Public debates Snowshoe-area growth potential at PSD
The Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) heard arguments for and against Thrasher Engineering's proposed Snowshoe Drive sewage plant at its meeting at the Durbin Fire Hall on July 27. All parties had five minutes each to voice their comments at the start of the meeting.
Opponents claimed the plant is too big for the area's needs and that rates will skyrocket if it is built.
The current maximum flow rate for all of the PSD's sewage systems is 525,080 gallons per day (gpd). Thrasher's proposed plant has a maximum capacity of 1.5 million gpd, nearly three times the current flow.
Thrasher engineer Jonathan Carpenter said the higher capacity is necessary for growth over the next 10 years. Critics said an expectation of 300 percent growth over the next 10 years is absurd, especially with a sluggish economy.
More than 90 percent of PSD sewage comes from Snowshoe Resort. Snowshoe Property Owners Council (SPOC) president Mike Olsen said his group represents one-half of the PSD's current ratepayers.
Olsen said Thrasher's growth projections were unrealistic.
"The sewer operation was based on original projections of all this wonderful growth and that all this added capacity was necessary," he said. "I think we all sit in this room realizing that those days are over. There isn't going to be any dramatic growth. The numbers all tell you. If you start to run these numbers, 10 years from now,ﾠ you're not going to see a whole lot more than what you see at the moment. So why will we pay for more development than we need? These expectations of greater growth along the roads leading to Snowshoe is a pipe dream."
Olsen said the cost of future development should not be borne by existing customers.
"Mostly, we're concerned with - you are asking ratepayers to pay for future development so that other developers - who I will not name because they implicate themselves - but we are not interested in paying for that added development. If they want to develop - great. Let them pay for the process. Let them pay for getting hooked up and getting involved in the game. But we're not interested in supporting them."
Linwood-area resident Russell Holt said an alternative plan, favored by Olsen and many other Snowshoe residents, violated a state mandate to build a regional sewage treatment plant.
"On March 23, 2003, the Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Protection and all parties involved determined, after a nearly year-long and several hundred thousand dollar Hawthorne Valley plant litigation, that there would be a regional sewage treatment plant that would serve the entire Snowshoe-Slaty Fork area," he said. "The Rigby plant now proposed is the antithesis of that solution and is a plan built upon unconstitutional discrimination, lies and deception."
Snowshoe Mountain Resort chief operations officer Bill Rock said he was concerned about the future of the PSD.
"I have serious concerns about the future of this PSD," he said. "With [PSD attorney] Mr. Michael resigning and the personal attacks on the character of the consultants and board members and, frankly, all the members of the public that are tearing down in the media and at these meetings - I'm not sure you guys are going to be able to accomplish anything and I find that troubling and disappointing."
The PSD board heard two comments in general support of Thrasher's Snowshoe Drive plant, five comments against, and moved on to other business.
The board went into executive session to negotiate a property purchase for the Durbin water project. At the conclusion of the executive session, the board voted 3-0 to authorize PSD attorney Tom Michael and water operations manager Rick Barkley to work with the property owner to complete the purchase.
Michael provided a draft standard mainline extension agreement for the board's approval. The agreement outlines responsibilities between the PSD and property developers regarding sewer line extensions. The board tabled action on the agreement until it had time to review the document.
The board heard a briefing from Snowshoe resident David Litsey in response to Thrasher Engineering's evaluation of David Rigby's alternative sewage system for the Snowshoe area. Litsey, who solicited his friend Rigby to design the alternative, claimed that Thrasher had inflated the costs of the Rigby plan by four to five million dollars. Litsey said the Rigby plan would restore "a fair playing field for businesses and developers on the mountain" and prevent "having the ratepayers pay for the future infrastructure costs of selected developers and large landholders who might wish to benefit from a sewer line in front of their property."
The board voted 2-1 to submit a report on the proposed Snowshoe Drive sewage plant's potential impact on the area's karst terrain to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The report was completed by 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.
Board member Tom Shipley voted nay because he said submitting the report would allow the DEP to decide whether the Snowshoe Drive plant posed too great a risk to the environment, when the PSD board should make the decision.
The board unanimously accepted a single bid, from Bobcat of Roanoke, for the sale of a Bobcat excavator and attachments for $44,267. The board also accepted a single bid of $23,140, from Aerolator Systems, of Monroe, North Carolina, for the sale of mixers and propellers for the Silver Creek oxidation ditches.
Wastewater manager Lloyd Coleman advised the board of disappointing results of recent smoke testing of the Hawthorne Village sewage lines. Coleman said the smoke did not penetrate the ground and that not much was discovered as a result of the tests. Coleman recommended that the PSD proceed with total replacement of 6,500 feet of sewer lines in the area, at an estimated cost of $50 per foot.
There are 14 homes on the Hawthorne sewage system and 91 vacant lots. Coleman recommended decommissioning 9,500 feet of unused sewer line in the area.
Thrasher contract engineer Jonathan Carpenter said the Hawthorne project would probably require Public Service Commission approval. The board will consider the matter further at future meetings.
Michael provided a list of 12 attorneys for the board to consider as his replacement. Michael's last day with sewer operations will be August 15, but he will remain on duty with the water operations until the Durbin water project is completed. The board voted 3-0 to send solicitation letters to the attorneys and also to advertise the position in regional newspapers.
The board approved the financial statement for July, which indicated $119,853.30 in income and $64,221.46 in outlays under the sewer account and $11,598.63 in income and $20,831.11 in outlays under the water account.
The next regular PSD meeting is tentatively scheduled for August 31, 7 p.m. at the PSD office inﾠ Linwood. The location could be changed to the Linwood Library and will be announced.