Upshur County’s ‘at-risk’ status could mean the City of Buckhannon won’t have to pay for the next Riverwalk extension

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon is still chipping away at its goal of extending the Elizabeth J. “Binky” Poundstone Riverwalk Trail – or the Riverwalk, as it’s commonly known – to Buckhannon-Upshur High School and beyond.

At its Thursday, May 23 special meeting, Buckhannon City Council signed off on a resolution in support of applying for $150,000 in federal funding to complete sections of the overall project, known as the Buckhannon River Greenway Project.

The city’s economic classification through the Appalachian Regional Commission has been downgraded from “transitional” for the 207-2018 fiscal year to “at-risk” for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, city engineer Jay Hollen told council.

That means the City of Buckhannon won’t have to pay for any of part of the West Virginia Division of Highways aspect of the extension project, Hollen explained.

At-risk counties are “at risk” of becoming economically distressed and rank between the worst 10-25 percent of counties in the U.S., according to information on the ARC’s website. (Rankings are based on three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income and poverty rate.)

The deadline for grant applications for federal funding is Friday, May 31.

“As part of the application, City of Buckhannon must pass a resolution of support,” Hollen said. “What’s nice about this one – well, I guess it’s kind of nice – is that Upshur County was recently declared an at-risk county by the Appalachian Regional Commission for 2019, which means we are, for the DOH (W.Va. Division of Highways) side of the project, eligible for 100 percent federal funds.”

Hollen said that means a consultant will perform the design work, and a contractor will complete the actual construction if and when the $150,000 grant application is approved.

“There’s no monetary contribution from the City of Buckhannon unlike in the past when we were a transitional county when it was an 80/20 or sometimes a 75/25 split,” he explained. “We are of no obligation to pay anything.”

A “transitional county” is a county that is “transitioning between strong and weak economies,” according to the ARC’s website.

Hollen said the city is submitting two grant applications at a time for two different portions of the overall Buckhannon River Greenway project.

“We’re submitting two at a time,” he said. “They’re not related. They’re two different type projects.”

Extension No. 4 of the Buckhannon River Greenway Phase I Transportation Alternatives project will encompass extending the Riverwalk from the Poe Bridge on Marion Street south along Wood Street.

“It will go down Railroad Avenue, across Preston a little bit,” Hollen said. “At the Water Plant, [it will] make a turn to the south and head down Wood Street and terminate at the Monongalia Street intersection.”

“That’s as far as the money we’ve got for the phase,” Hollen said.

However, the $150,000 for which the city is applying would fund a concurrent project that could be funded through the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Recreational Trails grant.

That extension will stretch from the intersection of Wood and Monongalia street to the intersection of Wood and Ohio streets, Hollen explained.

In total, the add-on amounts to about 875-900 feet, he said.

“The bad thing about this type of grant – this Recreational Trails grant – is, it’s only $150,000 at a time, so it will have very small increments of progress being made,” Hollen said.

Councilman Robbie Skinner made a motion to approve Resolution 2019-04 in support of the application, which was seconded by councilman CJ Rylands prior to passing unanimously.

City information coordinator and grant writer Callie Cronin Sams said Thursday completing the entire Buckhannon River Greenway project is crucial to ensuring residents in the city have equitable access to critical services outside the city, such as Buckhannon-Middle Middle School, the high school, the Upshur County Public Library – and vice versa with county residents who might use the trail to access resources within the city.

“We’re wanting to get from the City of Buckhannon to the high school and beyond,” Sams said.

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