PSD will commission limited karst study
The Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) board will hire experts to study a wastewater plant's potential impact on the underground biology of the upper Elk River, but not an in-depth field study that one board member recommended.
The board debated the issue at a special meeting on March 22 in Linwood.
When Thrasher Engineering planned a wastewater plant for the Snowshoe area, environmental consultant Dr. Ray Morgan recommended study on a sewage plant's potential impact to the underground karst environment of the Upper Elk River, because he had only studied the surface biology.
Karst is an area of limestone terrain characterized by sinks, caves and underground streams.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the process of reviewing plans for the proposed plant. In December 2009, the DEP requested "a clarification on the impact of the proposed treatment plant on the karst geology,ﾔ but did not request additional karst studies.
Project engineer Jonathan Carpenter prepared a response letter which informed DEP that the PSD had relocated the plant site away from karst terrain, to an alternate location on Snowshoe Drive, in order to mitigate potential danger to the karst ecosystem. The response letter would likely satisfy the DEP's request for clarification, according to the engineer.
Since joining the board in January, Tom Shipley has argued for the PSD to conduct further karst study as recommended by Dr. Morgan. During its meeting on February 23, the board voted 3-0 to submit Carpenter's response letter to the DEP, but also to conduct the additional study.
The PSD solicited for environmental consultants with knowledge of karst ecosystems and received proposals from three groups: Lewis & Associates, LLC, of Borden, Indiana; Zara Environmental, LLC, of Manchaca, Texas, and a team consisting of Dr. David C. Culver, professor of environmental science at American University in Washington, D.C. and William K. Jones, director of the Karst Waters Institute in Warm Springs, Virginia.
Lewis & Associates proposed to do field studies, at a cost of $14,420. Zara Environmental proposed to prepare a report through scientific literature review, at a cost of $10,300. Culver and Jones offered to prepare a report, involving a "brief reconnaissance visit," but no field studies, at a cost of $3,280.
During the special meeting, the board reviewed the proposals and determined it had to define the scope of work before it could contract for services. The debateﾠ narrowed to whether the PSD wanted an expert to conduct more expensive field studies or simply a review of scientific literature to prepare the report.
Shipley argued for in-depth field studies of the underground ecosystem.
"The proof would be they go in the field and go down in those caves and see what's down there," he said.
Shipley said a field study of the caves might discover endangered species.
"Most cave species are endangered, but not classified because they have not been studied," he said.ﾠ
Board president Mark Smith and board member Amon Tracey were skeptical of the need for field studies and wary of the costs involved.
Smith reminded the board there was no formal requirement for the PSD to conduct a new karst study.ﾠ He said expensive field studies didn't make sense because state agencies might force the PSD to relocate the proposed plant.
"We're sinking all this money into something that may or may not, at this point in time, be built," he said. "It has to be built somewhere, but is Site 7 where it's going to happen?"
After debating the issue, the board voted 2-1 to commission a study involving only literature review, with Shipley casting the nay vote. The board will request a new proposal from Lewis & Associates, to exclude field studies. After the board receives the new proposal, it will select one of the three groups to prepare a report.
The next regular PSD meeting is scheduled for March 30, 7 p.m., at the Durbin waterworks building.