Whitewater Park Plans Flow

Morgantown Dominion Post
26 November 2016
By Katherine Hensley

Morgantown may be the future home of a whitewater park, but the project hinges on plans for a proposed hydroelectric power plant.

John Lichter, organizer of the Morgantown Whitewater Park, believes the project would help the community advance.

“The goal is really to change the image of West Virginia,” Lichter said. “It’s really more of an economic development project than it is a park that would just be for locals.”

The idea is still in the planning stage, but Lichter said the location was already selected. The park would be built near the Morgantown Lock and Dam and end at the Waterfront Jeep dealership.

“It would actually be under the rail trail, and it would run beside the rail trail and the highway,” Lichter said.

The original plan was to put the park right next to the rail trail in the river, but individuals expressed concern about disrupting the trail, according to Lichter.

“The current concept would actually enhance the trail,” Lichter said.

There are still concerned citizens, like Mary Wimmer, who want to make sure the area remains undisturbed.

Wimmer, a member of Morgantown Area Paddlers, is familiar with the Morgantown Whitewater Park’s plan and does not want to see the trail negatively affected. She said the project really needs to be evaluated for the appropriateness of the river before it becomes a reality.

The project also needs a designer. There are currently three contenders for the position, according to Lichter.

The potential designers are Scott Shipley from S2O Design, John Anderson from McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group and Gary Lacey from Recreation Engineering & Planning.

“We are hesitant at this point to pick a designer because they each have their own preferences and strengths, and we want to try to keep it pure for right now and decide what Morgantown wants,” Lichter said.

The next step for the park is to scope the size of the project and create a strategy, according to Lichter. But, before this can happen, those involved with the Morgantown Whitewater Park have to wait to see what happens with another group interested in the same location.

Rye Development, a company that develops hydropower on existing dams, is actively pursuing the creation of hydroelectric power by building power plants on several dams along the Monongahela River, including the Morgantown Lock and Dam. The company is seeking Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses for the projects.
The creation of a hydroelectric plant would likely prevent the Morgantown Whitewater Park, according to Lichter. “We are not sure exactly how they would build it, but we know that we would likely have to compete for water,” he said.

The funding stage of the park’s development likely will not happen until the organizers know whether or not Rye Development will be granted access to the Morgantown Lock and Dam. The support of the entire community will be needed if the project does reach the funding phase, according to Lichter.

“It would be very expensive, and it would require virtually unanimous support from the community and funding at many levels,” Lichter said.