PSD recommits to Snowshoe Drive sewage plant
Despite a recent effort to convince Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) board members to scrap a plan to build a $25 million sewage plant on Snowshoe Drive, the board voted to move forward with the plant during its regular meeting on February 23.
Opponents of the Snowshoe Drive plant tried to convince board member Amon Tracey to side with fellow member Tom Shipley and vote for a different alternative.
Shipley favors a previously rejected plan to build a plant at Site 9, on the east side of the mountain, serving only Snowshoe and discharging into the Shavers Fork watershed, along with a solution for the valley to be developed later.
The opponents were disappointed when Tracey voted with board president Mark Smith to confirm the board's intent to build the plant on Snowshoe Drive.
Smith said he had reviewed the alternatives during the previous week and "kept coming back to Site 7" as the best solution.
The board president said the Site 9 alternative would do nothing to fix the PSD's sewage problems at the Inn at Snowshoe and the Hawthorne Valley holding tank and would do nothing to further a regional wastewater solution. He said the Site 9 plan posed a greater environmental threat because of a longer pressurized sewage line.
Members of the public responded to Smith's conclusion.
Bill Liebman, of Cass, said a Site 7 plant would inhibit development in the valley by using up the allowable wasteload allocation for the Upper Elk River. The geologist said the PSD would face endless litigation if it went forward with the Site 7 plan.
Ralph Beckwith, of Slaty Fork, said several local businesses in the valley needed public sewage and the PSD should proceed with the plan to build a plant serving both the resort and the valley. The sawmill owner said the PSD would never find the perfect solution and would never satisfy everybody.
"We could drag this thing out for five years and we'd still be having the same discussion," he said.
George Bell, president of the Elk Headwaters Association, said the PSD should complete further studies on the areas porous karst geology before building a plant at Site 7.
"Future generations will look at the decision and judge whether cost was so important," he said.
Gil Willis, proprietor of Elk River Touring, in Slaty Fork, agreed with Bell.
"This is a very intricate project," he said. "This could be the most important decision in your entire lives. There is no hurry to make this decision. Let's get some more experts."
Tracey said he had taken time to hear and carefully consider all sides of the argument. Ultimately, he agreed with Smith.
The retired mine superintendent said construction of separate plants for the resort and the valley would cost in excess of $40 million, compared to $25 million for a Site 7 plant serving both areas. Separate plants would require more employees and incur higher operation and maintenance costs, he said.
Fiscal discipline has been Tracey's focus since joining the board last August. He said a recent offer by Snowshoe Mountain Resort to donate six acres for the Site 7 plant was a key factor in his decision. Tracey said the land donation will save the PSD half-a-million dollars.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort chief operations manager Bill Rock was present and confirmed the resort would donate the land, "with conditions, primarily having to do with aesthetics."
Smith moved that the PSD confirm its selection of the Site 7 design as the preferred alternative. Tracey said his decision probably would make some people unhappy and voted for Smith's motion. Shipley cast a nay vote but the measure passed 2-1.
The board voted 3-0 to authorize attorney Tom Michael and project engineer Jonathan Carpenter to proceed with negotiations for the land transfer.
The Site 7 facilities plan is currently under review at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The DEP recently requested information from the PSD regarding environmental impact of the proposed plant and the plant's potential for upgrade to meet stricter environmental standards.
Jonathan Carpenter, project engineer with Thrasher Engineering, prepared a response letter for submission to the DEP, but needed PSD approval to send it.
Shipley argued that the PSD should complete a more detailed study on the plant's potential impact on karst before submitting the response to the DEP. Shipley noted that Dr. Ray Morgan, a Maryland zoologist who previously did contract work for the PSD, had recommended a more detailed study.
After tabling the issue at its regular meeting in January, the PSD voted 3-0 to submit Carpenter's response to the DEP and to perform the karst study in the meantime. The PSD will seek DEP assistance in finding an expert to perform the karst study.
The PSD voted 3-0 to submit notification of a change in billing procedure to the Public Service Commission. Beginning this year, the PSD bills all customers in arrears, but billing periods will remain the same. Business and residential customers will be billed three months, in arrears, and associations will be billed monthly, in arrears.
The board voted 3-0 to approve spending procedures for wastewater manager Lloyd Coleman's capital improvement plan (CIP). Coleman will be required to bring all bids over $15,000 to the board for approval.
The CIP is a schedule of purchases, repairs and replacements for major wastewater end items over the next three years, including expenditures this year of more than $300,000. The repairs are necessary regardless of which sewage plant alternative the PSD builds, according to Coleman.
In other business, the PSD board:
- approved the financial statements for February, which indicated $50,070.85 in outlays and $45,546.68 in receipts for wastewater operations and $12,813.95 in outlays and $14,333.24 in receipts under the water operations account.
- approved a re-write of the employee handbook completed by Michael.
The next PSD regular meeting is scheduled for March 30, 7 p.m. at the Durbin waterworks building on Back Mountain Road near Durbin.