WELLSBURG - The need for funds for water and sewer projects, improvements to state Route 2 and action against rising flood insurance rates were among issues discussed with U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, on Thursday.
Gathering with several local officials and residents at Wellsburg City Hall, McKinley said the biggest divide in Congress isn't between Republicans and Democrats but representatives of large cities and smaller, rural areas.
"I spend a lot of my time defending small towns," he said.
LOCAL ISSUES DISCUSSED — U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, discussed various local issues with Wellsburg and Brooke County officials and residents Thursday. Among those participating were, from left, City Manager Mark Henne, McKinley, Mayor Sue Simonetti and 4th Ward Councilman Charlie Harris. -- Warren Scott
McKinley said those representing more largely populated areas such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago often fail to see the impact of legislation on rural areas or the needs of smaller cities and communities.
For example, McKinley said, representatives of large cities have no concerns about septic systems or wells.
It was fitting that McKinley raised that issue because Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis asked if Congress can allocate more funds for the extension of water and sewer lines to residents currently served by wells and septic systems.
McKinley said the Obama Administration cut about $1.5 billion in federal Environmental Protection Agency funds used by states to award loans for water and sewer projects in favor of efforts to promote awareness of global warming.
Others have said the funds went to additional regulation of coal-fired power plants, which also has spurred criticism from McKinley and other West Virginia officials.
McKinley said before 2010, members of Congress could use legislation to earmark funds for various projects. But there were abuses of that power, he said, and now they are limited mostly to encouraging heads of various federal agencies to approve grant applications.
Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti and City Manager Mark Henne said funds also are needed for the separation of sanitary and storm sewers mandated by the EPA.
Henne said the city has managed to secure state and local funds for the separation of six combined sewer lines, including three at Sixth, Seventh and Eight streets set for later this summer.
But several more have been ordered and will cost the city millions of dollars, he said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Charlie Harris said the cost can't be passed on to sewer customers.
"The customers aren't going to be able to afford the additional costs, and that's true not only for Wellsburg but throughout the Ohio Valley. There has to be outside help," he said.
Simonetti encouraged McKinley to support efforts to build a new Ohio River bridge south of the city. Simonetti said by providing additional access between West Virginia and Ohio, the span will boost economic development.
McKinley agreed, saying the idea of a new bridge has "been floating around for some time and it looks like it's going to come to fruition, doesn't it?'
Harris said whether a new bridge is built, something must be done about congestion and recurring rock slides along state Route 2.
He said such conditions are "a hindrance not only to safety but also to commerce."
Henne recently recruited the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission to urge the state Department of Transportation to allocate funds for slide repairs.
McKinley said he and others in Congress will support improvements to the highway if they are made a priority by state Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox.
"If he says that's his priority, too, then we can move on that," he said.
Harris said he believes WVDOT sets priorities according to the level of traffic on a roadway, and Route 2 suffers by comparison because its conditions spur many to avoid traveling it.
McKinley said he will contact Mattox about the concerns.
Ryan Weld, chairman of the city's urban redevelopment authority, asked McKinley to continue to work against proposed increases to flood insurance premiums. He and others said the rate hikes are costly for residents of the city's floodplain and deter others from moving there.
McKinley said he knows a couple who pay $7,000 per year for a house they bought for $58,000. He noted the rate hikes are a result of the Biggert Waters Act, legislation aimed at helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency to overcome millions of dollars in claims filed following Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
But the increases were supposed to be put into place following a two-year study of their impact, McKinley said. He said he supported bipartisan legislation earlier this year that will implement the rate hikes in increments over four years.
But McKinley added he's found that West Virginians pay the highest flood insurance rates, twice the amount paid by states which have twice as many claims as the mountain state. He said he's pushed for that to be investigated and addressed.
"FEMA shouldn't be funding other states' insurance on the backs of West Virginians," he said, adding, "We're not done fighting on that."
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)