Editorials, Opinion

DOH, WVU should help pay for flood study

It’s hard to forget the images of cars stranded on a flooded Patteson Drive as people sat on vehicle roofs, rain pouring down and brackish water racing past.  

The historic summer 2021 storms caused the stormwater systems connected to Popenoe Run and Burroughs Run to be overwhelmed, leading to unsafe conditions and extensive property damage.  (Popenoe Run goes from east of Shorty Anderson’s Auto Repair, all the way through Evansdale and Star City to the Monongahela River, while Burroughs Run flows primarily through underground culverts.)  

Impacted residents rightfully asked Morgantown Utility Board what could be done to prevent it from happening again. MUB, in turn, put up $40,000 to complete the first phase of a flood control study and it was ready to move on to the second phase. (The City of Morgantown and the Mon County Commission have allocated more than $1 million American Rescue Plan Act funds to address flooding at the upper end of Popenoe Run near Shorty Anderson’s.)  

MUB asked the Division of Highways and West Virginia University   to help address flooding at the Evansdale end, specifically along Patteson Drive — a state road that gives access to several WVU buildings. Because any changes to the Popenoe Run stormwater system would impact DOH and WVU properties, MUB offered to split the $300,000 cost to finish phase, evenly with each organization putting in $100,000.  

The DOH and WVU refused. 

The preliminary results of the phase one study suggested overhauling all the interconnected stormwater systems — including ones owned by the DOH and WVU — could cost $30 million to $40 million. As Ben Conley reported, the phase two study would have included an evaluation of the expected level of service, as well as detailed hydrologic modeling of potential flood reduction projects, an evaluation of property removal within the floodplain and community input sessions. 

Despite what the DOH and WVU may think, they do in fact have a vested interest in updating the Popenoe Run stormwater system.  

Years of geological study have taught us that, in the battle between water and rock, water eventually wins. The more Popenoe Run floods onto Patteson Drive, the more damage the state road will take. The edges will crumble faster, pothole patches will be chipped away quicker and underlying layers can be washed out, which can decrease the road’s load capacity and increase the risk of road slips. Putting in $100,000 (and maybe a few million later) could save the DOH hundreds of millions of dollars in road repair costs later.  

As for WVU, at the least, it should care because Patteson Drive provides access to a variety of WVU facilities, including the Rec Center, the CAC and multiple engineering buildings. More than that, WVU should recognize that its stormwater systems drain into MUB’s stormwater system along Popenoe Run, so it shares responsibility for maintaining and updating them. That’s part of being a good community partner.