Officials look into creating regional agency

The Lewis-Upshur Local Emergency Planning Committee may soon get a new partner, making it possibly the first such organization to cover three counties.

Jim Farry, director of the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management, said the OEM in Barbour County has inquired on “several occasions” about hooking up with the Lewis-Upshur group.

“The Barbour County LEPC has not been functional for quite some time,” Farry told the Upshur County Commission last week.

Because Farry was not aware of any three-county LEPC organizations, he said he initially contacted state leaders to see if it would be possible. The state gave its approval, but said the merger would require approval from all three county commissions involved.

Farry said he first wants to see how having three counties involved in an LEPC would affect grant funding before moving ahead with any further discussions. He said the organization historically has received an annual stipend of $6,000, but he said he hoped that amount would increase by at least $1,000, if not more, should the Barbour County merger go through.

“The only other major issue is that a lot of our plans have already been completed, and they deal only with Lewis and Upshur counties,” Farry said. “They would have to be amended, and it would only be fair that Barbour County bear that additional cost.”

Farry said he did not foresee any negative aspects of pushing forward with the merger.

“We would have to split up our meetings to spend time there,” he said, noting the monthly meetings traditionally have rotated between Lewis and Upshur counties. “We would have to spend time in Barbour County, but we’re already traveling between Lewis and Upshur counties.”

Farry likes the idea of a regional LEPC, saying it would get more people, facilities and businesses involved in the process. He said the three counties already have a working relationship because of being in the same Homeland Security region.

Though LEPC agencies typically aren’t activated in times of disasters, they work with local leaders to develop emergency plans by identifying potential hazards and available resources that could be need in the event of a crisis.

In other OEM matters, Dirk Burnside discussed the possibility of the state shutting down operations at the tower near the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. He recommended if that situation were to occur, the county should consider moving its communication equipment to the tower on Cleveland Mountain. He said the higher terrain would allow for better emergency communication, and an emergency generator already is in place should there be a loss of power. Burnside also said there is a building at the Cleveland Mountain site, should any emergency agency need to store equipment there.