Editorials, Opinion

MUB, city need to get on same page

Back when The Dominion Post Editorial Board met with Mayor Jenny Selin, Councilor Danielle Trumble and City Manager Kim Haws, Mayor Selin noted the Popenoe Run storm water project (to which the city has pledged $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds) was one of the high points of the city’s and MUB’s relationship — one of those “really good examples where we can work together.”

Then last week happened.

At the Monongalia County Commission meeting Aug. 10, commissioners gave the City of Morgantown and MUB an ultimatum: You have one month to come to an agreement, or the county will pull its promised $1 million in ARPA money.

The reprimand from the county government doesn’t look good for either the city or MUB — neither of which have a great public image at the moment.

This one is on the city. It was supposed to have completed and presented an agreement to MUB and the commission for all three parties to sign by the end of July. According to MUB, as of yesterday, the city still has not turned over a finished agreement, more than two weeks past deadline.

The Popenoe Run incident is just the latest in more than three years of squabbling between the City of Morgantown and the Morgantown Utility Board that everyone would like to see come to an end.

The current series of spats can be traced to at least 2019, when MUB overstepped its authority in planning a raw water pipeline through White Park without getting permission from the city first. Locals were understandably angry to see their recreation space torn apart and city council responded by asking MUB to pay to fix what it had broken. After heated negotiations, MUB finally agreed in November 2019 to build a new trail, including two water crossings, and plant two trees for every tree damaged or removed during construction.

MUB then spent the next three years arguing over what it was actually financially responsible for. A renegotiated contract signed in March of this year clarified MUB would pay for 326 trees (twice the number of mature trees cut, rather than the total number of trees) to be planted by a third party vendor and for a trail with only one water crossing. At that time, it was predicted the remediation work for White Park would start this summer. It still hasn’t.

There’s also an ongoing disagreement regarding the Flegal Dam. MUB just wants to get the project done and over with; it seems city council would prefer to install recreational amenities while the site is still a work zone. Council has repeatedly approached MUB about turning the reservoir into a space for biking, hiking, fishing and (non-motor) boating, with a parking lot and restrooms for visitors — all paid for by the city. MUB seems to have largely ignored the requests.

Given the debacle that was White Park, it’s understandable that city council doesn’t want to spend $200,000 in planning and designing a recreational space without a signed agreement in hand. Back at that July meeting between The Dominion Post and city officials, Trumble lamented, “They [MUB] verbally agree to a lot of things, and then when it’s time to put it to paper, they have a lot of stipulations and a lot of difficulty coming to an agreement.”

We can “city said/MUB said” all day, but the fact is there’s plenty of blame to share for the squabbles and roadblocks that have put multiple projects extremely behind schedule. Maybe the county commission’s ultimatum is what both entities need to remember they are on the same team and should always be working together for the public good.