BUCKHANNON – An Upshur County resident who’s long been attending Local Emergency Planning Committee meetings issued a formal invitation to city officials Thursday, saying he believes it’s crucial representatives from Buckhannon participate in the planning sessions.
Kevin Campbell, a former Upshur County firefighter and current member of the Buckhannon River Watershed Association, said locally, the LEPC is comprised of first responders from Lewis and Upshur counties.
LEPC meetings often deal with area residents’ right to know about potential hazards – such as harmful chemicals – present in their communities. The meetings are distinct from efforts aimed at crafting an emergency preparedness/disaster response plan crafted specifically for Upshur County, Campbell said.
Campbell addressed Buckhannon City Council at its most recent meeting Thursday, April 18, to request city first responders’ attendance.
“I’ve been involved with the Local Emergency Planning Committee for probably five or six years now and for a long time, I was the only Upshur County firefighter regularly in attendance,” Campbell told council. “When Jim Townsend (former city fire chief) was here, he made a few meetings, but we have a problem with city representation at the LEPC.”
Campbell said he was aware police chief Matt Gregory and fire chief J.B. Kimble attend multiple emergency preparation meetings.
“But it’s essential that the city police and fire be represented there,” he said.
Campbell said Gloria Burr with Upshur County EMS regularly attends LEPC meetings as does Doyle Cutright, director of the E911 Upshur Communication Center.
“I’ve never seen anyone form Buckhannon Police Department. I have seen some firefighters on occasion, but these are part of the contingency plans in the works, and this year they will be focusing on Upshur County and evacuation plans for hazards in our community,” Campbell said. “Last year, it was done for most of Lewis County, and so it’s really important that we have the participation of the city because it’s part of our security, and it’s important that should a disaster occur, we get all the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funding we’re entitled to.”
The next meeting is slated for noon Wednesday at the Comm Center and generally 12-20 individuals participate, Campbell said.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley said he thought he’d attended multiple emergency and disaster preparedness and response plan meetings.
“What are those meetings that I’ve attended down at our [Public Safety Complex] Community and Training Room with emergency responders from all over the place?” Mayor David McCauley asked police chief Matt Gregory. “I know that you and J.B. had participated in those meetings with me; I thought that’s what we were attending.”
Gregory said many of those meetings were geared toward emergency planning for specific large-scale events, such as the West Virginia Strawberry Festival. The police chief noted the BPD has been involved in full-scale emergency drills in Upshur County Schools and in other venues.
Campbell said Lewis County attendees had been complaining that Upshur County representatives’ attendance hadn’t been up to snuff.
“And the Buckhannon Police Department was involved in the exercise at the airport, and they do get involved in the exercises, but my concern is – and it came up in a meeting – that Lewis County people were complaining that not enough Upshur County people were participating,” Campbell explained, “so I’m bringing the message.”
“Is this different from what Jeff Harvey (of J&H Consulting) has been orchestrating?” councilman Robbie Skinner asked.
Campbell said Harvey had been involved with writing an LEPC plan for Lewis County last year.
“This year, a plan needs to be done for Upshur,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if the plan will be awarded to Jeff Harvey or somebody else. It hasn’t been awarded yet, and that’s part of why we need to participate.”
“But this is not the strategic plan for emergency response in this county? This is for evacuation plan for disasters as well as helping us get all the FEMA funding we should be receiving in the event of a disaster?” Skinner asked.
Campbell said yes.
“The LEPC came out of the Stafford Act, which is also called the People’s Right to Know [act], which after some calamity in the ‘70s, people were injured because they didn’t know the potential of harm of things in their community,” he explained. “Now, within reason, they’re entitled to not only know it, they’re entitled to know what the plans are to deal with it in case of an emergency, and citizen involvement in these things generally helps everybody.
“We’ve got a lot of hazards around here like tanker cars over at the old Coastal Lumber that don’t have any secondary containment around them, and they’re a quarter-mile from the Buckhannon River. It’s a hazard that people in the neighborhood are aware of.”
Campbell said law enforcement officers with the Buckhannon detachment of the W.Va. State Police and the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department don’t typically participate, although Upshur County Commission President Sam Nolte attends.
“We’ll have a discussion with Chief Gregory and Chief Kimble and see what we can do to participate,” McCauley told Campbell.
In other city news, council approved appointing Cpl. Josh Wilson with the Buckhannon Police Department as the new traffic school instructor following the passing of assistant city attorney Matt Hymes, who previously filled the post.