debris, snags, sandbars, rocks and other kinds of obstructions from streams; straighten stream channels; and carry out erosion and sedimentation control measures and programs.”
According to the code, counties and municipalities are empowered to levy, within all Constitutional and statutory limitations. The county and municipality can work in cooperation with each other or separately. They can acquire property by purchase, exercise the right of eminent domain, lease, gift or grant. They can issue and sell bonds with the Constitutional and statutory limitations prescribed by law or public purposes generally. Any such levy shall be equal and uniform throughout the county or municipality, the code said.
“The term ‘stream’ as used in this section means any watercourse, whether natural or man-made, distinguishable by banks and a bed, regardless of their size, through which water flows continually or intermittently, regardless of its volume.”
“We had 70 inches of rain this year and is projected to increase with more violent, short downpours and flood protections will be as important as any other protections needed,” Farkas said.