BUCKHANNON — City crews have experienced difficulty keeping up with the fast-growing grass in Buckhannon’s Heavner Cemetery, much to many residents’ dismay, city public works director Jerry Arnold told Buckhannon City Council Wednesday.
At city council’s regular meeting, Arnold said he’s fielded numerous complaints about the city’s unmowed acreage in the cemetery, but assured council that crews would soon remediate the issue.
“We’ve seen numerous comments about the lack of mowing at the cemetery and other city properties,” Arnold told council. “But again, we got behind with the mowing and we now have two of our four-person mowing crew working as of Monday. We made significant progress but with the April we had and the lack of manpower in April, the mowing of the cemetery just got ahead of us.”
Arnold said the city “will have a better handle” on the grass next year. Currently, the city is relying on an in-house summer crew to cut the grass; however, it had previously contracted out the task of mowing. Once that crew is in place, they will be working at the cemetery five days a week, Arnold said.
“Not to make excuses, but I was that one that recommended to the Consolidated Public Works Board that we start mowing (in-house),” Arnold said. “It wasn’t so much that we were saving a lot of money, it was twofold. The players that used to mow that cemetery no longer work for the city. So one, it allows us to put those people (summer crew) there five days a week. What happened in the past with the contract mowing was our full-time crew would still have to go over there and fill in grades, fill in holes, reset markers sometimes, so we were taking those full-time people off the projects that we had them on and had them over in the cemetery to do those little menial tasks.”
Now, the in-house city mowing crew will be able to keep up with the maintenance of the cemetery themselves, allowing regular employees to remain on the larger projects they need to be focused on, Arnold said.
Councilman Robbie Skinner said the weather has certainly had an impact on his personal mowing.
“I think it’s important to note that last year, I started mowing in mid-April,” Skinner said. “This year, I started mowing my own grass in mid-March. But what normally is manageable by May 1 is a jungle by May 1 because we had a mild winter and pretty warm, wet spring so far, so I think that’s part of it, too. Everyone started mowing earlier this year.”
Arnold said he wants residents to know that he and the street crew have a great respect for the cemetery.
“I just want everyone to know that there isn’t anybody else more respectful of that cemetery than myself or the street department,” Arnold said. “We take great pride and responsibility in that cemetery, and it will be done … just give us a little time and be patient. I promise you that the cemetery will look better than it’s ever looked. These guys will get it taken care of.”
Councilman David Thomas said he hopes citizens appreciate all the good work the street department is doing.
“I want to say kudos on several fronts,” Thomas said. “I would like the citizens of the city to recognize that some of the work that you’re doing down at Jawbone has already been paid for — the period lighting and so forth. That was done three or four years ago when Steve Foster was development director (director of the Upshur County Development Authority). We get criticized on how we’re spending our resources — which is OK … we welcome any good conversation — but I think we have to have a little bit of time to see the return on our investment.
“I think you’ll see the fruits of your labor, and I don’t think anybody has ever criticized the street department themselves,” Thomas said to Arnold. “If anything, they were sort of giving us up here a little bit of, ‘why didn’t you see this coming?’ I appreciate what you’re doing.”
In other news, the city is in the process of shipping several loads of asbestos out of the waste transfer station, which first arrived there several days prior unbeknownst to city officials. Arnold said he received a call on Friday, April 28, from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection inspector, who had, in turn, gotten a call from the Air Quality Division of the health department. The health department official’s call had spurred the DEP to inspect a house located along Route 20 near Tractor Supply, Arnold said. The DEP discovered asbestos there and subsequently found out that several loads had already been shipped to the city’s waste transfer station.
“They had brought two loads in on Thursday and they were still in one of our trailers, so I immediately told [waste transfer station employees] to isolate the trailer, and the fire department immediately came out and watered down the material in the trailer and covered it with a plastic sheet,” Arnold said. The city will be shipping the asbestos to an asbestos landfill Tuesday, Arnold reported.
“But the problem being, we didn’t catch it when it came in, the reason being it was in a dump truck and it’s very hard to catch everything that comes through the transfer station, and that’s exactly what our DEP inspector said,” Arnold said. Arnold said “a couple loads” arrived Wednesday and actually made it to the landfill.
“The contractor didn’t cover his requirements and cost us additional manpower and problems,” Arnold reported. The contractor could consequently lose his license, Arnold added. Mayor David McCauley said the potential penalty is a $25,000 per day fine.
“The frustrating part about this is we’re so very proactive with our stuff within corporate limits, and stuff that happens outside the city limits that comes through, that same level of proactiveness doesn’t occur,” McCauley said.
Thomas asked what the Upshur County Commission’s role in regard to the asbestos abatement outside city limits is.
“We’re a small city and a small county and we have not met with the county commission for quite awhile, and I do think there are issues that the entire community needs to work on together to enhance the quality of life for everyone,” Thomas said. “If you have a house right outside the city limits and you’re ignoring what the DEP recommends, that affects us. I think we need to sit down with the commissioners and say, ‘these are some issues we think are important and we need to have you come on board.’”
McCauley said he plans to contact county administrator Carrie Wallace after the conclusion of the W.Va. Strawberry Festival to schedule a joint meeting at the end of May or beginning of June.
“We’ll invite the commission down,” McCauley said. “They might have some agenda items they want to talk to the city about.”