ALDERSON (WVDN) — An Alderson water infrastructure project’s grant funding will determine if residents of Alderson could see a substantial water rate increase.
During the Thursday, Feb. 11, meeting of Alderson Town Council, councilmembers reviewed an ongoing plan for work on water infrastructure. Mayor Travis Copenhaver noted that the project could cost residents, but that the town also had little choice in whether this work had to be completed or not.
“We’re looking at probably about a $5 or a little more on the month rate increase,” said Copenhaver. “I can’t say $5 definitely. That was part of the funding scenario going forward, with this, plus their grant, plus everything else. We know it was at $5 before. If you remember just a few minutes ago, I said it could be five, six or so.”
The project has been in the works over the past few years.
“Obviously [due to the pandemic], the numbers have changed,” Copenhaver said. “Two years ago, this was a $6 million project. At the end of January, it was an $8.345 million project. There’s $2 million [potential funding from the federal Legislature], $2 million in this Community Development Block grant, and roughly $1 million in Infrastructure Development funds that we’ve secured for this project this fall.”
Zach Gain with Thrasher Engineering noted the potential expansion of the water project to include a connection to Big Bend PSD, increasing the cost from “approximately $6.5 million to a little over $8.3 million,” was under review.
Approximately $2 million dollars for the project was earmarked by Senator Shelley Moore Capito. However, the funds were not part of the Build Back Better plan.
“As far as [the] Senator Capito’s earmark, or congressionally directed spending, as long as the federal government is operating on a continuing resolution, those funds are not available for use,” explained Jamie Baker, project assistant for Region IV. “The federal government has to actually pass a budget that includes those congressionally-directed spending requests in order for us to be able to access those funds for the project.”
This is not the only part of the project funds still waiting for an approval.
“I will remind you that you know, it will be several months before we have an answer on the Community Development Block Grant,” Baker said. “There’s that aspect of the funding that we need to consider – it [will] most likely be late summer, early fall before there’s a decision made on those.
Mayoral candidate Ryan Keesee asked “how much of the project will be self-funded” by the town. Copenhaver replied, “my estimate is $2 million. That’s an estimate and that is not anything other than looking at funding scenarios.”
If the grants do not come through, it could leave the town in a much worse state.
“Even if we don’t get grant funding, we have to fix these problems,” Copenhaver said. “We can cut the Big Bend out of it, and that will take $600,000, $700,000 out of the project, but we don’t [want to not] do our due diligence to fix our problems. Whether it’s grant funding or not, we have to fix it.”
When asked, Councilmember Charlie Lobban said, “I don’t think we have any choice.” Copenhaver agreed, saying “I don’t think we do either.”
The project, according to Copenhaver, includes “50,000 linear feet of pipes to replace. That also includes the river crossing. [We’re] upgrading 850 radio read meters [with] telemetry upgrades and the system that allows us to monitor water in real-time for leaks and flows. It also … will completely replace 850 tubs with lids [for the meters so no one falls in]. This will also give us an extension to Big Bend PSD for their interconnection for emergency water. That part of the project will add fire hydrants.”
In the past four years, nearly every municipality on the eastern side of Greenbrier County has begun a multi-million-dollar water infrastructure project, often pointing to systems that were not taken care of over several decades. Copenhaver has previously pointed to this when speaking about the water project.
“The Public Service Commission tells you before you do any project, that you should not have to rely on grant funds to do maintenance on your system,” Copenhaver said. “What we’ve done for the last eight years has been to fix the problems of no maintenance. We have a 300,000-gallon glass-lined tank that had never had the caulking changed or the screws changed out. … Nobody thought about it, it’s out of sight out of mind. That’s why we’ve put an emphasis on infrastructure. That’s why this project is on the table now. We originally started this project with the water plant included. We found there was mitigation funding and cut the plant out of this project or this would be a $16 million project. The $8.3 million dollars the Governor Justice awarded this took that part out of this.”
Council approved Copenhaver and a few others, to find the “best option” for a design loan for the project this month, before the council’s next meeting.
Photo By Timothy Luce