Commission considering Coram to lead trails council

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners delayed a decision to next week on a proposal to hire Kim Coram to develop and manage the newly created Wood County Alternative Transportation System Council.

In mid-July the commissioners approved legislation creating the council which will be responsible for coordinating and planning area biking and hiking trail systems. Coram earlier submitted a draft of the proposed legislation to the commission. No objections were raised during a public hearing on the proposal.

The 20-member advisory council will consist of representatives from the cities of Parkersburg, Vienna, Williamstown and North Hills, West Virginia University at Parkersburg, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, West Virginia State Parks, representatives of trail users, business, private landowners, Wood County Parks and historical interests.

Some appointments were approved Monday by the county commissioners.

The volunteer advisory board members will serve two-year terms. Appointees may be reapportioned for no more than four consecutive terms.

During a meeting Monday, Coram said she had presented a proposal that she be hired as a county employee to manage the newly created alternative transportation system council.

Under the proposal, if she is hired, the county would pay Coram $500 per month to develop and mange the council, define the roles and responsibilities of the county position that would ultimately become responsible for its long-term management, facilitate public awareness of the council’s work to include the update, management and maintenance of the Wood County Trails website previously created for the county and regularly update the county commission on progress with specific recommendations for the transition of the job responsibilities to county personnel.

Also on Monday, commissioners appointed commission President Wayne Dunn to serve on the board as a private property owner representative.

“Wayne wants to attend the meetings, he’s been involved from the beginning with organizing this,” Commissioner Blair Couch said.

“I don’t think we need all the slots filled to go ahead and start meeting,” Dunn said of the council. “But we need to decide how Kim fits in here. I personally think this should be a paid position, as a city council member, I’m not sure how that would go.”

Coram said she consulted Parkersburg City Attorney Joe Santer and was told as long as she abstained from voting on transportation issues pertaining to the city on city council, it should not be a problem.

Commissioner Steve Gainer questioned where the funds would come from to pay Coram’s salary.

“Probably from us,” Dunn responded. “I think it needs to be a paid position.”

“I don’t think the county should do this,” Gainer said.

He asked Coram if she would be willing to do the job as a volunteer.

Coram said she could not and that it would need to be a paid position.

“This is a start up, once you find the people, it seems the logical option, it would later be taken under government, possibly the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, that would be a logical option. I would basically be working to put myself out of the job as someone in government would take it over,” she said.

The county previously paid Coram $4,500 plus an additional $300 for promotional materials relating to development of a trails program and a trails website at theopam.com/communities. Under a separate contract, she was paid $2,500 to develop proposed legislation for creation of the alternative transportation council.

The proposed $500 a month contract would include updating the website.

Couch asked the matter be tabled until commissioners had a chance to review Coram’s proposal.

“I’d also like to talk to Jeremy (Cross, county parks director). I believe the trails in Wood County should be part of a standalone trail system, as part of the parks system,” Couch said.

“This is transportation, bikes and pedestrians. Biking is now a formal mode of transportation,” Coram said, noting in larger cities rental bikes are offered as a regular transport mode. “Parks are part of it, but we’re talking about a transportation system.”

“The county has nothing to do with roads or their maintenance. When you are talking about transportation, that’s something you are drawing us into that is much bigger than I think we want to get into,” Couch said.

“It’s about connections. The cities would have to manage trails within their municipalities.” she said. “This is a new concept here.”

Officials said one of the transportation council’s tasks would be development of a countywide map of transportation systems. Coram told commissioners the county could tie into trail systems from other states, as well as coordinate their own trail systems.

“This is an economic development tool we are talking about, bringing in users, creating jobs. I’m the person to get it started and implemented. I can’t do that as a volunteer. If you believe it will create jobs, which it will, you need to pay for it, get it in place,” she said.

“Kim is best positioned to do this, it’s an economic opportunity, it would take pressure off our roads, and it’s a health issue,” Dunn said.

Couch suggested asking the cities to contribute $100 month toward the salary and that any contract with Coram be a maximum of one year.

“The city of Parkersburg might not be able to contribute because she’s on Parkersburg City Council, the city attorney would have to address that issue,” Prosecutor Jason Wharton told the commissioners.

Also Monday the commissioners approved their earlier nominations of Vince Nedeff as a trails representative and Cross, county parks director, as the parks representative to the council. They also approved Linda Kern to represent city of Vienna; Lloyd Roberts and Marty Seufer representing city of Williamstown; Todd Nelson as a North Hills representative; Dr. Tabitha Anderson from WVU-P; Carol Jackson, and Tracy Higgins representing the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, and Robert Beanblossom, state park system administrator assigned to the North Bend Rail Trial as West Virginia Parks liaison.

According to the legislation, the council will facilitate a countywide system of interconnected landscape linkages, conservation corridors, greenbelts, transportation and recreational corridors and trails, regional parks and preserves using land-based trails that connect urban, suburban and rural areas of the county and facilitate creation and expansion of the countywide system of water trails. Coram earlier told commissioners trail development will probably be funded through grants.