Morgantown Council OKs Water-Quality Resolution

Morgantown Dominion Post
February 2009
By Tracy Eddy

The city of Morgantown is letting the state know it plans to protect the area’s drinking water from pollution from gas well drilling operations.

During its Tuesday meeting, the Morgantown City Council approved a resolution asking local delegates to work with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to come up with standards to control the levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) — organic and inorganic minerals, salts, metals and other matter found in water, measured in milligrams per liter (mg/l) — in the Monongahela River.

“This resolution is a way in which we, as a community, say we need to protect our drinking water,” Deputy Mayor Don Spencer said. “We’re linked with Pennsylvania on this matter and it’s important that we work together.”

TDS found in the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania and West Virginia include sulfate from acid mine drainage and sodium and chloride found in wastewater produced by Marcellus Shale drilling, according to information provided by the Upper Monongahela River Association.

The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation rich in natural gas deposits that runs beneath portions of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee. The natural gas is costly to extract. Drilling typically involves blasting millions of gallons of water underground to release the natural gas locked deep in the rocks.

The resolution asks that the DEP put a standard in place, stating the TDS cannot exceed 500 mg/l. The water quality standard for TDS is 500 mg/l in Pennsylvania, but West Virginia currently has no standard in place for TDS.

The DEP should also control the mining, drilling and other discharges in the river basin, asking contractors for specific water-discharge plans detailing treatments, location schedules and conditions for discharge, according to the resolution.

For those who don’t comply, the DEP is asked to enforce penalties, such as possibly having their drilling permits revoked.

Wallace Venable, technical coordinator for the Upper Monongahela River Association, said the association supports the resolution.

“I just want to thank Don for all the work he has done and the initiative he has taken,” he said. “Thank you all for backing him.”

In other business, council:

Approved the second reading of a lease agreement between the city and the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

The city will lease about 7,000 square feet of office and storage space in the lower level of the North Terminal building at the Morgantown Municipal Airport. The space will be used by the West Virginia Army National Guard.

The state is paying the city $3,500 a month to rent the space. The monthly rent equals about $6 per square foot.

The space has been home to the U.S. Navy and a federal communications agency that specialized in emergency services.

Approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the part of the city’s planning and zoning code that deals with lodging or rooming use houses, which are also known as boarding houses.

According to the code, no more than 16 people can live in the lodging or rooming houses on a permanent or transient basis. City Planner Chris Fletcher said the city’s building code determines how many people could actually live in the building, up to 16 people, based on the size of rooms or the building’s square footage.

The code is being changed to ensure that more than one lodging or rooming use house is not operating out of a single structure.

City Attorney Steve Fanok said the change was needed because when a new zoning ordinance passed in 2006, wording regarding the lodging and rooming houses wasn’t taken from the old ordinance “verbatim.”

“It was never the intent to put more than one within a multifamily structure,” he said. “This clarifies that.”

The current code allows for a portion of a building to be classified as a lodging or rooming house regardless of the present use of the building, Fletcher said. It has created the opportunity for a duplex structure to be split into two lodging or rooming house uses. The city is trying to prevent that, he said.

Also, according to the proposed change, the lodging or rooming house could be housed in a single building or take up a part of a mixed-use building.

Fletcher said he estimates there are between 20 and 40 lodging or rooming houses in the city.

Approved a list of poll workers to work each precinct for the city’s April 28 election based on the city clerk’s recommendation.