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City meets pushback from local DOH in attempt to plant wildflowers along seven-mile stretch of Route 33

BUCKHANNON – Despite pushback from the local West Virginia Division of Highways District, the City of Buckhannon is moving forward with plans to plant wildflowers in the median along a seven-mile stretch of Corridor H west of Kesling Mill Road.

At Thursday’s meeting, Buckhannon City Council approved applying to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Operation Wildflower and Beautification program. Councilman CJ Rylands, who is leading the effort, had previously said the city wants the DEP to approve the planting of wildflowers in the median of U.S. Route 33 or Corridor H from the Kesling Mill Road intersection westward toward Route 33’s intersection with Sauls Run Road.

The stretch is slightly over seven miles, amounts to nine acres and would cost approximately $5,400, according to information provided in council’s packet at Thursday’s meeting.

Although the Operation Wildflower program is run through the DEP, the Division of Highways is the entity actually responsible for the plantings. Rylands said the deadline to apply to Operation Wildflower is Feb. 1, 2021 for this year.

“We were planning to apply for seven miles of median from Kesling Mill west, and the DEP touched base with the regional department of highways, and they said they couldn’t or wouldn’t be willing to do that in the median – that they would do four plots of wildflowers and that’s not what we’re interested in,” Rylands said.

Councilman CJ Rylands at Thursday’s meeting.

Upshur County falls under District 7 of the WV DOH, which also covers Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis and Webster counties.

Rylands said he’d spoken with City of Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold.

“We’ve decided that we’re going to contact the gentleman who responded to the DEP and see if there’s any way to move this forward,” Rylands said. “We’re working to find a resolution to this.”

Rylands said similar median wildflower plantings have been undertaken in other parts of the state, specifically along Route 19 in the Fayetteville area. He said although the DOH representative had stated he was willing to complete four plots of wildflower plantings, city officials aren’t interested in that alternative.

“This has been done in other parts of the state, but apparently each regional Department of Highways [headquarters] is led by individuals who have personalities and self-interests, and the answer was ‘no,’ so we’ll keep asking until we get a yes,” Rylands said.

Councilman Jack Reger asked Rylands what the DOH’s rationale for declining the proposal was, and Rylands replied the city hadn’t received one.

Councilman David Thomas advocated “going back and having a serious talk with that person,” suggesting that perhaps, mayor Robbie Skinner, might be an ideal person to have the chat.

“CJ and myself both have experience with the Department of Highways, and it’s ‘No’s the answer, what’s the question?’ You have to basically show examples of where what you want for your community has been done in other parts of the state – and you have to prove it – because if it can be done elsewhere, it can be done here,” Skinner said.

Skinner said he’d like council to approve the city’s application to Operation Wildflower regardless at Thursday’s meeting.

“I would like to go ahead tonight, though, and get the council’s support and approve us to submit the application, that way we’re ahead of the game, and we won’t have to worry about a timeline with council,” he said. “Perhaps, official action from this governmental body in support of this could help – don’t ask, don’t get.”

Rylands stipulated that he didn’t want the DOH to “redirect this in any other way,” by, for example, planting the four plots of wildflowers as opposed to wildflowers in the median along the seven-mile stretch.

Thomas made a motion to approve applying to Operation Wildflower for the planting, which was seconded by Reger prior to passing unanimously.

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