Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 5, 2012

Infrastructure overhaul: Important first steps for McDowell

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— When it comes to the availability of modern infrastructure, McDowell County continues to lag far behind the rest of the Mountain State. The county’s infrastructure woes are particularly aggravated by the lack of a modern, four-lane highway.

Thankfully, state, federal and local officials are taking steps to address some of the county’s critical infrastructure needs.

Clean drinking water and broadband — two vital components for growth— are now being addressed as a result of two unrelated projects launched Tuesday.

Within six months, many additional homes in McDowell County will have access to high-speed broadband thanks to a new agreement with the Edinburg, Va.-based Shentel company, which is now installing fiber-optic cable throughout the county.

Speaking during a press conference Tuesday at Mount View High School in Welch, Earle MacKenzie, executive vice president of Shentel, said the high-speed Internet access will be available within the next six months. McDowell County School Superintendent Nelson Spencer also said Frontier is currently installing high-speed Internet at all of the county’s schools as part of the ongoing Reconnecting McDowell campaign. The work in the schools is expected to be finished by the month’s end.

A signing ceremony was also held Tuesday for the $10 million Big Sandy/Roderfield Water Extension Project, a long-awaited initiative that has the potential to serve more than 500 families in McDowell County who are in urgent need of clean drinking water.

The extension project will serve customers in the Big Sandy and Roderfield areas through an extension of about 90,000-linear feet of varying diameter water distribution lines along with a booster station, water storage tank and connection to the PSD’s existing system in Premier.

The project also includes a 20,000-linear foot interconnection with the Coalwood Water Treatment Plant, the development of a raw water well and the installation of approximately 8,000-linear feet to bring water to the treatment plant in Roderfield.

Funding for the project includes a $500,000 Rural Development Rural Utilities Service loan; a $2,689,000 Rural Utilities Service grant; a $465,000 Army Corps of Engineers grant; and a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Grant for $6,446,000. The total project cost is $10.1 million.

After the project design is approved and the permits have been secured, construction on the project could start as early as next summer, according to McDowell County Public Service District General Manager Mavis Brewster.

The sooner county water can flow to families in the Big Sandy and Roderfield communities the better.

Both the broadband and water expansion projects are long overdue. All families must have access to clean drinking water in the 21st century, and all students should have access to broadband.

Local, state and federal officials are to be applauded for helping to make the water and broadband initiatives a reality. Both projects will go a long way toward helping families in McDowell County and their children.

But there is still much work to be done, including the completion of a usable four-lane segment of either the Coalfields Expressway or the King Coal Highway in McDowell County.