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Counties Push to Finish 911 Mapping

August 30, 2008

About one-third of West Virginia's 55 counties have less than two-thirds of an addressing and mapping project completed as the deadline for state funding draws closer.

The state Legislature authorized spending $16.5 million in 2003 for counties to do away with rural route addressing and convert those households to a city-style address. Any structures along a road, public or private, would be given a new address, eliminating the old HC, RR and Box numbers. The West Virginia Statewide Addressing and Mapping Project began, and counties were given until April 1, 2009, to meet specified criteria in order to receive reimbursement.

The project is supposed to enhance emergency response, create economic development opportunities and to make it easier for mail and parcel deliveries, according to the West Virginia Addressing and Mapping Board's mission statement.

Article Photos

(CU and The Inter-Mountain/Suzanne Stewart)
WHAT’S IN A NAME? —With 911 mapping, several streets in Randolph County may need to be changed because of name similarities. Streets that could go through this change include Davis Avenue in downtown Elkins and Davis Street behind the Jennings Randolph Federal Building; and Wees Street beside Elkins Fordland and Weese Street behind Hardees.

But 19 counties have yet to reach the 66 percent completion mark, and Pendleton County trails the list with only 31 percent of the work completed, according to state records released Aug. 6.

That percentage may be inaccurate, said Pendleton County Addressing and Mapping Coordinator Diana Mitchell. She said the county just recently applied for reimbursement levels given to those counties having completed 40 percent of the work. She said an outside contractor, Information Technology Outdoors, has been handling her county's chores since January.

"We finished the field collection about a month ago," she said. "It is an overwhelming project."

The project being done in all 55 counties includes the naming of private roads more than 50 feet long, renaming duplicate roads or roads having similar sounding names, developing a uniform addressing system which is to be applied across the county and creating an integrated addressing and mapping system.

Aerial photography and digital maps are also being developed at the state level. Michael Baker Inc. is coordinating efforts for the state, but its contract expires in September. At that point, the state's Division of Homeland Security will take over.

Michael Baker Inc. assumed control over the project shortly after a contract with MicroData, a firm based in the northeastern United States, was terminated. Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato said the matter was done by mutual agreement in 2006, slowing the pace of the project slightly.

"It has always been the counties' responsibility to get the project done," Gianato said. "That did cause us to change course a little bit, and it slowed the project done for a little while. But we are finding it's being done better because there is a lot more local input."

Upshur County is also finding the project slow-moving, and is just 41 percent of the way completed, according to state records.

"I would say we are not even that complete," said Addressing and Mapping Coordinator Terri Jo Bennett, who also serves as an administrative assistant for the county commission.

Bennett took over the job in 2007 and found herself having to start from scratch because of inaccuracies and incomplete information left by her predecessor.

"I didn't feel comfortable moving forward with what we had," she said.

Upshur County Administrator Willie Parker, however, said the county is on target to complete the required work by the 2009 deadline. County commissioners have approved spending money to hire an outside firm to do the work, and there is money being set aside to hire an additional part-time worker for the project.

"Most counties have two or three employees doing this full time," Bennett said. "Upshur County doesn't even have one person working full time on the project."

Changes in leadership at the Randolph County E-911 Center slowed down the addressing and mapping work. Randolph County is ranked next to last in work completed at just 36 percent. County Commissioner Mike Taylor said he is "cautiously optimistic" the county will complete the required work by the deadline.

"There is a lot of pressure on us to get it done," added Emergency Management Director Marvin Hill.

Counties must have reached the point where the information is to be turned over to the U.S. Postal Service for addressing changes to receive reimbursement by April 1, 2009. That reimbursement is being done on a first-come, first-served basis, and that thought scares Lewis-Gilmer County E-911 Director Bill Rowan.

"That tells me they've probably overspent," Rowan said.

Lewis County is one of the state's top counties in the project, having completed 91 percent of the work. Rowan's office is also responsible for Gilmer County, and 94 percent of the work there is done.

"We started working on this before the state did," Rowan said. "We started our project when the Postal Service changed its guidelines. We have chosen to work diligently."

Firefighters joke about the project, saying they don't need the new fancy addressing system because they just go to where the house is burning down. Local emergency responders knew where to go because communities were less transient.

"Now it's not like that," Rowan said. "There is so much movement these days, and it's hard to keep track of all the trailers."

Coordinators all agree that the project will never be 100 percent complete as long as people continue to build new homes. Gianato said that once the state funding is gone, the counties will be forced to absorb the cost with their collection of 911 wireless fees.

All of the major routes in Barbour County have been completed, said Emergency Management Director Larry Allan. Barbour County is about 53 percent done with the "long and continuous work," Allan said. He is currently going ZIP code by ZIP code to make sure each side road is done properly.

"We are not where we want to be," he said.

Tucker County E-911 Director Darla Stemple has been working for two years to get the project there done, and it is only 57 percent completed, according to state records. Road naming is completed, and she said she is working to identify structures along all county roads.

"It's a long process identifying the thousands of homes, businesses and other structures located along West Virginia's twisting, turning and sometimes unpaved roads. Following those routes to find every home, no matter how humble, has become a tedious task.

"You can't use the P.O. Box for those people who get their mail at the post office," said Lewis County Addressing and Mapping Coordinator David Matthews. "It's up to us to go knock on every door to tell them that this will be their new address. It's very time consuming."



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