Commissioners fend off lawsuit against PSD
In a special meeting last Wednesday, county commissioners voted to have the prosecuting attorney file a motion to intervene in response to a complaint lodged against the Pocahontas County Public Service District last week by Snowshoe Mountain Resort and several Snowshoe/Slaty Fork-area landowners.
The meeting was punctuated with executive sessions, split votes and shouting.
The complaint filed by the resort, Ralph Beckwith, Harvey Galford, Russell Holt, Frank Santmyer and Ike Morris, alleges that the PSD ﾓhas failed to timely complete the [Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant], thus imperiling Project funding and exposing the District, its current and future customers to fines and other adverse consequences.ﾔ
A sewage treatment plant project for the area has been in the works since 2002 when Snowshoe Mountain Resort, under fire from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, sought to build a private plant. Area landowner Russell Holt objected to that move on the grounds that the resort would take all the wasteload allocation for the Elk River, and deny valley residents access to public sewage treatment. By the next year, the resort had agreed to a regional plant.
That plan hit its first snag when Thrasher Engineering chose a nine-acre field on a family farm for the sewage treatment plantﾒs home. When Sharp Family descendant Tom Shipley discovered the proposed location was just down the road from his store and bed and breakfast, he commandeered support from county residents and environmental groups, waging a public relations war that was finally successful in spurring the PSD in 2008 to move the plant to the location Snowshoe first proposed.
In the last two years, some Snowshoe homeowners have declared the proposed plant too expensive, too large and an environmental danger, according to some experts. Snowshoe homeowner David Litsey, without a PSD request, engaged his friend, engineer David Rigby to design an alternate plant that would use some of the existing facility at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, discharge effluent into the Shavers Fork of Cheat and eliminate the gravity-fed pipe that would stream raw sewage downhill to the plant at the bottom of the mountain. The county commission has since appointed Litsey to the PSD.
And that returns this sewage saga to Russell Holt, who blistered county commission president Martin Saffer and county commissioner David Fleming at the commissionﾒs regular meeting August 17 and again at the special meeting Wednesday, August 25. Holt said the commissionersﾠ have ﾓused all means of sabotage to violate the...Consent Decreeﾔ which calls for a ﾓregional sewer facility to be operated by the Pocahontas County PSD that can accept and treat wastewater from residences and businesses located in the Snowshoe Mountain area, as well as other areas of Pocahontas County.ﾔ
ﾓThe commission has no right to squander taxpayer money attempting to sabotage an unappealable court order,ﾔ Holt said.
Holt accused the pair of knowing that Litsey had a ﾓclear conflict ofﾠ interestﾔ because of his friendship with Rigby, who has said he would purchase the existing sewage treatment facility and and rebuild it to its permanent capacity of 550,000 gallons per day, along with other conversions, upgrade the plant at Silver Creek and further study the need for a sewage treatment plant to serve the valley.
The order to Prosecuting Attorney Donna Meadows Price came after the second of three executive sessions.
The first of those secret negotiations lasted for only a few minutes and at the end, commissioners voted 2-1 to hire the law firm Steptoe and Johnson to represent its interests in the suit; however, after the second executive session which lasted much longer and was styled as speaking with an attorney, commissioners instead directed Price to file their motion to intervene in the suit. Price was present for both executive sessions.
Commissioner Reta Griffith voted against both executive sessions and hiring Steptoe and Johnson.
ﾓDespite the fact that I really hate usurping county commission authority, I agree with one of the complaints here,ﾔ she said. ﾓThis project has failed to be completed in a timely manner.
ﾓThis project has been derailed time and time again. Weﾒre back full circle. I donﾒt see the need to put taxpayersﾒ dollars out there. This has gone on far too long and has had far too much politics involved. Iﾒm not going to be part of delaying it any further.ﾔ
But Safferﾒs call to arms outweighed Griffithﾒs reasoning, as Fleming voted with the commission president.
ﾓWe wish as county government and as the county commission to retain the integrity and authority of the county commission and the county government in the ultimate resolution of matters affecting health, safety and welfare of our citizens,ﾔ Saffer said. ﾓWe want to retain our jurisdiction and our seat at the table in the ultimate resolution of this issue.ﾔ
Saffer allowed Holt ﾓseveral minutesﾔ to speak, but Fleming attempted to shut him down after about five minutes and instructed the commissionﾒs administrative assistant to call the sheriff when Holt would not desist.
The commission took a vote to go into executive session with Holt still speaking, but Holt did leave with the rest of the audience.
In the hall, Holt shared the rest of his prepared speech that included:
ﾓIf this county commission, once again, obstructs justice by squandering $100,000 of hard-earned taxpayer money on a fight they cannot win and replacing 0% financing with 7% unknown private financing, they should be removed from office for violating their Oath of Office in supporting a plan whose financial structure holds the seeds for the Countyﾒs financial destruction. Considering their track record that every proposal to replace Site 7-12 has been a total failure, no one should accept their assurances that County insolvency canﾒt happen,ﾔ Holt said.
Holt was allowed to speak some of his piece; however, PSD member Amon Tracey was not.
Tracey said he arose early, traveled to Marlinton and signed up to speak at the county commission meeting at about 8:05 a.m., 25 minutes before the meeting began.
Tracey said he felt the county commission discriminated against him by silencing his public statement.
He predicted that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit would win and that the PSD would, in fact, be placed in receivership. Tracey said he didnﾒt believe the West Virginia Public Service Commission would entertain the Rigby proposal; however, he knows his fellow board members, once Mark Smith is gone, will.
Shipley will be the senior member of the PSD come September 28 when longtime PSD member and president Mark Smith, of Durbin, will step down at the commissionﾒs behest. Commissioners instead appointed Litsey, leaving the Durbin area without representation on the three-person board.
ﾓMy belief is they will try to put a sewage system in at Snowshoe only and withdraw the Site 7 proposal from the DEP,ﾔ Tracey said. But, he said,ﾠ that vote may be moot in light of communications from both the DEP and the federally charged Environmental Protection Agency.
ﾓThe PSC will only approve a regional plant,ﾔ he said. ﾓTheyﾒre tired of us wasting our time. Theyﾒre tired of us spinning our wheels. Weﾒve got to put the shovel in the dirt.ﾔ
Saffer said later that he had missed Traceyﾒs name on the list of speakers. And the commission president blamed that on Holt going ﾓbeyond what we felt was reasonable,ﾔSaffer said. ﾓIt was unintentional.ﾔ
Commissioners held a third executive session on personnel.
The embattled PSD now finds itself the defendant in another suit, this one by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.