Cleanup begins on North Berkeley Rail Trail

by Trish Rudder

Brush removal and fencing work began on the trailhead lot of the future North Berkeley Rail Trail last Friday, July 10.

The cleanup of the section of an old rail bed just north of the Berkeley Springs Depot is necessary as part of an agreement between the Town of Bath and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Remediation is required on the old lot to meet recreational use standards for the long-anticipated trail, said Rail Trail Task Force

Workers with Pentoney Excavating tackled heavy brush removal on Monday morning on the lot that will be the start of the North Berkeley Rail Trail.

member Rebecca MacLeod in a release.

Pentoney Brothers Contracting was the successful bidder of the $45,000 contract for the cleanup of the .44-acre parcel. The Town of Bath is providing $6,000 worth of additional supplies for the remediation.

Local U.S. Silica quarry will be donating clean fill certified by the WVDEP and valued at $18,700. The fill will cover ground contaminated by previous industrial uses of the property.

Trail organizers are leading the work under a Voluntary Remediation Plan with the state.

Administrative and legal costs will add approximately $40,000 to the cost of obtaining a Certificate of Completion for the remediation from the state, the trail task force said.

The first leg of the NBRT will run 2.2 miles from the Berkeley Springs Depot to a parking lot deeded to the county by U.S. Silica at the Sand Mine Road. The trail follows the old Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) rail spur constructed in 1886, which also serves as a right of way for the Warm Springs Public Service Sewer District.

Old railway beds are contaminated due to the coal tar-based creosote used to treat railroad ties and the coal ash and cinder from the trains, which was a source of arsenic. Once the cleanup of the section known as Parcel 3 is completed this month, and land use covenants are in place for its use, there should be no more impediments for completion of the trail, MacLeod said in the release.

Construction of the trail is being overseen by a volunteer Task Force headed by Morgan County Commission President Joel Tuttle and Town of Bath Mayor Scott Merki.

Over the years, other county and town officials have championed the project for its recreational and economic benefits. Former County Commissioner Stacy Schultz had been a strong advocate for construction of the trail.

The current Task Force has been working through requirements imposed by the West Virginia Department of Transportation Division of Highways, the principal designer and funder of the trail. It has taken years to address issues for trail construction because of state and federal requirements, as well as making sure the site is safe for recreational use, organizers have said.

MacLeod said during the remediation work, contractors will try to preserve mature trees on the lot.

“We are trying to save some of the larger trees on the site,” MacLeod said.

“It’s going to be a bit tricky because we have to cap the entire site with nearly two feet of fill, but if we can keep the trees alive for even a few more years, it will be worth it,” she said.

The eight trees targeted for special protection measures include a sycamore, large cherry, and an Osage orange.

“We are really excited about saving the Osage orange; it’s a species that has historical and ecological significance,” said MacLeod.

Clean up work is being overseen by the town’s Public Works Department, headed up by Rodney Steiner.

The cost of the work is being covered under a $100,000 EPA Brownfield Cleanup grant awarded with assistance from the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center at WVU.

The WV Brownfields Center under the direction of Patrick Kirby has been “instrumental” in providing guidance on the project for years. They have helped find funding, including a recent FOCUS grant to develop a public-private investment plan, being overseen by the Bath Development Authority, the release said.

Both Commissioner Tuttle and Mayor Merki acknowledge that private support and investment is important to developing the trail and its future amenities. As an example, Tuttle said that without the assistance of Chase Andrews, the local plant manager at U.S. Silica, it would be difficult to get the trail completed.

According to Merki, partnerships with local businesses on the north end of town will be critical to making the trail head at the depot a “real showplace” for the community, which can attract more business.