Save the Sharp Farm of Pocahontas County
History and heritage in Slatyfork, West Virginia.

Opposition to Slatyfork Sewage Treatment Plant Grows

Thursday December 7, 2006
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner

The legally embattled regional sewage treatment plant proposed for Slatyfork has drawn a new volley of letters challenging the plant on political, environmental and financial grounds.

And property owners associations representing the majority of the project's customer base are saying they don't want the plant.

County Commissioner-elect Martin Saffer has also asked the Pocahontas County Public Service District to stop and reconsider the project.

Saffer was scheduled to appear at the PSD's regular meeting last Tuesday, but he was unable to attend due to health reasons, according to his secretary.

Despite his absence, a letter Saffer sent to the PSD two weeks before the meeting spelled out some of his concerns.

"The election and public sentiment sent a clear message that this 'public' service project is, in fact, not supported by the public," Saffer wrote.

The commissioner-elect said he wanted to discuss how all parties might be able to walk away from this issue as winners.

"It is important that the brakes be temporarily applied at this point so that no more time, energy and money is invested in trying to push forwarded a project which I believe is mortally wounded politically," Saffer's letter concluded.

A week after Saffer sent his letter to the PSD, a group of cavers and geologists joined the roster of organizations concerned about the ecological impact of the sewage treatment plant.

Eight Rivers Safe Development filed notice with the state Department of Environmental Protection expressing concern over the agency's handling of the project.

"There are a number of mandatory requirements in the environmental regulations that have not been followed," said Eight Rivers attorney William Turner.

The group contends that the DEP's Finding of No Significant Impact of the project is flawed, because the agency never completed an environmental impact statement, Turner said.

At last week's meeting, Michael told PSD board members that Eight Rivers' actions "do not have the potential to stop anything, but they could create delays and place new restrictions on the plant."

Additional delays would likely translate into higher project costs and higher rates for customers, Michael said.

Those rates, which are currently estimated to be around $54 a month, are already unacceptable to the largest portion of the plant's potential customer base.

Snowshoe Property Owners Council President Michael Olsen put the PSD on notice that his organization may take legal action against the project.

In a letter to the PSD sent November 21, Olsen said property owners have not been properly notified of the rate increase they face if the plant is built.

Property owners at Snowshoe currently pay sewage bills of $10-$17, according to Olsen. For some, the rates with the new plant could go as high as $112.

Olsen returned an e-mail asking for comment on his letter, saying he was traveling overseas and would not be returning until after press time.

On the Snowshoe Property Owners Council website, however, Olsen elaborated on his group's opposition to the project.

"The question is, why should the approximately 1,800 mountain top property owners be asked to fund a sewage treatment plant when the current one serves our needs just fine?" Olsen wrote.

"In fact, it seems we have excess capacity since Snowshoe regularly pumps out a sewage storage tank, which serves the homes in The Hawthorne subdivision at the base of the mountain, and trucks it up to the top and discharges it into the sewer lines there," Olsen continued.

Despite the appearance of things running smoothly from the perspective of property owners, Snowshoe General Manager Bill Rock has said Snowshoe Water and Sewer has been out of compliance with state environmental standards, even after spending more than $1.6 million since 2002 in upgrades to its facilities.

The DEP also has an open case against the resort in circuit court, citing Snowshoe for several violations of its discharge permits.

Olsen argued that the new plant would benefit developers who want to build more condominiums, not the resort's current property owners.

"It is generally accepted that current homeowners should not bear the burden of such a sewer facility in order to enhance development," continued Olsen. "This should be the responsibility of the developer.

"Unless something occurs to remove the doubt we have regarding this entire project, SPOC will seek to take action in order to prevent these exorbitant increases from taking place," Olsen wrote.

In his letter to the PSD, Olsen said property owners had not been properly notified of the rate increases associated with the new plant nor the transfer of the resort's sewage facilities to the county utility.

"Therefore the sale of the assets and any rate above the current rate that we pay, in our view, is illegal," wrote Olsen.

The Slatyfork Farm Owners Association also voiced its opposition in a letter to the PSD, raising objections with the location of the proposed plant.

Representing about 40 homeowners, association president G. Ernie Ramos, Jr., wrote that his group would like to see the plant moved to state-owned property—out of sight of the highway—where it might have less impact on property values and the quality of life in the community.

PSD plant manager Ricky Barkley said he had not received the letter Friday.

PSD board members said they had no comment regarding the recent letters.

After an hour-long executive session on "land acquisition for the proposed sewer project" during Tuesday's meeting, Michael and board members said the project was continuing its current course.