Save the Sharp Farm of Pocahontas County
History and heritage in Slatyfork, West Virginia.
The Author's Blog

To The County Commission

Tuesday June 5, 2007
By David Fleming

Report to the Pocahontas County Commission Concerning the Pocahontas PSD's Proposal, the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council's Meetings, and Plans Going Forward

I am David Fleming of Green Bank. I run the website I come before you today due to an unprecedented sequence of events concerning the PSD's proposal that began last week and will unfold through tomorrow.

May 29: The PSD Meeting

Last week, on Tuesday May 29, the PSD held their regular meeting. I and others from the public were in attendance, including a homeowner from Snowshoe, to hear from the PSD regarding the earlier May 8 meeting with Eight Rivers Safe Development. As you know, much hope has come from recent developments because of this and related efforts, and we all wanted to get a sense of how that was coming along.

As the PSD reiterated the minutes of the last meeting, it was apparent that nothing of the May 8 meeting was being mentioned. When asked about it, the PSD informed us that May 8 wasn't a meeting, and that no minutes were taken. When pressed further about how the PSD would make use of the new information that came from the May 8 non-meeting, they intimated that no use would be made of it, official or otherwise. We were collectively somewhat stunned, and wondered how the May 8 meeting could be so cavalierly dismissed. When pressed further, PSD member Mark Smith offered that "if it had actually occurred...," things might be different.

The blatant snub of Eight Rivers Safe Development struck an awkward moment of silence in the room, and for that time Mark Smith and his fellow members just stared into the eyes of their attorney Tom Michael, not knowing what to say or do next.

Also at the May 29 PSD meeting, attorney Tom Michael apprised the PSD that their proposal for a $2.5M bond advance and Snowshoe sewage takeover had passed a "technical review" by the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council (IJDC), that this was "good news," and that the next step would come soon.

What Mr. Michael didn't tell us was that the next step would be only 3 days later, on Friday June 1, when the IJDC's Funding Committee would meet to recommend for approval the PSD's $2.5M/Snowshoe takeover proposal. We found this out for ourselves on Wednesday May 30, thus having only 2 days to react.

With the two strikes of "What Eight Rivers?" and an IJDC "good news," I decided to press the PSD to answer when they planned on declaring that eminent domain would not be used, when the Sharp Farm site would be removed from consideration for this project. The answer was delaying and entirely insincere, and was therefore strike three. It is clear that the PSD intends to build their sewage facility as originally planned, upon the Sharp Farm site, using eminent domain.

June 1: The IJDC Funding Committee

The agenda of the Funding Committee's meeting included the funding consideration of 34 various projects, from PSDs and towns across West Virginia. The IJDC's bylaws require that public input be considered in all deliberations, and of the 34 projects listed, there were 3 that had public representation at the meeting.

The rules are that for a given project, public input cannot exceed 2 minutes, and only one representative may speak. I represented agenda item "Pocahontas PSD (Phase I), 2003S-762a."

Although only one may speak per project, any number of the public are permitted to attend, and it was good to see 10 fine folks from Pocahontas County, Castle Coalition, Eight Rivers Safe Development, Sierra Club, and Snowshoe Property Owners Council there to show their support and - while they weren't allowed to speak - to submit their written concerns for the IJDC's official record of this case.

The projects were listed on the agenda in alphabetical order, so "Pocahontas" was slightly past half-way down the list. This fact provided for some first-hand insight into the mechanics of the IJDC funding committee, as we witnessed the efficient and straightforward approval of a number of projects before ours came up.

The fashion of execution went as follows: the committee chair introduces a project and asks for a motion to be made to approve it, then a second, then an all-in-favor-say-I, all-opposed, then onto the next project.

"Gauley River PSD (Phase I). Do I hear a motion?" spoke the chair.

"I move," stated someone immediately.

"I second," as my head still tracked the origin of the I-move.

"All in favor say I."

In unison, "I."

"All opposed."


"Gauley River PSD (Phase II)...," the chair then introduced.

With stark efficiency, it was fast becoming clear what the role of the Funding Committee was: to not deny any project.

Then the agenda arrived at the "Pocahontas" project. The chair introduced the project, and gave me the go-ahead to address the audience. This is what I said [text omitted here for brevity].

The chair thanked me, and then asked:

"Do I hear a motion?"

An unprecedented event then occurred: roughly 4 seconds of non-motioning, non-seconding silence ticked by.



