Clay County kicks off Elk River flood restoration project in hopes of transforming economy

CLAY, W.Va. — Restoration of the Buffalo Creek Gauley Rail Cooridor in Clay County will soon get underway more than five years after flood waters damaged several bridges and the railroad.

Governor Jim Justice, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) and a few other Clay County business leaders met where Buffalo Creek meets the Elk River in Clay on Tuesday morning to officially cut the ribbon on the project.

The Federal Emergency Management is providing $6 million dollars for the project to cover damage costs from the June 2016 flooding.

“This restoration project will put those bridges back into active service,” Hanshaw told MetroNews. “It will be possible to get on this trail system at the Capitol Market and get off at Burnsville. That will make this trail system one of the longest in the eastern United States, so we’re excited about that.”

About 14 miles of infrastructure central to the 18.2-mile Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad will be completed. The railroad, originally used to haul coal in 1904, will be restored to a condition allowing it to haul coal, timber and other materials in the future when it also will become part of the Elk River Trail State Park.

Hanshaw said everything is in place to start the work.

“We have a contractor retained to perform the work and it has been engineered. There have been bids left and contracts awarded. The next step is actual on-the-ground construction,” he said.

With more people getting outside since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanshaw said repairs are critical for recreational activities.

“I am 41 years old and in my life time, I do not recall having seen as many people in Clay as are in Clay these weekends now with people who are coming to kayak, to hike, to bike and ride the trail system,” he said.

Clay County Commissioner Fran King said during Tuesday’s ceremony the project will significantly boost the local economy.

“For every person that comes into our county, just on a week day trip, they spend about $10 a person. In a small county like Clay, $10 a person is a big, big boost in our economy and we need it,” King said.

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