County commission balks on Meck deed transfer
A Green Bank area businessman and his supporters were disappointed last Tuesday evening, when the county commission did not approve a land transfer for the familyﾠ business' planned expansion.
Entrepreneurs Jacob and Malinda Meck sought commission approval for a transfer of nine acres to the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC), for subsequent transfer to the business via lease-to-buy. The Mecks need the land for a 100,000 gallon sewage storage tank, impoundment area and additional work space.
The Mecks need the tank to hold sewage from their septic tank pumping business. The business has a 10,000 gallon tank on-site, which the Mecks say is too small. The new tank is 20-feet high by 30-feet wide and would be located in the center of a five-acre parcel behind the current business location, which is adjacent to the green box (garbage dumpster) site in Green Bank.
The Mecks claim the tank will be farther off the road than the green box site and obscured by trees. Opponents of the large sewage tank say it will create an eyesore, a nuisance and a danger to the environment.
On December 21, the commission voted 3-0 to have the requested parcel surveyed. At a public auction, shortly thereafter, the Mecks purchased the county-owned tank, which is located at the East Fork Industrial Park, in Frank.
Shortly after Jamie Walker took office in January, he supported holding the auction to sell the tank to Meck, when Fleming hesitated, saying he was in favor of first holding a public meeting.
When news of the Mecks' plan to re-locate the tank to Green Bank reached the community, some residents began an effort to stop the move.
Commission president David Fleming gave members of the public two minutes each to express their views during Tuesday evening's meeting.
Seven people, not including Jacob Meck and his attorney, urged the commission to approve the land transfer.
Mike O'Brien recalled that many people opposed the opening of Cass Scenic Railroad due to the fear of noise and pollution. O'Brien said opponents of the Meck expansion were similarly short-sighted.
Marlinton Mayor Dennis Driscoll told the commission that it risked stifling economic development if it did not approve the land transfer. The mayor said the commission would create an unfriendly environment for business by constantly changing the rules.
Meck office manager Sherry Radcliff said the Mecks were disposing of the waste in a responsible, beneficial manner and providing jobs in the community.
Sheets GMC president Charlie Sheets said none of his customers had complained about the smell or appearance of the Meck business, located across the road from his car dealership. Sheets said his business had the most to lose if there was a problem with the tank, but that he had complete confidence in the Mecks to abide by regulations and continue to be good neighbors.
"Many of our Pocahontas County businesses are very flat, particularly in these economic times," he said. "They should not be burdened with conditions for development which go beyond this body's jurisdiction."
County sanitarian David Henderson said the Meck's septic service was important for protecting area watersheds.
"Speaking as the county sanitarian, Mr. Meck provides a service that is, environmentally, absolutely necessary," he said. "I fully support his project for this tank. It is something that is needed."
Former county commissioner James Carpenter said he was disheartened to see continued opposition to economic development.
"One of these days, we're going to be nothing but a retirement community - a welfare county - and that's it," he said.
Glades Building Supple proprietor Randy Sharp testified to the Mecks' good character, and said he trusted them to mitigate any potential nuisance.
Five people spoke against the land transfer.
Green Bank resident Tony Byrd circulated a petition against the land transfer and obtained more than 100 signatures, which he presented to the commission Tuesday evening.
"We the citizens of Pocahontas County, whom you have signatures of, right there, cannot believe that you are even considering doing this, when you know it's the wrong location, and not creating any new jobs, and it's not good for the town of Green Bank," he said.
Lyle Tallman said Meck expansion opponents did not oppose economic development.
"This nine acres creates zero jobs," he said. "That's our point. You're going to give him nine acres and he's going to create no jobs."
Stephen McNally suggested a referendum.
"Put it on a ballot and let the voters of Pocahontas County vote on it, instead of you deciding for us what's the best thing," he said.
Rebecca O'Brien suggested the commission form a study group to find an out-of-town location for the septic storage tank and volunteered to help get the group organized.
Maxwell Gum, who signed Byrd's petition, said the former tannery site in Frank had become an environmental problem and an eyesore, and that the commission should not allow the same thing to happen in Green Bank.
Commissioner Martin Saffer said there should be more public involvement in the decision.
"The issue is - I think the commission did not address this properly to start with and I still don't think it's too late," he said. "I think that we can talk about this and then do what we have to do after we talk about it. I don't see the urgency to deal with this tonight."
Commissioner Jamie Walker spoke about the importance of supporting economic development.
"Out of my graduating class, I think there was nine of us, out of about 115, that still live in Pocahontas County," he said. "Out of them nine, there's three of them that are either on welfare or disability. That's six people out of 115 that's still here, and I'm one of them and I'm proud to be here and I plan on staying here."
Walker said he thought it was a good idea to put the issue to a vote and said he thought "it would pass unanimously."
Walker asked for a hand ballot of those present -- 19 voted to approve the land transfer and seven voted against the transfer.
"If there's as many people against this as signed the paper, there should be more people here," he said.
Fleming said he did not put much consideration to the hand poll, but said it was important to authorize the transfer to bring the GVEDC "into the loop."
"If we decide not to deed land tonight, that, in my opinion, sends a very poor signal, from the county commission, towards making a solution work," he said.
Fleming moved to approve the transfer of the nine acres, with the condition that the tank be covered, to reduce odors, but the motion was not seconded and the commission moved to other agenda items.
Meck said on Tuesday that he hoped to work out a solution to meet the county's need for septic disposal.
