Commission demands answers from Frontier
Two days before Frontier Communications' promised fix for slow Internet speeds in some county areas, the Pocahontas County Commission wrote a letter to the company's corporate headquarters and demanded to know how much and how soon from local Frontier management.
Commissioner Martin Saffer said he had received a lot of citizen input about the present state of Frontier's DSL service; however, Saffer did say that he believes "all the local workers and the people at Frontier are doing everything they can to solve this problem."
"The Internet has become so vitally important to every aspect of a person's life," Saffer said. As a government, we should encourage Frontier to make a new investment here so there will be new opportunities and new customers, he continued.
Still, Saffer said he didn't think Frontier is preparing itself for the long haul.
"When I went to the observatory, I didn't get the sense that Frontier was grappling with the importance of what the Internet means to the world," Saffer said.
Ironically, it was former county commissioner Reta Griffith who was across the table from Saffer. Griffith is now Frontier's General Manager for 12 West Virginia counties and is based at Elkins.
The pair often locked horns while she was a sitting commissioner. Griffith's term ended in December.
In response to Griffth's assertion that only on rare occasions do homes need more than 3-5 megabit service, the commissioner responded that the company is "underestimating its customers."
Griffith told the commission that Frontier had been working on its Internet speed issues and has made a "significant investment in Pocahontas County," where 92 percent of its customers have access to high-speed Internet.
Further, she said, Frontier's employees are familiar faces.
"We hire local," she continued. "We employ local people with good, living wages. We're a good neighbor and a good partner with the county."
Griffith said Frontier is leveraging all the federal stimulus money it can in order to improve its services all over West Virginia.
She said improved hardware was being tested prior to the February 17 target date for speed upgrades.
And when Thursday arrived speeds in some areas were generally faster, but slowed as evening usage peaked.
What's in your water?
Commission president David Fleming said he would withdraw an agenda item that referred to the Greenbrier River's water quality.
Fleming said a bill that would establish new water quality standards proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection had been killed in committee during this legislative session. The bill would have limited the amount of allowable phosphorous in the Greenbrier River. According to a 2008 study by the Division of Environmental Protection, phosphorous, a component of fertilizer and human waste, contributes to the algae bloom in the river, causing limited use for activities like fishing and swimming in certain areas.
The study pinpointed areas where municipal sewage treatment plants discharged into the river, including Howards Creek near White Sulphur Springs and Hillsboro. When Marlinton's permit was changed to reflect higher water quality standards, town council filed and won an appeal to the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board, according to Mayor Dennis Driscoll.
"I'd be only too glad to do what has to be done, but I can't put it on the backs of the taxpayers in Marlinton anymore," Driscoll told the commission. "We have many other things that affect what's in our river, and it's not just Marlinton."
Fleming said his letter would have addressed funding issues for affected municipalities.
"The DEP is telling townships to get their sewer plants into shape, but isn't going to provide any money," Fleming said. The commission president said his letter would address that concern, as well as offer the hope that the legislature could help find funding to upgrade the sewage treatment plants.
According to the study, an algae bloom was discovered south of Marlinton in mid-summer 2008, but disappeared in September, likely due to higher calcium concentrations in that area.
Saffer said the "confluence of problems" included a lack of water flow in the river, prompting Commissioner Jamie Walker to remark that a dam on the Greenbrier would "take care of all the problems, including flooding."
A mainstem dam on the Greenbrier was a hot topic in the post-1985 flood era; however, the idea has been dead in the water because of the river's designation as the last free-flowing river in the east and federal budget concerns.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been studying the Greenbrier River since the late 1930s. The latest flood control game plan is to build flood walls around Marlinton, costing, dollar-for-dollar and not adjusting for inflation, more than a dam was estimated to be in 1986. The plan has been in the works since the last major flood in 1996.
Fleming said a dam would indeed regulate water flow.
A ruling by the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board reversed a DEP decision to fine White Sulphur Springs and Hillsboro for exceeding new phosphorous standards because it did not follow proper procedures to initiate the standards. Driscoll said Monday he hopes Marlinton can be included in that ruling.
