EPA officials tour county soccer complex, announce federal grant to state for cleanup projects

by Lisa Schauer

The Alex Rickli Memorial Soccer Complex on Valley Road in Berkeley Springs was the setting on Thursday, June 15 for a tour and announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that West Virginia was recently awarded a $1 million Supplemental Revolving Loan Fund Grant from the EPA.

The grant will be used by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston to continue environmental clean-up efforts across the state.

“We’re not just regulators. The EPA is a grant maker. West Virginia has been often overlooked. Given West Virginia’s contributions to our history, this is a well-deserved, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform real communities, not just inside the beltway,” said Adam Ortiz, EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, who oversees five states, including D.C. and West Virginia, from his office in Philadelphia.

“Public spaces provide chances for communities to come together. They give communities an identity. This space is a great gathering place for thousands that will outlast all of us,” said Ortiz in his remarks, noting that one- quarter of the population in Morgan County is under age 18. Twenty percent of the U.S. population is under 18.

The nearly ten-acre Rickli soccer complex was formerly the site of an orchard in the early 20th century, when DDT was sprayed, followed by several commercial businesses, including Spioch’ s and Seely’s, and a gas station that left the ground contaminated with toxic chemicals.

The site had been abandoned when it was purchased by the Morgan County Commission in 2006, with the intention of creating a recreational complex.

Pictured left to right: Michael Powell, Morgan County Soccer League President; Dawn Beal, Director of Morgan County Parks & Recreation; Adam Ortiz, EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator; Justin Litten, Morgan County School Board member and Morgan County Soccer League vice president; Aaron Close, president of Morgan County Board of Education and treasurer of Morgan County Parks & Recreation; Dana Aunkst, Director of Brownfields Program EPA; Erin Brittain, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Brownfields program manager; Scott Mandirola, Deputy Cabinet Secretary with the West Virginia Department of Environ- mental Protection; and Bill Clark, Morgan County Commissioner.

After opening an early version of the soccer field in 2008, county commissioners closed the property when auto debris started surfacing from the ground.

The county then turned the property over to the Morgan County School Board, its current owner, in order to qualify for federal funding through the EPA’s Brownfields grant program, which is focused on cleaning up and revitalizing toxic sites in hard-hit communities.

With its new funding, the site was cleaned up, and the modern Rickli soccer complex opened in 2018. Today, about 250 children and their families belong to the Morgan County Soccer League, which meets on four fields in the complex, located across from Morgan Field baseball complex.

A playground, concession stand, gravel parking lot and two bio-gardens, or rain gardens, were built in lieu of concrete curbs to control groundwater runoff. More fencing is planned to keep balls out of the woods, according to Morgan County Soccer League president Michael Powell.

Aaron Close, president of the Morgan County Board of Education, and treasurer of Morgan County Parks & Recreation, was credited for his leadership in getting the funding that would make the recreational complex a reality.

“Great things happen when we work together,” said Close, describing a challenging time when the project was considered controversial.

“Rankin’s is another accolade surpassed,” continued Close, referring to the county commission’ s recently announced intention to purchase Rankin’s physical therapy center for use as a community fitness center.

The Alex Rickli Memorial Soccer Complex is dedicated to the memory of Joy Alexandria Rickli, a local student who passed away in a 2010 bicycle accident on her way to soccer practice.