School board approves natural stream restoration proposal near Widmyer & high school

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board said it will back an effort to secure a grant that could stabilize streambanks near two county schools where the Warm Springs Run floods.

The Warm Springs Run Natural Stream Restoration proposal is between the Chesapeake Bay Program and Morgan County Schools, and will pursue a $42,000 stream project design and build grant with Cacapon Institute as the grantee.

The restoration work would involve streambank stabilization and improvement along with seeding, mulch and native plantings along a 1,314-foot stretch of Warm Springs Run at Widmyer Elementary and a 793-foot section of the run at Berkeley Springs High School.

Warm Springs Run has flooded school properties at Widmyer Elementary and Berkeley Springs High School for many years, causing property damage, disrupting school operations and also affecting the Warm Springs Public Service District sewer line that is located in the run, according to a project summary.

Warm Springs Run flooding at Berkeley Springs High School in August 2018.

Serious flooding occurred in both 2011 and 2018.

A Warm Springs Run stream assessment was done in September by Green Rivers, Inc. from Thomas, West Virginia.  The firm’s assessment noted increased channel and floodplain instability, channel over-widening, extensive streambank erosion and increased sediment deposits.

Concerns

The school board voted 3-2 at their November 17 meeting to begin the grant process which must be completed by the end of May.

School board president Aaron Close and board member Laura Smith voted against the proposal.

Close and Smith expressed concerns that included staff time and oversight involved in the grant, the $13,000 in-kind grant match involving student stream studies that may be hampered by COVID-19 and school closings and the short timeline involved in the bid process.

Close noted that the tennis court project took a long time and they’d jump on the streambank project if they had more than five months to complete it.

“Every day we don’t know what we’re coming up against,” said School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle.  She was also worried about the grant timelines.

Cacapon Institute Executive Director Frank Rodgers said they could submit the grant without the in-kind match. Rodgers said while he preferred the school system to manage the grant and oversee the engineering firm, he would be willing to administer the grant and put it out to bid.  Close said he could ask Maintenance Director Jeromy Duelley to oversee the engineering firm.

Rodgers said Morgan County Schools is an ideal candidate for the grant with the history of flooding from Warm Springs Run and the run being important to the town and its culture.

Costs

The $42,000 grant that’s being requested entails $38,000 for the project design cost and $5,000 for permit applications.  The streambank restoration project would span a total of 2,107 feet of Warm Springs Run.

Rodgers estimated the total cost of restoration at $230,000.  He noted that the school system would have two shovel-ready projects designed by May 31.   Board member Eric Lyda asked what Rodgers wanted from the board in terms of a commitment.  Rodgers said he just wanted them to have an interest in doing the work.

Lyda asked Rodgers about them needing money from the school board down the road for the project. Rodgers said his goal was to have the projects done with no Morgan County Schools or county monies.

Overdue

School board vice-president Pet Gordon said that it was overdue for them to look at the streambank stabilization.  Rodgers and the Cacapon Institute have huge integrity and can deal with the grant and bid process. Gordon recalled 40-50 students being stuck at Widmyer Elementary once until 4 or 5 p.m. due to the run flooding.

“I hate to see the money disappear,” Gordon said of the design grant.

Superintendent Tuttle said on Friday morning that the Chesapeake Bay Program Board had approved the streambank restoration project grant.  Rodgers was drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school board and the Cacapon Institute regarding the project grant.

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