Virginia engineer says he has better idea for Snowshoe sewage
Snowshoe resident and property developer David Litsey has been very concerned about the Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) plan to build a $25 million sewage plant on Snowshoe Drive. Litsey thinks the plant will be too expensive and a danger to the environment.
It just so happens that Litsey's longtime friend, David Rigby, is one of the most experienced wastewater professionals in the country. Litsey invited his friend to visit Snowshoe and tell the PSD how he would solve the area's sewage dilemma.
In March, Rigby came to Snowshoe for three days and inspected the sewage plants at the Village and Silver Creek with Litsey and PSD board member Tom Shipley.
At a special meeting on April 14, Rigby presented his findings and what he describes as "a practical and improved alternative" to the PSD board.
Rigby began by describing his credentials. A professional engineer with more than 35 years of experience in water and wastewater pumping and treatment systems, Rigby is founder and president of Waste Water Management, Inc., a Virginia corporation. The engineer has designed hundreds of sewage collection and treatment systems and has managed a public service authority.
Rigby began his professional career in 1972 and was project manager on the first regional sewage project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Construction Grants Program.
Rather than a single, high capacity plant at the bottom of the mountain, Rigby proposes rebuilding the existing Village and Silver Creek plants and construction of a third plant near Linwood. The two plants on the mountain would handle all of Snowshoe's sewage and discharge into Shavers Fork. Theﾠ proposed Linwood plant would handle sewage in areas along Route 66, but not Route 219, and discharge into the Elk River watershed.
The upgraded Village plant would have a capacity of 550,000 gallons per day (gpd); the upgraded Silver Creek plant, 240,000 gpd and the new Linwood plant would have a capacity to be determined with additional study.
Rigby said the two plants on the mountain would cost about $13 million and estimated the cost of all three plants at about $20 million. The expert said the operating costs for the three smaller plants would be similar to costs for a single plant at Site 7.
Thrasher Engineering estimates the cost of a 1.5 million gpd plant at Site 7 on Snowshoe Drive at $25 million.
Rigby commended Thrasher for developing a workable solution, but described several drawbacks toﾠ their plans for a Site 7 plant.
First, abandoning the Village and Silver Creek plants, along with associated infrastructure and permits, would not be cost-effective, he said.
Second, the proposed gravity line from Snowshoe to a Site 7 plant at the bottom of the mountain would be "an extraordinarily risky undertaking," due to the steep slope and instability of the terrain, according to the engineer.ﾠ "The risk of catastrophic failure is extremely high," he stated in his report. Rigby stated unequivocally that gravity lines were more prone to failure than pressurized sewage lines.
Construction of the gravity line would be expensive and maintenance impossible in winter months, he added.
Third, Rigby noted several disadvantages to a single, high-capacity plant at Site 7, including high operating costs, expensive ancillary equipment, long completion time and impact on the Elk River watershed.
Rigby said his plan was better because it would save the PSD millions of dollars, pose less risk to the environment and keep rates as low as possible.
Several Snowshoe area residents, including Litsey, Donelle Oxley, Tolly Peleuche, Bill Liebman, Dale Leatherman and Mike Olsen attended the meeting and urged the board to give Rigby's plan full consideration.
Thrasher project engineer Jonathan Carpenter warned the PSD that it would be abandoning approved financing through state agencies if it decided to change course with the project.
Board attorney Tom Michael said abandoning the Site 7 project could set the project back at least 18 months.
Rigby said his company could have construction-ready plans for the Silver Creek and Village plants in six months, at which point the project could go out to bid. If Waste Water Management, Inc. was performing under a design and build agreement, construction could begin immediately after an agreement was signed, he said.
Board member Tom Shipley favors Rigby's alternative plan. Board president Mark Smith favors moving forward with Thrasher's Site 7 plan. The matter will hinge on the crucial swing vote of board member Amon Tracey, who has supported the Site 7 plan, but who said his highest priorities are fiscal responsibility and the will of the people.
The board was not scheduled to take action on the alternative plan, but could consider it at a later date.
The PSD board selected Dr. David C. Culver and William K. Jones to perform a study of the Snowshoeﾠ area's underground karst ecosystem. The scientific team submitted the lowest of three bids and two board members considered them most qualified.
The team will begin the study, which will include field work, on April 24 and complete it by May 24. A low flow supplement will be completed in the fall. Discovery of unknown species could require outside consultation.
Culver and Jones will perform the study at a cost of $8,680. Lewis and Associates, LLC, an Indianaﾠ firm, offered to do the study for $14,420. Zara Environmental, LLC, a Texas company, offered to complete the study for $20,655.
Culver holds a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University and is professor of environmental science at American University in Washington, D.C. The professor has written more than 100 articles and three books, including 'Biology of Caves and Other Subterranean Habitats."
Jones is a consulting hydrologist with Environmental Data in Warm Springs, Virginia. Jones has studied karst across North America and has authored of more than 20 papers on karst hydrology, including "Karst Hydrology Atlas of West Virginia."
Shipley said an advantage to hiring Culver and Jones would be savings on travel and lodging expenses.
The board voted 2-1 to select Culver and Jones. Tracey favored Lewis and Associates and said he thought that firm was better qualified.
The study was recommended by Dr. Ray Morgan, an environmental consultant who worked for the PSD during the site selection process, but the PSD had no formal requirement to have the study done.
In other business:
- the board tabled action on accepting deeds for 17 sewage lift stations from Snowshoe Water and Sewer. One of the lift stations needs repair and the board will request that Snowshoe repair the lift station before the transfer.
- Michaelﾠ informed the board that the Department of Environmental Protection had drafted a consent order regardingﾠ water discharge violations for negotiation with the PSD. The attorney said an executive session would be necessary soon to discuss strategy for the upcoming negotiations.