PARSONS - Dozens of concerned residents expressed their concerns at a public hearing about a proposed waterline extension and upgrades to the Hamrick Public Service District's 40-year-old water plant.
Residents had many questions about where the money for the project would come from and how much the upgrades and extension of the water line to serve residents living on Location Road would mean for their monthly bills. Those attending the meeting also questioned how much the Tucker County Commission would pay toward the proposed project, and how they could learn more about decisions made with the Hamrick Public Service District.
Shane Whitehair, executive director at Region VII Planning and Development Council, told those in attendance he had set Wednesday's public hearing to coincide with the Tucker County Commission's regular meeting. He further explained that the Region VII role in the process is to assist the Tucker County Commission with writing a Small Cities Block Grant application for $1.5 million to assist with the $6.25 million dollar proposed project.
"We are here today to conduct a public meeting to provide the opportunity for the public to comment on a project that Tucker County (Commission) has agreed to sponsor," Whitehair said. "It's a Small Cities Block Grant application, and we are here for the fourth year for a public hearing to gather public input for the grant."
Whitehair said Region VII has been assisting the Tucker County Commission with the application.
"The Small Cities Block Grant program is a very competitive program," Whitehair said. "It is specifically the only water/sewer grant program available in the state of West Virginia. Usually there are 60 to 80 applications for the program with requests of $100 million, and they usually only have about $8 million to distribute."
Whitehair said Hamrick PSD has made application for funds for the past few years, but said they were never successful in getting any grant monies.
"We are looking for funding for a $6,250,000 project that will extend water service to Location Road, and will make several improvements to the existing water distribution and treatment system that the Hamrick PSD manages," Whitehair said. "The funding breakout includes a $1.5 million grant application for the Small Cities Block Grant, $1 million grant from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and a loan from the Infrastructure Council for $3.7 million."
Whitehair said there are very few grants for these improvements, noting the state is looking for communities to raise their rates to invest in these additions and upgrades.
Whitehair said the Location Road extension would provide water to 40 to 50 residences who currently do not have water service.
"In regards to Location Road, that extension is included because the Hamrick PSD and the county felt it was important to serve that area, because it has always been on the list," Whitehair said.
Commissioner Mike Rosenau said the Tucker County Commission is involved because the grant needs to be sponsored by a public entity such as a county commission.
"We have no ownership in the water project, but just serve as a pass through," Rosenau said. "The Commission is helping sponsor the grant application to help save some cost for the public. There have not been any upgrades to the (Hamrick PSD) water system 15 years on the water treatment system, and 40 years on the rest (of the Hamrick PSD water system.) The upgrades have to be done. What we were trying to do as a commission was apply for a grant to lessen the cost for the community."
Whitehair said if the grant funds are not requested, the Hamrick PSD would have to look for additional money, and that would have to be through loans that would need to be paid back. That, in turn, would increase the debt and would fall back on the customers and increase their rates.
"Right now the average bill for a Hamrick PSD customer for water is $29.82," Whitehair said. "With the upgrades and if we receive a grant, the average bill would go to about $47 per month. If we leave the extension of Location Road out of the package, the average bill would go to about $46.82 per month."
Whitehair stressed that the increase would not go into effect until construction is complete. He also said the project needs to be completed with or without the grant funds.
"Every year the project is not funded, the cost to complete it just increases," Whitehair said.
The Tucker County Commission approved a payment of $50,000 for engineer costs associated with the project. The Commission believes this seed money will show good faith in the project, and will assist with getting the project grant funding through the Small Cities Block Grant.
Attendees asked questions about how Commissioners expected residents to pay for the increase in the bills and why they did not put more funds into the project. One woman said she received a letter in the mail telling her if she hooked up to receive water from the Hamrick PSD, the water would be contaminated and cause cancer. Whitehair asked if she brought a copy of the letter to the meeting, but she said she did not.
"We have nothing in the rate increase," Rosenau said. "You will need to discuss that with the Hamrick PSD."
Whitehair said the extension on Location Road is just a four-inch line for potable water.
"This will not have hydrants, nor will it be used for fire suppression," Whitehair said. "There is not enough pressure for that. If a larger line were used in the extension, there would be issues with
Whitehair said that rates are going to increase.
"Raising your rates, folks, excuse my language, sucks," Whitehair said. "But that is just the reality of the situation as it is and it's going to get worse. We are seeing rates throughout the region at $60 per month just for water. It's not in well-to-do communities. This is just the way things are turning. The grant funds are diminishing."
Whitehair said residents who live on Location Road and have wells will not be required to tap onto the new water line.
"The upgrade has to happen," said Michael Helmick of the Hamrick PSD. "Our plant is 40 years old, and we are running on a shoestring and duct tape now. Our original loan only has a year and a half left for payments. We lose a little bit of debt service there, so now is the opportunity. The water plant has to go and the upgrades need to be made."
At the conclusion of the public hearing, officials said the public's concerns would be taken into consideration, and will be documented within the grant application.