After the snowfall
On Wednesday morning, Shepherdstown Public Works Director Frank Welch looked out over downtown Shepherdstown from the lobby of Town Hall and summed up the last weeks weather, saying “This is bordering on being ridiculous.”
Welch, no doubt, was not alone in his sentiments.
State, county and municipal governments faced their toughest challenge in years as two severe winter storms battered the region within four days of each other. By Wednesday afternoon, the two storms had dumped over three feet of snow on Jefferson County. Almost all non-essential government services were suspended for the week.
“I think someone painted a big bullseye on the eastern panhandle this year,” said Lee Thorne, West Virginia District Engineer for the seven counties of the Eastern Panhandle. Over the phone, Thorne reports that, as a result of an already active winter, his department had already used 70% of their budget before these two storms even hit. Rodney Crowell, overseeing the state’s snow removal effort for Jefferson County, said in an interview that his department has gone through over 900 tons of salt this winter, totaling over $70,000.
In an interview on Wednesday morning, Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer said that it was costing Shepherdstown $400 an hour to hire outside contractors to help with snow removal. Auxer said the total cost to the Corporation of Shepherdstown won’t even be known until after overtime hours are calculated, but he expects the cost to run over $20,000. Mayor Auxer says that the finance committee will have to revise the budget after the bills come in.
Gov. Manchin declared a state of emergency across West Virginia on morning of the first storm and deployed units from the West Virginia Air National Guard to storm affected areas. Early on, Jefferson County officials were holding out hope that the Federal government will declare the twice-snowbound county a national disaster area. A Federal state of emergency allows municipalities to seek reimbursements from the Federal government for costs incurred by their recovery efforts. As the snow piled on, however, officials involved with the county and municipal response to the storm said that the prospects for such a declaration are dim. The Governor’s office is encouraging counties and municipalities to use whatever resources at their disposal to dig out of the snow.
The Eastern Panhandle Chapter of the Red Cross operated a shelter at two locations in Jefferson County during the two storms for any residents who needed shelter from the storm. During the first storm, the shelter was located at Jefferson High School and was open through Saturday afternoon. According to Debra Palmer, Public Information Officer for the Eastern Panhandle Red Cross, On Monday, the Governor ordered that no schools could be used as a shelter until inspected by engineers with the West Virginia Air National Guard and the shelter re-opened for the second storm with 120 beds available at Covenant Baptist Church outside of Shepherdstown on Route 230.