BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon and a commercial developer have indicated they may reach a compromise in December that would resolve the dispute over what entity will install sanitary sewer and water utility service along Route 33 West.
Although no agreement has been finalized, Mayor David McCauley told members of the Sanitary Board Thursday that the city had had renewed talks with commercial developers along Route 33 West, as well as Upshur County Commissioners.
Just that day, McCauley said J.F. Allen Company had sent a proposal to city hall for the city’s Sanitary and Water Boards to review, and the construction materials and services company sent project manager Tyler Beaty to Thursday’s Sanitary Board meeting.
The proposal involves a “cooperative effort” in construction of the sewer and water lines along the north and south sides of Route 33 West, McCauley said.
At council’s Nov. 7 meeting, the mayor indicated the city was contemplating taking legal action to protect its utility territory after the Upshur County Commission voted to allow the Tennerton Public Service to expand its service area into an area the city says was assigned to it by the West Virginia Public Service Commission in the mid-1990s.
“However, we have had more recent conversations with certain of the commissioners. We have had more recent conversations with the primary developer (J.F. Allen Company) on both the north side and the south side of Route 33, and we’re optimistic,” McCauley said. “We’re exchanging ideas for funding and trying to reach numbers that we might agree upon.”
The proposal from J.F. Allen involves several other commercial developers, including Dave Anderson, owner of Corridor H Tire, as well as Mike Ross, among others.
“We’re optimistic that the north side sewer service, which would be installed by the city, could be completed by this time next year,” McCauley told the board.
Beaty told My Buckhannon the company’s proposal involves the city installing the north side sanitary sewer line, while J.F. Allen would install both water and sewer service along the south side of Route 33 West.
“We would like to install that in 2020 (at the same time the city plans to install utility service on the north side), but that depends on permitting and securing rights-of-way,” Beaty said. “The city would design the lines, and the lines would tap into the city’s sewer and water at the Hampton Inn. On the north side, they would do all the work, and the water’s already installed.”
Beaty said the commercial developers are willing to pay some amount of a surcharge for sewer service along the north side of the highway.
During the meeting, McCauley said the boards would review the proposal.
“We’re going to be evaluating that position,” McCauley said, adding the board would likely consider it as an agenda item at the Sanitary Board’s Dec. 19 meeting.
“I believe, and it is my thinking, that we’re going to get these utility issues resolved with the developers and the Sanitary Board [on the north side of Route 33 West] and the developers and the Water Board [on the south side of Route 33 West] coming together, figuring out the formula for how we’re going to finance and fund the project.”
Public works director Jerry Arnold emphasized the importance of hashing out the details in a written, concrete proposal.
“This is what we’ve been working towards for several years – to get something on the table and let the boards take a look at it, and then I’m sure there’s going to be banter back and forth before we reach a concrete agreement on moving forward, but this is the first step in getting there,” Arnold said.
McCauley said if a private developer constructs a utility line, the city subsequently accepts formal dedication of the utility line as part of its system.
Arnold noted although Phase I North would provide sanitary sewer service to only about 10 commercial developers, the line’s installation would allow for the possibility of expanding sewer service to residents.
“Most of the interest in sewer service on the residential side came from the Lorentz area and not so much off of these spur routes, which would be Bridge Run and Red Rock Road,” Arnold said, referencing a survey city engineer Jay Hollen conducted of residents’ interest in utility service. “But yes, to clarify, there would be – or there could be – additional projects in the future to serve residential areas off this line.”
Beaty asked McCauley how the surcharge would be divvied up, i.e. the formula it would use to assign a surcharge to each property owner.
McCauley replied that the city hasn’t yet settled on a formula.
“I don’t think we’re ready to give a precise magical number because one of the methods of allocating the surcharge could depend on how big these properties are going to be,” he said.
Beaty asked if the board could answer his question prior to the Dec. 19 meeting, when it will consider the company’s proposal, and the mayor said yes.
“I think we’ve evolved to a much better place than where we were at this time last month, and we’re highly optimistic that we’ll be able to pull this off,” McCauley said. “There are particulars that will need to be digested and shared with all the players on the north side, but we’re going to do that right soon.”
In his Nov. 7 statement, McCauley said talks about utility service extension had originally arisen because J.F. Allen contacted city officials “about a proposed development … with scores of buildings,” which would require utilities. Following the meeting, Beaty said the development had been related to the construction of the stalled Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“We haven’t been contacted in several years now, so there’s no potential development, but as with every property, if you have sewer and water, things spur up and more talk comes about,” Beaty said.
Beaty also said J.F. Allen had previously been concerned about the possibility of annexation.
“We are still strongly against annexation; all the developers are against annexation,” Beaty said. “I think it’s come to the point, though, that we want [utility service], and we’re willing to pay some. It wasn’t so much specifically Tennerton PSD doing it, it was a solution moving forward. They came with a solution, and now the city has. I think the main thing is, getting sewer in and no annexation.”