Pictured, from left, are city recorder Randy Sanders, Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner and councilman Jack Reger at city council's April 7 meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

City approves orders for design of federally funded infrastructure improvement projects

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council has laid the groundwork for a forthcoming series of upgrades to the city’s water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer infrastructure – including one it hopes to collaborate with the Upshur County Commission on.

At its meeting April 7, council members approved a list of task orders for the completion of design and engineering work for seven infrastructure improvement projects. Five of those projects will be paid for with federal funds allocated to the City of Buckhannon through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, or ARPA, while the city’s general fund will foot the bill for the remaining two projects. The city’s on-call engineering firm, Potesta & Associates, will complete the design and engineering work for all seven upgrades.

ARPA earmarked $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments in the U.S. to support their “response to and recovery from” the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Treasury, and last year, Sen. Joe Manchin’s office detailed the amounts West Virginia cities and counties would receive. Local governmental officials learned Buckhannon would garner about $2.24 million, while Upshur County was awarded approximately $4.69 million.

One of the main approved uses of the money is to invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, Mayor Robbie Skinner told council members when the projects were first identified at a council meeting in June 2021.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, council reviewed task orders for design/engineering work on the following seven projects:

  • Painting/rehabilitation of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank (funded by ARPA monies)
  • Improvements to the Tennerton Booster Station improvements (funded by ARPA)
  • Design of the Taylor Street Sanitary Sewer (funded by ARPA)
  • Design of the Taylor Street Storm Sewer (funded by ARPA)
  • Design of the North Locust Street Sanitary Sewer (funded by ARPA)
  • Completion of the Jawbone Run Hydrology Study and Remediation (to be paid for by city’s general fund)
  • Conceptual design for the Stockert Youth & Community Center multi-use facility/gymnasium (to be paid for by city’s general fund)

At council’s April 7 meeting, city recorder Randy Sanders noted PDF files of the task orders had been emailed to council ahead of the meeting to cut down on paper waste.

Skinner requested that the seven task orders be approved as one agenda item.

“We are not going to go through each one of these and vote on each individual one itself because we’ve discussed these all over the past year or so,” the mayor said. “We knew that the ARPA funding was coming, so that’s why it’s all bulleted [together]. We’re asking that [the agenda item] be approved as a lump sum.”

The design and engineering work for the five separate ARPA-funded projects is expected to cost $190,000, while design and engineering work for the city-funded projects – the Jawbone Run hydrology study and the conceptual design of SYCC’s multi-purpose facility – is estimated to cost $29,000, according to city engineer Jay Hollen and finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins.

City public works director Jerry Arnold provided brief comments on the projects, noting one of the seven projects is a hydrology study of Jawbone Run as requested by residents who live in the Myrna, Boggess and Gum street area. Arnold said Potesta & Associates had presented two options for the study: one, a simple overview of Jawbone Run hydrology and recommendations, and a second, a more involved “full-blown hydrology study” with recommendations and remediation. Arnold said the difference in cost was about $4,000 to $5,000 and he recommended the second option that included remediation.

Councilman CJ Rylands asked about the rehabilitation of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank, a project the city wanted to partner with the Upshur County Commission on.

“What about the Tennerton [Water Storage] Tank we were hoping to collaborate with the county on?” Rylands asked.

Arnold told Rylands that when the repainting and rehabilitation of the water tank had been bid out, the cost came back as significantly less than had been expected. Hollen, the city engineer, had originally estimated the project’s total cost at $716,000. That included not only the rehabilitation of the tank, but also rental of a large, pressurized tanker truck because the Tennerton tank, which serves Buckhannon-Upshur High School and the West Virginia State Police barracks, would have to be taken offline for maintenance.

“Believe it or not, for the actual painting of the tank and rehab, that came in at way under what was proposed,” Arnold said. “It’s still a pretty good cost, but it’s nowhere near the 75 percent of the new tank that we had talked about at budget sessions … so, I think you’re going to see some drastically decreased numbers for that project.”

In June 2021, city officials attended a county commission meeting to propose the two entities split the cost of the water tank rehabilitation and repainting because only 10 percent of the customers served by the tank live in city limits, while the other approximate 90 percent live outside the city, according to Hollen’s calculations. At the time, commissioners were still awaiting the final rules guiding the expenditure of ARPA funds and the city and county agreed to meet again in August 2021. However, that meeting was never scheduled.

Arnold said he and Hollen would return to council with a revised estimated cost for the tank rehabilitation, and Sanders said he wanted to amend the city’s request to the county to reflect 50 percent of the revised estimated cost.

“I think the biggest variable in the whole equation is, ‘does the bid meet specs (specifications)?’” Arnold said. “[Rehabbing the tank] involves cleaning of the tank, repainting the inside of the tank, resurfacing the interior to the tank. The other part is the preparations in order to keep water going to Adrian Public Service District – or the southern part of the county, I should say – at the right pressure, which involves [rental of] that pressurized tank.”

County administrator Carrie Wallace said commissioners plan to review requests for county ARPA funds at their April 21 meeting.

A motion to approve the seven task orders passed unanimously.

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