Litsey: No merit to ethics complaint
In an August 12 interview, Pocahontas County Public Service District board member David Litsey said ethics allegations against him are "sad."
"The concept that we're trying to do something here, underhanded, is just sad," he said.
Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., five Snowshoe-area landowners and fellow board member Amon Tracey filed complaints with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, claiming that Litsey has a conflict of interests and requesting a commission opinion whether Litsey can vote on sewage-related matters.
The group bases its complaints on Litsey's 25-percent ownership of a 470-acre parcel on Mace Knob and his membership in the Snowshoe Property Owners Council (SPOC).
The complaints allege that Litsey has an undue financial interest due to his 25-percent share in the Mace Knob property, owned by the Consortium for Silver Creek and located less than two miles north of Silver Creek. The consortium sought to develop the property as an expansion to the mountaintop ski resort.
The complaints also claim that Litsey is using public resources to further the goals of SPOC, a private homeowners group. SPOC has stridently opposed construction of a centralized sewage plant in Linwood. Since becoming a PSD board member, Litsey has consistently opposed the centralized plant and advocated for a decentralized system favored by SPOC.
Under the West Virginia Ethics Act, a public official may not vote on a matter in which he or an immediate family member have a financial interest. The law provides an exception if the person is "affected as a member of, and to no greater extent than any other member of ... [a] class of persons or class of businesses." The law defines "class" as "not fewer than five similarly situated persons or businesses."
Litsey says his part-ownership of 470 acres near Snowshoe is not exceptional and that he is a member of a class with more than five persons.
"Am I in a special class because I own a part interest in 450-some acres on the north face of Mace Knob?" he asked. "The answer is - there are a slew of people who own 450 acres or thereabouts, more or less, adjacent to Snowshoe, not the least of which is virtually all of the plaintiffs - which, as I recall, number six."
The complainants alleged that Litsey wants to increase sewage capacity at Silver Creek - with an eye to connecting a future development at Mace Knob.
Litsey maintains that he favors a decentralized sewage system, including an upgrade of the Silver Creek plant, for environmental and public financial reasons, not personal gain. The board member said a Linwood plant would serve Mace Knob better than the Silver Creek plant, making claims that he was acting for personal gain ludicrous.
Thrasher Engineering's plan for a centralized Linwood plant, Alternative 7-12, provides sewer lines two miles north of Linwood along Route 219.
Litsey said it would be much more practical for a Mace Knob development to hook into Thrasher's proposed Linwood plant than the Silver Creek plant.
"It would be half the distance to take it down the existing public-use right-of-way, which the state-owned railroad exists, with a 100-foot right-of-way, 50 feet on either side of the railroad tracks, to the terminus of the 7-12 line as it intersects with Route 219, just below the Mount Airy bridge."
Litsey said sewage from future Mace Knob development would have to be pumped 1,400 feet to reach the Silver Creek plant, using an enormous amount of electricity.
"It's totally impractical to go to Silver Creek because you'd have to pump it 1,400 feet to the crossover into the Silver Creek bowl and attain about two miles of right-of-way through Snowshoe that you currently don't have and they're not likely to give you," he said.
"It would be far better and far cheaper not to pump it up anywhere, but to process it on-site and release it into its natural watershed, the Tygarts Valley," he added.
The board member said the rules of Consortium for Silver Creek prevent him from planning residential development at the Mace Knob property.
In advisory opinion 2011-06, the Ethics Commission held that a PSD board member, who was also a member of a homeowners association, must recuse himself from voting in a rate increase investigation involving a private utility. In that case, the PSD board member was an officer in the homeowners association and had acted as a spokesperson for the association before the Public Service Commission, opposing the private utility.
Litsey has not served as an officer in SPOC and has not represented the group in any official proceedings.
Ethics Commission advisory opinions can be found online at www.ethics.wv.gov.