County property topic of discussion at short commission meeting
With a sparse agenda, a sparse crowd and only two commissioners, the county's governing body had a fairly brief and controversy-free meeting last Tuesday night.
Commission president David Fleming was absent from the meeting.
Commissioners Martin Saffer and Jamie Walker discussed two issues that may have lasting effects on the county.
Saffer said asbestos removal at East Fork Industrial Park would likely cost in the realm of $85,000. The company that did the analysis of the county-owned property estimated that it would not cost more than that, Saffer said.
"Still the legacy of having decided to accept that property from Howe's Leather, and we're still paying for it," the commissioner continued.
The county accepted the former tannery property and $250,000 from Howe's Leather in the mid-1990s. The Department of Environmental Protection ordered the property to be cleared of leftover sludge from the tanning process. Through a lengthy, now decades-long operation, the sludge was removed from several smaller ponds and entombed in a large one. The last act of recovery is to cover that pond with a DEP-authorized cap.
The cleanup has cost more than $900,000, all of which has come from grants.
Inter-State Hardwoods now operates on part of the property, while the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department occupies the office building.
Its companion property, the Green Bank Industrial Park, also was a point of discussion.
Saffer said he wants to publish the plat of the property in the newspaper to ask for economic development ideas and generate occupants. Economic development doesn't have to be a shoe factory, Saffer said. The commissioner said he wanted ideas from the Green Bank community. The commission needs to take an active role, he said.
The commission said a number of years ago that no one else had come forward, and so chose Meck's business as the default occupant.
Commissioner Jamie Walker said he had the impression that local residents don't want anything on the property and that when the first shovelful of dirt was turned over, there would be a lawsuit filed within four hours.
"The land is lying fallow, the opportunity lies fallow and the asset lies unused," Saffer said.
His own suggestion was to make the property a park so that people could picnic there and shop in Green Bank. One Green Bank resident in attendance liked the idea, adding that it would be a good attraction for local residents, as well as visitors.
"Seniors could walk there," said Tony Byrd. "Five or six people [have walking programs]." Byrd suggested a pavilion, picnic tables and some horseshoe pits.
Stephen McNally, of Arbovale, said he'd like to see a forum where people could give their viewpoint "unhindered."
"You know there's two sides in this issue, like there is in everything. A lot of people have been vilified on both sides. Because somebody takes a position doesn't mean they're good and it doesn't mean they're evil, it means they have a viewpoint," McNally said. "No one is bad. [There are] just different ideas on both sides."
Saffer said the issue is tossed to Green Bank residents who should solve the issue in a "community-minded" way.
In a related topic, commissioners discussed the petition for a writ of prohibition that was filed by Green Bank resident Jerome Heinemann to stop the expansion of Jacob Meck's businesses at the Green Bank Industrial Park, and to remove Meck from the three acres he currently leases, as well as expelling Interstate Hardwoods from East Fork Industrial Park and Alleghany Recreation Center from the former shoe factory building in Marlinton. The petition was dismissed two weeks ago by Judge Joseph Pomponio.
McNally asked why the commissioners hired an outside attorney to represent them when Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price is the county's statutory attorney. McNally also inquired about the cost of hiring Jason Long from Dinsmore and Shohl.
Saffer said Long did a very expedient and efficient job at a cost of $200 an hour.
The commissioner said Price is also the statutory attorney for the Pocahontas County Board of Education.
"The commission has discretion of hiring an outside attorney, and has done that over many, many years," Saffer said.
McNally said the Price had mentioned to a small group of people that she was never asked to represent the commission in this case.
The commission's administrative assistant, Sue Helton, said that was not correct, and that she had spoken to Price about the commission hiring outside counsel.
Saffer said the matter was at rest, barring any appeal.
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕlaid the levy for Pocahontas County.
ﾕhired Ethan Lash and Jared Clendenen as part-time 9-1-1 dispatchers.
ﾕdiscussed possible improvements at the East Cass Park, including a directional sign.
ﾕapproved various budget revisions.
ﾕagreed to pursue upgrading the courthouse telephone system.
The commission meets again in regular session May 1 at 8:30 a.m. in the courthouse.