White Park bridge and trail project proving complicated

MORGANTOWN — It’ll happen, but it’s complicated. 

Those five words sum up Morgantown Staff Engineer Drew Gatlin’s recent update to BOPARC regarding the new bridge and trail network planned for White Park. 

The bridge in question would allow access to the south side of the old Cobun Creek Reservoir, opening some 20 acres of White Park for trails and public use. 

The bridge/trail project is being led by the city and funded by the Morgantown Utility Board as part of the agreed-upon remediation that allowed the utility to run a gravity-fed water line through the park in 2019. That line connected MUB’s water treatment center to the new Flegal Dam and Reservoir. 

Both Gatlin and Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli have said the goal is to get work on the bridge started in 2024 and likely completed sometime in 2025, but there remains some uncertainty. 

“There’s a lot of unknowns. We thought this was going to be a lot simpler process,” Gatlin said.  “Right now, the parties involved are 100% committed to getting the public what it wants in a manner that is not going to be a burden on the environment. We do know that bridge connection is absolutely needed … There are just a lot of regulators involved.” 

In a similar update to BOPARC in November 2022, Muzzarelli said the city could already foresee complications involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood data as well as, potentially, the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Further, Gatlin said MUB was initially hopeful a culvert-style bridge could be built to cross the reservoir, but doing so would require cutting through some 16 feet of accumulated sediment. 

“We’ve seen a level of complication in this project that has just made it very clear that whatever anybody involved in this can do to get more money on the table through any means possible is going to help,” he said.  

To that end, the city is seeking an additional $2 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program. The city was awarded $500,000 earlier this year. 

A brownfield is a parcel of land with any real or perceived contamination due to a previous use.  

In the late 1980s, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA formally recognized White Park as a brownfield site as it consists of land that was once part of the South Morgantown Tank Farm.  

Developed by Standard Oil in the 1880s, the tank farm was one of the largest of its time. At its height, the land we know as White Park was part of a 700-acre site likely holding more than two million barrels of oil.

Gatlin said the city hired a consultant to assess the existing contamination level. 

“We found through that process there is a moderate, but not super-threatening, level of contamination in certain parts of the soil,” he said, noting the city is working with the EPA to flesh out a trail development technique that meets the desires of both the public and regulators.  

“In order for us to open the south side to the public like the north side is currently open to the public, it would behoove us to design the trail in a way that it would be shepherding people through in an intentional way — steering away from areas that were either ecologically fragile or have some contamination. Where we can’t steer around contamination, going directly on top and making an approved cover in a way that doesn’t require us to take down a bunch of large trees.” 

BOPARC President Danielle Trumble said trails on the park’s south side don’t do much good if people can’t get to them. 

“I’m just terrified. We’ve been working on this bridge since before I was on city council. I’ve got three and half more years and I feel like we’re still going to be working on it long after my time,” she said. 

TWEET @DominionPostWV

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *