Developer threatens lawsuit over Snowshoe sewage plant
The Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) might be forced to defend its plan for a Snowshoe Drive sewage plant in federal court.
At the PSD meeting on April 27, Snowshoe homeowner and property developer David Litsey threatened to sue the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to force assessment of fines against the PSD for continuing wastewater violations, if the PSD proceeds with plans to build the Snowshoe Drive plant.
Litsey said the proposed plant will endanger the environment, is too expensive and will stop development along the upper Elk River by using up the watershed's allowed wasteload allocation.
"I, as a citizen, may file suit against the Department of Environmental Protection, for failure to enforce and I believe, with all my heart, based upon the limited information that I have, is that you're culpable as living daylights and probably should be fined. You had the opportunity to correct the violations and chose not to."
"Boys, you want to go at it - go at it," he said. "But let me tell you. I've got a top environmental firm. I've already got my witnesses lined up and we're coming after you."
The PSD's existing plants regularly discharge higher than permitted levels of contaminants into the Elk River watershed, but the DEP has withheld issuing fines as long as the PSD is making satisfactory progress towards a new wastewater plant. In February, PSD operators reported 24 discharge violations at the Silver Creek and Snowshoe plants.
PSD attorney Tom Michael said the PSD faced potential fines of $246,000 and $25,000 per day, if the DEP determined the PSD was not making satisfactory progress.
The attorney reported at the March 30 PSD meeting that the DEP had drafted a consent order, which could extend the grace period for the PSD to come into compliance with discharge limits.
Prior to the regular meeting, the PSD board conducted a 2.5 hour executive session to discuss legal strategy in upcoming negotiations with the DEP regarding the consent order.
Litsey favors a plan proposed by engineer David Rigby, president of Waste Water Management, Inc., a Virginia corporation.ﾠ
At a PSD meeting on April 14, Rigby proposed to upgrade the two existing plants currently serving Snowshoe and Silver Creek and build a smaller plant to serve the Linwood area. Rigby said his company could complete the project at a cost of approximately $20 million, five million dollars less than Thrasher Engineering's proposed, single, large capacity plant on Snowshoe Drive.
Rigby said his plan would eliminate a risky, steep gravity line to Linwood and direct all of Snowshoe's wastewater into the Shavers Creek watershed, thereby allowing further development along the Elk River.
Several Snowshoe area residents and Bill Liebman, of Cass, urged the board to consider the new alternative.
Donelle Oxley, of Snowshoe, asked the board why it would consider a plan with high environmental risk and said funding would be available, no matter which option the PSD chose. Oxley said the county commission had informed her and other Snowshoe residents that the PSD was responsible to ratepayers, not the county as a whole.
The decision to pursue a different wastewater plan hinges on board member Amon Tracey's vote. Board president Mark Smith favors Thrasher's plan and board member Tom Shipley favors the new alternative.
Tracey said he needs more information before he would vote to scrap Thrasher's plans. Specifically, he said he wanted to know if the DEP would continue to forego issuing fines for water discharge violations if the PSD changes the plan.
The retired mine superintendent also wants to know if funding through the Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council (IJDC) would be compromised with a change in plans. Tracey said county commission president Martin Saffer had promised him an answer on the funding issue.
"Are we going to lose our money from the IJDC?" he asked. "I asked Martin Saffer the other day when I was talking to him. He said he would contact [state senator] Walt Helmick and answer my question. So far, he hasn't answered it and I don't know."
The PSD considered a Public Service Commission staff recommendation to approve the proposed Durbin water project if the rate increase is limited to 10.5 percent, rather than the PSD's proposed 13 percent.
Michael recommended that the board ratify the staff recommendation.
The Durbin water system, installed in 1980, is losing about 45 percent of treated water from leaking pipes. The board concurred that water savings would likely make up for the lower rate increase and unanimously ratified the staff recommendation.
The project will be forwarded to the Public Service Commission for approval.
The board considered accepting deeds to 17 sewage lift stations from Snowshoe Resort, which were overlooked during a property transfer in January. The matter was tabled at a previous meeting because one of the lift stations needed repairs.
Wastewater manager Lloyd Coleman informed the board that Snowshoe had agreed to provide labor and equipment to repair the defective lift station, if the PSD would pay for materials.
The board unanimously approved the deal and acceptance of the 17 deeds.
In other business, the PSD board:
- approved a letter to the Durbin town council that it will cooperate with a Durbin sewer project.
- agreed to review the policy options for sewer line extensions for subdivisions. Michael will provide PSC-approved options to board members for review and the board will consider the matter at the next meeting.
- approved the monthly financial statements, which indicated $78,116.42 in receipts and $67,351.09 in outlays under the wastewater account and $10,192.45 in receipts and $15,251.59 in outlays under the water account.
The next regular PSD meeting is scheduled for May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Durbin waterworks building.