Saffer, who is Marlinton's attorney, said he did not have a conflict of interest in supporting Fleming in his letter to get funding for the town.
Commissioners support funding for sewage treatment plant
County commissioners are now asking the IJDC to honor funding requests for the Pocahontas County Public Service District's new wastewater treatment facility plan in the Snowshoe/Slaty Fork area.
The Pocahontas County Commission, even with its changing faces over time, has wrestled with the ongoing issue of plans for a wastewater treatment plant in the Snowshoe/Slaty Fork area-and has for nearly a decade.
From its genesis as a privately-owned facility to its development into a regional plant and now a cluster of smaller plants, the Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant has gotten its share of ink.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort planned to build its own sewage treatment plant in 2001. Nearby landowner Russell Holt protested that he would be denied access to sewage treatment because the proposed plant would use all the wasteload allocation for the Elk River. Resort management agreed to a regional plant and engineers chose a nine-acre field near Slaty Fork for the plant's location.
That field was part of the Sharp Family Farm and Sharp descendant Tom Shipley began legal and public relations campaigns to have the plant moved to another location. As county residents reacted to the rallying cry against eminent domain, Shipley got a groundswell of support from them and from environmental groups that protested the potential damage to a trout stream and groundwater in karst topography.
In February, 2008, the Pocahontas County Public Service District board voted to move the plant from the Sharp Farm and later that year, decided to locate it in the spot the resort had originally picked on Snowshoe Drive.
Along the way, the PSD obtained more than $20 million in funding to build the plant.
The issue took its toll on PSD members and county commissioners, causing resignations from the former and defeat at the ballot box for the latter.
Saffer, who campaigned on the issue in 2008 and won his seat on the commission thereby, was successful in putting a halt to the plant's funding after Fleming was elected in 2010. The commissioners asked Region IV Development Council not to administer the funds set aside for the sewage treatment plant.
Although council did not agree to do that, the PSD has not asked for a drawdown of the approved funds for the project.
In the meantime, Shipley became chair of the PSD, and five area landowners, including the resort, filed a suit asking a judge to place the project in receivership and force the construction of the regional plant. The PSD, with Shipley at the helm, fired Thrasher Engineering and chose another firm, Waste Water Management, to design it again.
Now, it's time to fund the plant with a new design and with a new price tag. This design calls for three smaller plants, two of which will discharge into the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. The third plant will serve the Linwood area and discharge into the Elk.
Fleming wrote a letter to the West Virginia Water Development Authority last week, stating that the new plan will "save up to $10 million over the previous design by Thrasher Engineering, which could be used for other projects.
"The Pocahontas County Commission applauds the PSD for finding a solution that is not only more affordable in these economic times, but also addresses the environmental concerns expressed by groups such as Eight Rivers Safe Development and the Elk Headwaters Watershed Association-these groups have approved the WWM design!" Fleming continued
Fleming asked the authority to honor funding requests by the PSD for the project and said he hoped the IJDC would work with the local PSD to secure funding for the new plan.
Commissioners unanimously approved the letter.
In other business during the evening meeting, commissioners:
ﾕheard concerns about the proposed wellness center in Marlinton from Cindy Anderson. Anderson, a resident of the town, said she was concerned about the location of the center because of potential flooding and the safety of children using the center in the evenings. Anderson wanted to know if drug and alcohol abuse awareness would be part of the programming at the center. Parks and Recreation director Lauren Bennett said the center would provide recreational opportunities and programming that will encourage children and adults to be involved in more positive activities. Anderson noted the drug abuse problem in the county is "terrible." Bennett said the building plans cannot be changed, but the programming can and she welcomed suggestions.
ﾕheard from Thomas Peterson about a grant that would help enforce underage drinking laws. Peterson said the grant called for more than $1700 in matching funds. He was able to raise $1500 of those matching funds from other sources and asked the commission for only $266.
ﾕappointed Harold Dean Gunter to the EMS Authority to file the unexpired term of Kyna Moore.
ﾕheard from WYK Associates about the proposed elevator for the courthouse and the cuts in other areas that may be made in order to save money.
ﾕapproved a budget transfer of $7,000 for Sheriff David Jonese from capital improvements to law enforcement.