PSD member wants to stop sewage project
The newest member of the Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) board wants to go back to the drawing board for a solution to the Snowshoe area's sewage problem.
The PSD board debated the issue at its January 25 meeting at the Durbin waterworks building.
PSD board member Tom Shipley read from a prepared statement for 30 minutes, outlining his rationale forﾠ opposing the current plan to build a sewage plant on Snowshoe Drive. The junior board member said the proposed plant poses an unreasonable danger to the environment and said he favors a more decentralized system.
Shipley said current plans for a plant at Site 7 do not reflect the "will of the people" and said he feared "endless litigation" if current plans went forward. He said the PSD should consider separate sewage systems and separate public service districts for Snowshoe and the rest of the county.
PSD attorney Tom Michael said withdrawal of current plans would require the start of a new project and estimated it would take two-and-a-half years to get to the same stage as the current project.
A new project would require new engineering, public meetings and significant expenditure of funds, he said.
Shipley said the PSD would "save money by going back and doing it right the first time."
Elk Head Waters Association (EHWA) president George Bell spoke in support of Shipley's motion. Bell said the area's sewage solution should be designed in conjunction with ongoing development of an Elk River comprehensive watershed plan.
After reading the statement, Shipley moved to withdraw the PSD's current facility plan, which is awaiting approval at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The motion died for lack of a second, but board secretary Amon Tracey said he would be willing to consider the matter at the next meeting.
The board considered, but tabled, action on a response letter to a DEP request for environmental information on the Site 7 project. The DEP needs the information to decide whether to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact for the project or to require an Environmental Impact Statement, which would entail much more intensive environmental studies.
The DEP requested four items of information: mitigation of potential damage to karst environments; nutrient load data for the proposed plant; the impact of water loss from the Shavers Fork watershed and the proposed plant's potential for treating pharmaceutical pollution.
Thrasher Engineering project engineer Jonathan Carpenter said a response letter could be completed within a week and asked for board approval to submit the letter to the DEP.
Carpenter summarized the responses contained in the letter: potential damage to karst had been mitigated by relocating the proposed site off of karst terrain; nutrient load data was being finalized with plant equipment manufacturers; the proposed plant's total impact on Shavers Creek water flow was less than one percent and a membrane system could be added if pharmaceutical limits were established at a future date.
Shipley said the PSD is not ready to send the letter, arguing that more studies needed to be done on pharmaceutical pollution. Shipley also noted that Dr. Ray Morgan, a Maryland zoologist, had recommended further study on the proposed plant's potential impact on karst biology.
Wastewater operations manager Lloyd Coleman asked the board how they could accept further delay when the existing plants were polluting the water.
"We're doing it faster by doing it right the first time," Shipley responded.
Coleman said questions could go on forever and a perfect solution would never be found. The wastewater manager estimated it would cost $500,000 to operate the existing plants for two-and-a-half years while a new plan was being developed.
The PSD's existing sewage system regularly pollutes the Elk River and Shavers Fork. Between June and December, the plants violated permitted discharge limits 30 times for ammonia, aluminum and other pollutants.
Snowshoe was allowed less stringent limits as long as satisfactory progress was made toward a regional sewage plant. Stricter discharge limits were to take effect after the plant was operational.
The PSD was allowed to operate under the less-stringent standards until June, when they expired.
According to Michael, DEP chief enforcement officer Mike Zeto is drafting a new consent order to be negotiated with the PSD. Like the previous agreement with Snowshoe, it could allow interim limits as long as progress is made toward construction of a new plant. But if not, the DEP can issue fines up to $25,000 per day for water discharge violations.
After a prolonged discussion, the board tabled action on the response letter.
Shipley proposed that the PSD consider applying for a Small Cities block grant to fund the Bartow-Frank-Durbin water system upgrade project. Small Cities block grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the state.
A 50/50 split of grants and no-interest loans totaling nearly $600,000 has already been approved through state agencies. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.
Thrasher engineer Randy Watson said a block grant could potentially pay for the entire project and reduce Durbin water rates. However, the switch of funding sources would delay the project until at least next fall and, if not funded the first year, potential savings would be minimized. Durbin water rates will increase 11 percent if the project proceeds as planned.
Watson said the current funding package is a "good deal" and that prices for steel pipe are at a 10-year low.ﾠ
The PSD will hold a public meeting on February 10, 7 p.m. at the Durbin fire hall to hear public comments on the proposed funding switch.
The PSD unanimously approved a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the wastewater operation, which Coleman prepared. The CIP is a schedule of major repairs for the next three years. The first year includes repair and replacement of major end items costing approximately $300,000.ﾠ
Accountant Michael Griffith said Coleman's CIP was "wonderful." The accountant said cash was available to perform immediate repairs and that the document would be helpful in negotiations with the DEP. Griffith noted that the CIP could always be revised as necessary.
In other business, the PSD board:
- unanimously authorized Michael to make minor revisions to the employee handbook reconciling notice to quit and at-will employment.
- unanimously voted to authorize Michael to send a letter to Cheat Mountain Water requesting testing of water meters.
- unanimously voted to continue to use REIC laboratory for water testing.
- unanimously voted to hire an appraiser from Region 4 to appraise the tract of land to be acquired from Snowshoe for the proposed sewage plant.
- unanimously approved the January financial statement, which reflected $57,605.36 in outlays and $18,450.97 in income for wastewater operations and $15,782.68 in outlays and $8,341.42 in income for water operations.