Trails council project put on hold

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners finalized several more appointments to the new Wood County Alternative Transportation System Council, but announced the project is apparently on hold for now.

During their Monday meeting, commissioners gave final approval of 10 individuals nominated earlier for the council. Those approved were Mark Abbott, as a trails user; Wayne Dunn, representing private landowners; Linda Kern, Vienna; Lloyd Roberts, Williamstown; Marty Seufer, Williamstown; Todd Nelson, North Hills; Tabitha Anderson, West Virginia University at Parkersburg; Carol Jackson, Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council; Tracy Higgins, MOVRC, and Robert Beanblossom, West Virginia State Parks. The commissioners also placed Jim Miracle’s name in nomination to represent the historical community.

Still to be filled are two business community representative positions, two city of Parkersburg representatives, one more Vienna, one more North Hills representative and one West Virginia Department of Transportation post.

Kim Coram, who was hired earlier by the county commission to develop and propose legislation for creation of the council and development of a countywide trail program and website, submitted a proposed contract earlier for management of the new council.

Under the proposal, if she were hired, the county would pay Coram $500 a month to develop and manage the council, define the roles/responsibilities of the county position to 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 commission on progress with specific recommendations for the transition of the job responsibilities to county personnel.

At the last meeting the commissioners proposed asking the cities involved to contribute to the program and that created a potential problem because Coram is a Parkersburg City Council member.

“I have essentially pulled my bid, if the city pays, as a council member, it could be a conflict. I have talked to the city attorney, he said it was a gray area. At this point I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Coram said Tuesday.

Coram said if the county funds the coordinator’s council position, it would not present an ethical issue.

Coram said the city attorney is looking into it.

“But based on the change, it could eliminate me from being able to apply for the position,” she said.

Coram said there are a number of variables involved.

“I had allocated time in my contracting schedule for this, but this is my work, and if something else comes up, I’d have to evaluate it,” Coram said. “I was contacted last Friday by the county about a contract bid for the next phase, but I indicated to them I talked with the city attorney about the new issues. Before I bid on any government contract, I always check with him to make sure there is no ethical issue,” she said. “Once the county said they would request the city to help fund it, that’s when it became a gray area, based on that change, it could eliminate me.”

“We have a majority of the council members now in place, but now we have to wait until the council can meet,” commission President Wayne Dunn said during the Monday meeting.

Dunn said earlier he felt Coram was best positioned and the most qualified to handle the job.

Commissioner Blair Couch had suggested asking the cities involved to contribute $100 a month toward the council coordinator salary and that any contract with Coram be for a maximum of one year. The commissioners then delayed action on Coram’s proposal.

Coram said development of the bikeways would create an economic engine that would create jobs in the area, noting biking has already become an accepted mode of transportation in other areas and they are seeking the benefits.

“Think of it this way, when automobiles became an accepted mode of transportation, think of everything that had to happen for that to happen; roads were built, mechanics were needed, gas stations were set up. Now that bicycling is a formal mode of transportation, which is happening all over the country, it just depends on how quickly we are prepared,” she said. “We could be in a position for West Virginia to grab as much as possible and our community could benefit as well.”

In mid-July the commission approved the legislation creating the council to coordinate and plan area trail systems.

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

The volunteer advisory board members will serve two-year terms. Appointees may be reappointed for no more than four consecutive terms. The board will be permitted to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred.

The county previously paid Coram $4,500 plus an additional $300 for promotional materials for 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.

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.