Sides divided on PSD proposal
A status conference was held recently at the Public Service Commission office in Charleston regarding the Pocahontas County Public Service District's proposal for a wastewater treatment facility at Snowshoe. The proposal seeks to upgrade an existing facility behind the Inn at Snowshoe, commonly referred to as the Galford Site, and to build a new treatment plant near Snowshoe Village.
According to PSD board member David Litsey, the conference was to update the PSC on the project's status.
"The PSC said, 'okay we want to hear from the expert engineers in this case,'" explained Litsey. "To tell us what the status of this project is and what the different agencies are thinking."
Litsey said progress was made at the conference.
"The really good news was that the PSC engineers, Dave Rigby, and the DEP engineer, all agreed that it was a reasonable plan," Litsey said. "It met all the known requirements posed to the District so far, and it was affordable. The PSC and DEP want to get a plant into the ground as soon as possible, and so do we."
Snowshoe Chief Operations Officer Frank DeBerry didn't feel as encouraged as the PSD board members.
"It was not something that I think moved us forward in any way," said DeBerry. "It was more of a restatement in front of the Commission as far as where different positions are at this point. Unfortunately I don't think it's anything that moved us any closer to a resolution."
DeBerry said he wants to continue to work toward a more flexible solution and he's not entirely sold on any of the designs.
"I'm not married to a centralized plant, I'm not married to a decentralized plant, I'm not married to any particular engineer," he said. "I am against the concept that the Valley plant would be sized as small as it has been. I still think that the better opportunity for us is to ensure that we build something that allows for growth in the valley just below the mountain."
DeBerry did echo the PSD board's sentiment about getting a project started soon.
"It needs to be built quickly," he said. "I came in here understanding there was a large opposition to the cost of a centralized plant. I came in eager to hear what the options were for decentralizing it and whether or not it could be any cheaper. I've done everything I can to work together with the District. At this point it would almost seem like the District is avoiding my help so that there's not a solution that allows for growth."
DeBerry said that's all he's ever asked for - when the growth opportunities arise, the infrastructure should already be in place, and he's not seeing it in the plans.
"That's Snowshoe's position right now - extremely disappointed with where things have gone," DeBerry said.
Litsey believes the current plan adequately addresses growth and development in the area. He said all three of the engineers involved, [PSC, DEP and Waste Water Management, Inc,] were in absolute agreement that the plan calls for the appropriate numbers, and that it even left a 75,000 gallon per day capacity for future development.
"If you multiply that out, if your average house uses 150 gallons per day, then that would provide enough for 500 more homes," calculated Litsey. "If you do it on the basis that the Inn at Snowshoe is limited to 20,000 gallon per day, that would provide for 3.75 new Inns at Snowshoe. They can't even keep the one they got now open 12 months a year. We drove by there today and there were three cars in the parking lot."
During the status conference, PSC engineer Jonathan Fowler said the current proposal's wastewater allocation will meet the needs of the valley.
"We believe that this plant, at least for the next decade, will be nowhere near at-capacity and possibly longer than that," said Fowler. "Plus these membrane plants are fairly easy to expand."
Fowler's recommendation to the commission was to proceed with the current PSD proposal.
"My recommendation is that the District proceed to construct these collective facilities," Fowler said.
He told commissioners the next step in the process is to develop an Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council application, so the plan would actually become a preliminary engineering report. Fowler said he believes that should be done within 30 days.
A post-status conference memorandum filed by complainants opposed to the PSD's current proposal criticizes the board's intentions, excerpts read:
"The District and WWMI have been caught, time and again, trying to mislead."
"What has the District since done but miss deadlines, break promises, shamelessly prefer the Mountain to the Valley, and shown itself to be utterly worthless of any confidence, even when its witnesses are testifying under oath?"
PSD chairman Tom Shipley said the board's next step will be decided by the PSC, after the state agency reviews information from the status conference.
"The PSC will take all that information in, plus the recommendation of their staff in the previously filed memorandum," said Shipley. "They'll take all that into consideration, and come up with an order."
Shipley said he anticipates hearing back from the PSC before the District's next regularly scheduled meeting on July 31.
"I wouldn't be surprised, I think everyone is anxious to move forward, so I would imagine the PSC would also be interested in getting something out," he said.