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MUB management of Westover utilities must include stormwater infrastructure

If the Morgantown Utility Board is going to manage Westover’s sanitary sewer system, it needs control of the city’s stormwater system as well.

Leadership from both MUB and the city agree working on one and not the other simply isn’t possible.

As previously reported, the city is in talks with MUB regarding an arrangement under which the utility could take over management of the city’s sewer system.

During a recent report to Westover City Council, Public Works Director Jason Stinespring explained that anything constructed before the late ’70s or early ’80s was tied into a combined sewer/stormwater system that dumped into the Monongahela River.

Now Westover pays MUB for those flows to be pumped under the river to the utility’s Star City treatment plant. And while the sewer and storm systems have been separated in portions of the city, “I’ll be honest with you, our system is still essentially one system,” Stinespring said.

“A lot of the money we pay to MUB is stormwater. It’s not even sewer. There’s just so much stormwater in there,” he added. “One of the first things MUB would want to do to run our system would be to take that stormwater out of the system, or at least as much as possible to lower that cost, because you’re essentially treating rainwater. That’s what you’re doing.” 

Westover City Attorney Tim Stranko and Doug Smith, the city’s engineer, helped draft the municipal stormwater regulations used commonly across the state, including Morgantown, while both were employed by MUB.

Both agreed that stormwater management presents a complication in that it is not regulated by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, like water or sewer, but is the responsibility of the municipality.

Stranko explained that stormwater management goes beyond buried pipes and into decisions regarding land use and development regulations.

“I’m not sure we’re ready or it would be appropriate for this council to give up control of stormwater to the Morgantown Utility Board, for no other reason than it is a public work, a municipal public work,” he said.

Money is another complicating factor.

“In any sense, if MUB comes to work on our sanitary, they’ll have to work on the stormwater as well. It’s not fair for us to expect the MUB rate payers to pay for that. We’re not asking MUB to do anything for free. The microeconomics of it is the people who use the facility should be paying for the use and the upgrade of the facility, so that ends up, as it always does, with a question of revenue,” Stranko said, noting Morgantown City Council imposed stormwater fees on property owners to support its system.

Both Smith and Stranko explained that should Westover and MUB work out a stormwater management plan, it’ll likely be one of few — if not the first — metro-style stormwater utility in West Virginia.

“You’ve got an episode where the DEP wants everybody to join together and they want utilities and municipals to get together and work together to share these resources, but it’s not been done enough that there’s a template for it,” Smith said. “The governance part it is extremely complicated.”

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