Scotts Run Pillaged Yet Again – Part One




During the US Great Depression, the Scotts Run area stretching for a few miles just west of Morgantown gained prominence as the miserable face of Appalachian poverty. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US President Franklin Roosevelt, visited the collapsed coal mining communities of Scotts Run and decried the situation as the human catastrophe that it was. (See: “Scott’s Run: America’s Symbol of the Great Depression in the Coal Fields” by WVU Professor of History Ronald L. Lewis). After 10 years of violent union-breaking attacks by the coal industry, combined with the national economic collapse, the people of Scotts Run were destitute. Professor Lewis notes that “It was in this pitiful condition that Scotts Run became America’s symbol of the Depression in the coal fields and set a new standard for measuring human suffering in the country…” Professor Lewis adds:

“To what degree life was worse here than in other coal hollows is difficult to determine, but there was plenty of misery to go around. Ironically, Scotts Run received much more attention than other depressed coal communities because it was far more accessible to outside photographers, reporters, social workers, and government agencies. This begs the question of just how “isolated” Scotts Run actually was in the 1920s and 1930s, a perspective tightly linked to its public identity. It should be noted that the run was easily accessible by bus, auto, trolley, or train during this period, and it was only a few miles from the county seat of Morgantown. The commercial center of the county, Morgantown itself was linked into the national transportation network which connected the hinterland with major metropolitan centers. Even though outside observers usually portrayed Scotts Run as ‘isolated,’ its spatial relationship to the rest of the world is more accurately understood as ‘stranded,’ a term frequently employed by contemporary relief workers to describe the condition of people trapped on economic desert islands and powerless to alter their condition. Most of the people were trapped not by geography, but by the lack of resources, employment options, and by their culture…”

When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the not so isolated but stranded, impoverished Scotts Run area for a firsthand examination, Lewis writes that she too “was appalled by conditions on Scotts Run” and notes that Roosevelt would go on to write that “The Run in Jere, like all the others that ran down the gullies to the larger, main stream was the only sewage disposal system that existed.”

Still today, 8 decades later, some Scotts Run area homes lack for quality sewage disposal. These residents had put their hopes in the Scotts Run Public Service District (SRPSD) which had been, until recently, working toward connecting the outlying residents to the municipal sewer. However, that hope, even expectation, died this past month when the SRPSD was abruptly disbanded by its 3 member board and taken over by the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB). Thereupon soon followed the after-the-fact takeover approval of the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission. To say the least, both the ethics and the legality of these moves, which are being actively opposed by Scotts Run residents, and that still require approval by the state, are currently in dispute.

In the meantime, now in control of the Scotts Run service area, MUB Manager Tim Ball has stated to the public that MUB cannot afford to connect the outlying Scotts Run residents to the municipal sewer system despite the intentions of the now former Scotts Run PSD to do so. Apparently, Public Service Districts have access to various types of grant funding from which municipal utility boards are barred. So now that the Scotts Run PSD no longer exists, the outlying Scotts Run residents are stranded once again.

Then why did the Scotts Run PSD board terminate the Scotts Run workers and hand the PSD over to MUB, and why did the city of Morgantown and the county of Monongalia approve MUB’s immediate takeover of the Scotts Run PSD operations? Who benefits? Not the Scotts Run PSD workers who all lost their jobs. Not the Scotts Run PSD customers whose rates will remain the same under MUB. Not the outlying Scotts Run inhabitants who now will not have their homes’ sewage disposals upgraded by connecting to the municipal sewer.

Who benefits? Evidently the city of Morgantown and the county of Monongalia which both to various extents oversee the operations and reach of MUB. How do Morgantown and the county benefit but not Scotts Run? Morgantown and the County gain the valuable Scotts Run PSD which has many more financial and material assets than liabilities, or as MUB Manager Tim Ball stated in his May 23, 2013 memo to Morgantown City Council: “The acquisition [of the Scotts Run PSD] is an attractive opportunity for MUB to expand its customer base and service area… This acquisition will allow a valuable system addition to be done…”

There is nothing in this memo from MUB to the Morgantown City Council about benefiting Scotts Run, which loses jobs and loses the expectation of gaining additional connections to the municipal sewer system in the most impoverished areas of Scotts Run. But what an “attractive” and “valuable” gain for MUB is the Scotts Run PSD!

That’s not even half of the story. After all, why would the city of Morgantown and the county of Monongalia wish to pillage, that is, to “acquire,” the Scotts Run PSD now rather than, say, 5 years ago, or, say, 5 years from now? Why now? What changed, ever so recently?

Let’s think. What happens when we follow the money trail a little bit farther?

We run smack into a gigantic pot of gold that was about to fall into the lap of the Scotts Run PSD … as will be detailed in a subsequent post: Scotts Run Pillaged Yet Again – Part Two. See this subsequent post also for an examination of possible ways to right this wrong.

Follow the money: MUB Manager Tim Ball’s “Memorandum” to Morgantown City Council, May 23, 2013.

One Response to “Scotts Run Pillaged Yet Again – Part One”

  1. Chris Hilling Says:

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light. These articles were insightful.

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