"We have not resolved the issue," he said. "I still have to figure out a remedy for this and I continue to look for a solution. We need to provide some sort of solution within the county. We need to be responsible for our own."
Much of the sewage from Meck's business is now trucked to the City of Rainelle. As for the tank, which must be moved from the East Fork site within six months of the purchase, Meck has no answers.
"I still have a little bit of time and I'm trying to figure that out," he said
County 911 Director Bill McLaughlin requested the commission renew the contract of geographic information system (GIS) coordinator Matt Taylor, who is working on mapping for the county's 911 system.
Taylor, who lives in Charleston, was hired in 2008 and receives $26,000 annually, along with the use of a county vehicle.
Saffer said he would like to see a local resident in the position and suggested re-advertising to see if a local resident would apply.
"I think that it would not hurt to take a couple weeks and throw it out there for advertising and see if anybody in the county might want to compete and offer their service and see what kind of qualifications they have," he said. "It's not a civil service position - we're not bound to repeat employment over and over again."
McLaughlin said the initial job position had been advertised and only one county resident applied.
Fleming said hiring a new employee could be a setback for the 911 project.
"I would like to point out that Matt does work 40 hours a week and has been doing so for some number of years now," he said. "Therefore, he's amassed quite a bit of knowledge with the system that we have to deal with and, to hire someone new, local or otherwise, would be a learning curve for them."
Walker said he wanted to see a quarterly update on the project and Fleming agreed.
The commission voted 2-1 to approve the contract extension, with Saffer casting the vote in opposition.
County coordinator Jay Miller informed the commission that he had reached an agreement with City National Bank for donation of space in the bank building for the One Room University. Miller requested commission approval of a two-year agreement, at no cost to the county.
The commission voted 2-1 to authorize the agreement, with Walker casting the vote in opposition.
Classes are scheduled to begin at the One Room University, on the second floor of the City National Bank building, this fall. For a list of classes, see this article on pocahontastimes.com.
The Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) conducted a joint meeting with the commission to hear an update from the Elk Headwaters Watershed Association (EHWA).
Pamela Boll, producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary, "Born Into Brothels," was present with a two-person film crew to record this portion of the meeting. Boll is working on a documentary of the ongoing Snowshoe-area wastewater and environmental debate.
EHWA contracted with Morgantown environmental firm Downstream Strategies to prepare a comprehensive watershed plan for the Upper Elk River. EHWA chairman George Bell introduced the firm's water and energy expert, Evan Hansen.
Hansen displayed a slideshow with information the firm had collected on the watershed, including property boundaries, septic tank locations, hazards and areas of particular vulnerability.
The expert said he had worked closely with Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc. founder George Phillips to identify areas of karst and caves in the area.
Hansen said the Upper Elk is still very clean but faces a number of threats, including increased sediment levels. The watershed plan will be completed soon, and will enable EHWA to seek funding from the Department of Environmental Protection and Trout Unlimited to mitigate the threats, he added.
High Rocks Academy executive director Sarah Riley requested a $30,000 grant from the county, which she said would be leveraged, as matching funds, to attempt to obtain an additional $150,000 in federal funds to maintain and expand the Americorps/VISTA program at the academy.
Fleming and Saffer said the commission would take the request under consideration in upcoming budget sessions, but that the commission would be prioritizing all funding requests for approval.
"I think it's the only fair way to do it when you just don't have unlimited resources," Saffer said. "These are leaner years."
Donnelle Oxley requested funding for travel expenses for Humane Society volunteers who transport homeless animals from Pocahontas County to other areas for adoption. Oxley said volunteers transported 225 animals last year, including 143 from the county shelter, to 27 different shelters, as far away as 250 miles.
Fleming asked for the number of miles driven, in order to calculate a possible contribution; Oxley said she would provide the information as soon as possible.
Walker complained that remote rescues only took certain animals.
"Basically, what they're leaving us with is the animals that's never going to be adopted," he said.
"Maybe not never be adopted because, again, you have to remember, it's based on a picture and a physical description - not physically being there - and it's not fair and all that, but it's better to adopt some than not," Oxley replied.
"Well, the problem I have, with gas going to four or five dollars a gallon - we got people that can't afford to put gas in their cars to get to work," Walker continued. "You're putting animals above the people. You got kids that aren't eating dinner at night cause their parents can't afford it."
We're not putting animals above people," Oxley replied. "We're just asking that some of the costs be defrayed."
Saffer told Oxley that her request would be prioritized with the commission's numerous other funding requests.
The commission ended the meeting with an executive session with county attorney Donna Meadows-Price, who said she wanted to discuss potential strategies regarding the land transfer to the Meck business.
In other business, the commission:
- Voted 3-0 to approve the hiring of Alexa Alderman as secretary in the Prosecuting Attorney's office. Alderman, who has a college degree, will be required to complete a 60-day and 90-day probation period and will receive a starting salary of $19,760, upon completion of the probationary period.
- Voted 3-0 to approve a list of poll workers submitted by the county clerk.
- Voted 3-0 to approve improvements to the Sheriff's branch office in Frank for use as a polling place, up to $2,500. Sheriff Jonese said he is planning on using the office as a tax office, as well.
- Voted 3-0 to re-appoint Cindy McLaughlin to the county Board of Health for a five-year term.
- Voted 3-0 to approve a budget revision to move funds from line items that were unexpended.
- Voted 3-0 to approve a letter in support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Allegheny Mountain Radio.