Mayor proposes water summit aimed at stopping leaks in State of the City address

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City recorder Randy Sanders, at left, and councilman CJ Rylands listen as mayor David McCauley, center, delivers the 'state of the city' address at Thursday night's council meeting.

BUCKHANNON – The mayor of Buckhannon on Thursday proposed a countywide water summit aimed at addressing the number of water leaks that occurred throughout the city and county during 2019.

During his state of the city address at council’s meeting Thursday, mayor David McCauley said the amount of water loss in the county is “untenable.” Public service districts throughout the county purchase water from the Buckhannon Water Department and serve customers through the infrastructure they maintain.

“I propose a water summit during which we will invite all public service districts to meet together to better determine how we can all work together to reduce potable water loss,” McCauley said at the outset of Thursday’s council meeting. “The members of the Upshur County Commission are invited, particularly since they are responsible for the formation and oversight of all PSDs … The leakage rates of some PSDs [are] untenable, and we must all work together to becoming better stewards of our precious water.”

McCauley said county PSDs are now sharing meeting minutes with the city “so that we may know of their needs and intentions.”

According to a log of emergency notification text messages from the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Management, in 2019, water line breaks occurred in areas served by the Adrian PSD, Tennerton PSD, Mt. Hope Water Association, Buckhannon Water Department, Elkins Road PSD and Hodgesville PSD.

The city also aims to work with the Adrian PSD to enhance water delivery in southern Upshur County, the mayor said.

“We anticipate working closely with the Adrian Public Service District to realize additional improvements to the southern portion of our water distribution system,” McCauley said. “We will continue to insist that all of the outlying public service districts improve their maintenance programs with their own systems to minimize the potable water that ends up being dumped into the ground.”

During the address, McCauley also said he plans to appoint a fire finance committee that will consider how a first due fire fee might be implemented. A first due fee would apply to the areas outside city limits that are situated in the Buckhannon Fire Department’s assigned territory.

Currently, county residents pay a $25 per year fire fee, and city residents pay an additional $3 per month – or $36 a year in fire fees.

“I will be appointing a fire finance committee to investigate a self-sustaining model for our fire department that will emulate the successes realized in our neighboring cities of Bridgeport and Elkins through our consideration of a first due fire fee,” he said. “With 40 percent [or more] of all calls taking our city firefighters, trucks and equipment outside of our corporate limits hundreds of times per year, the meager contribution from the county fire fee to our expanding protection for about 80 percent of the county’s population and the vast majority of total property value in Upshur County is simply unfair to be shouldered near exclusively by Buckhannon’s residents.”

Among other items, McCauley mentioned several upcoming infrastructure enhancements, including paving and sidewalk projects near the city seal mural and along Route 20, Kanawha, North Spring and Florida streets. In addition, the Gateway West project will get underway this spring, he said.

“Soon, there’ll be an amazing mile of new sidewalk, period lighting, holiday banners and complete streets from the first Buckhannon exit all the way to our college campus,” McCauley said.

The completion of a handicapped fishing pier and building pedestrian and bike-friendly connectors between the end of the Riverwalk Trail and Buckhannon-Upshur High School and Sago Road to the south and Pringle tree Park to the north is also on the city’s radar, the mayor said.

“We are working out details with W.Va. Split Rail Fence to connect the dots between our downtown and the Wesleyan campus portion of our river trail,” he added. “The entrances to town are receiving some much needed sprucing up replete with new plantings and lighting.”

McCauley also alluded to a substantial construction project that could potentially come to fruition in Buckhannon’s downtown.

“Be prepared to learn about another huge building project that will eclipse the size of the Innovation Center,” he said.

On Friday, McCauley said he couldn’t divulge further details, saying, “I think the developers should be the ones to make the announcement about something of this magnitude.”

The mayor wrapped up the speech by reiterating a message of efficiency and inclusivity.

“We will do all these things while being cleaner, greener and more sustainable than ever before,” he said. “We will do all these things while being more inclusive than ever before. We cannot as a community tolerate the actions of those who seek to divide us or to marginalize any of our residents.”

“They must be rebuffed,” he continued. “Anyone – regardless as to their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, handicap, orientation or familial status – who seeks to be part of our community’s successes is invited to participate with us and to offer their help and opinions in making our community even better. Our mission is not to be the best community around, our mission is simply to be the best community that we can be.

“In closing, please do not be deterred or unduly influenced by the few naysayers on social media, many of whom do not even reside in our corporate limits. These people constitute a small but omni-vocal minority of our residents and are not the voice of the vast majority of our people. We truly are all in this together. May 2020 smile kindly and fondly upon our Buckhannon. It continues to be my great honor and privilege to be in this chair in the finest city in all of West Virginia.”

Read the full state of the city speech here.