And that was that.

Twenty minutes or so later the IJDC Funding Committee meeting was over, and their recommendations will be acted upon in tomorrow's IJDC meeting of the full council. So tomorrow then, the PSD's proposal for a $2.5M bond advance and Snowshoe sewage takeover will ultimately be decided.

Going Forward

Concerning the future of the Upper Greenbrier Public Service District, W.Va. Code, 16-13A-3a provides that:

"The county commission or any other appointive body creating or establishing a public service district under the provisions of this article may remove any member of the governing board thereof for consistent violations of any provisions of this article, for reasonable cause which includes, but is not limited to, a continued failure to attend meetings of the board, failure to diligently pursue the objectives for which the district was created or failure to perform any other duty prescribed by law or for any misconduct in office, or upon written petition signed by twenty-five percent of the registered voters who reside within the limits of such proposed public service district: Provided, that such appointee shall be removed only after a full hearing of any complaint presented against him and after a ten-day notice of such hearing."

Therefore, I am initiating the collection of signatures pursuant to the aforementioned code, in order to seek the removal of Scott Millican, Bill Rexrode, and Mark Smith from the Upper Greenbrier Public Service District, thereby removing that PSD from this project.

Concerning the County Commission, Mr. Saffer's recent election has been a consistent source of hope on this issue, yet this hope is continually suffocated by the unwillingness of Commissioners Carpenter and Griffith to advocate a better approach to solving this sewage problem. The commission-appointed PSD has consistently demonstrated their inability to make use of the plethora of freely-given information and expertise, and you have not insisted that they change their ways. Moreover, the PSD has ignored your official request of them to listen to Eight Rivers Safe Development by refusing to regard those proceedings as part of their record, as part of their consideration, and you must take action against your PSD for this offense.

I and my family moved here 4 years ago from Mercer County, because we were attracted to the beautiful nature and rich history inherent in this county. Today, we are more than attracted, we are permeated with the spirit of this place, and we have come to understand through story and through scene that it is the deep-rooted families and farms of Pocahontas County that make Her what She is. This is why we stay, Her people are why we stay. Without these strong roots to guard Her, there would be no compelling reason, for our part, to continue on here.

The Sharps of Slatyfork are one such deep-rooted family, and you would uproot them, their dreams, their long-lived right to be and prosper here, for any number of reasons that do not compare. You would make Pocahontas County, through your inactions against your PSD's current and inconsiderate plan, just another ordinary place, full of tax-paying people who no longer know nor care for one another. You would give up the best community I and my family have ever seen, just because you don't have the will or the courage to safeguard Her heritage, to demand that progress instead be made in ways complementary to our unique community, in ways respectful to Her citizens and their rights.

For too long this pattern of betrayal has been allowed to continue. The PSD intends to build their facility on the Sharp Farm site, eminent domain and all. The County Commission, thus far, has allowed them to pursue this objective. And we, as always, demand otherwise.

An approval of the PSD's proposal at tomorrow's IJDC meeting would be a devastating blow to the soul of Pocahontas County, yet it would not be the end of our efforts to force a better solution to come forward. However, it would spell the end for any remaining credibility this Commission has enjoyed up to now. So now then, today, is your last chance to make things right. Even though by normal proceedings you cannot ordinarily act upon this issue today, the onus is upon you, nevertheless, to find some means, through some mechanism of your bylaws, to act: to draft a letter to the IJDC demanding them to deny the PSD's request until such a time that a better solution is properly and fully addressed. Commissioners Carpenter and Griffith, fail to do so, and I will instead expect your resignations forthwith, so that your posts can be made available to the many candidates who have expressed their desire to right this wrong, who have the want, the will, and the courage to safeguard that which you could not: the history, heritage, and blood that we know to be Pocahontas.

I will be here today until 4:00 p.m., outside with this sign, waiting for you to deliver to me a copy of your letter to the IJDC so that I may take it with me to them tomorrow. Do not fail me, do not fail the Sharps, do not fail Pocahontas County.

Update: Although normally my request of a letter from the County Commission could not be acted upon due to me not being on the agenda, through an "emergency" action of the Commission, this sort of thing can be officially entertained. So Commissioner Saffer made a motion to go into emergency session, to write the letter I requested. No second was made by Commissioners Reta Griffith or James Carpenter, so the motion did not carry and no letter was provided. I protested outside the courthouse until 4:00 p.m., and then returned home, empty handed.