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

PSD Attorney Won't Answer Questions

Thursday January 18, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Pamela Pritt

Pocahontas Public Service District attorney Tom Michael played his cards close to the vest Tuesday while Commissioner Martin Saffer questioned him at length about land acquisition for the PSD's Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant project.

"What is the present status of site selection?" Saffer inquired. "Are you not considering the boardinghouse site below Beckwith Lumber Company?"

For that and many other forms of the same questions, Michael only answered, "Matters affecting the acquisition of real estate for the project are matters that are properly discussed in executive session."

Michael did say he would discuss the matter in executive session, but Saffer quoted the Open Meetings Act which says land acquisition could be discussed only if its public discussion would negatively impact the purchase, sale or lease of the property.

Further, Saffer said, a letter from the State Rail Authority offered the property for "free."

While the letter never uses that word, it does say a "portion of the land is available for use if desired by the Pocahontas Public Service District."

For a little more than an hour, Saffer questioned Michael about the project from opposition by Snowshoe Property Owners Council to the rates to water quality issues.

But most of Saffer's questioning and a subsequent motion concerned eminent domain, and the possible use of that action for the Slaty Fork project.

"If we use eminent domain to foster development, ultimately everyone's property is in jeopardy," Saffer said. "What worries me is this project, whether it's true or not, is seen and perceived as a project to benefit Snowshoe.

"We have been so long at this," he continued. "There have got to be other alternatives. I would hope that you would consider that. Would you consider that?" "That's the same question in a different format, Mr. Saffer," Michael answered. "I'll be glad to answer that in executive session."

Saffer asked commissioners to restate a resolution they adopted concerning eminent domain and their opposition to using that device for private development. Saffer said he wanted the commission to express to the PSD that "eminent domain is not the proper vehicle to advance this particular project. Further, that the PSD do everything it possibly can to develop all possible reasonable and modern and safe methods of sewage disposal consistent with the protection of the environment and public health."

Commission president James Carpenter said he disagreed with Saffer that the project was ultimately for private development.

Carpenter said approximately 1800 ratepayers at Snowshoe Mountain deserved public sewage treatment the same as customers of Marlinton, Hillsboro and Durbin. The commission president also reminded Saffer the decision does not rest with the county commission.

"We don't have a vote," he said. "We can't change their minds."

Commissioner Reta Griffith said she would not try to influence PSD members' votes.

"I'm not going to interfere in that process," she said. " I still stand by public use (for this project). I'm not going to pressure them one way or the other."

"Part of our duty is to reflect the public will. I believe part of our duty is to act in accordance with what the public desires and I believe the PSD needs to first serve the public," Saffer said.

His motion died for lack of a second, but not for lack of support in the room. Former county commissioner Norman Alderman, John Leyzorek and the project's most affected party, Tom Shipley, who owns Sharp's Country Store and Bed and Breakfast, both of which are near the intended site for the project, spoke against using the present site and eminent domain.

Commissioners also allotted Hotel/Motel Tax money during Tuesday's session.

While the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau gets half the revenue from that tax, commissioners can divvy up the other 50% to certain entities.

Pocahontas is one of two counties that can use H/M funds for acute health care. Commissioners allocated $50,000 to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and another $50,000 to Emergency Medical Services. Commissioners also kept $30,000 for the courthouse bricks and mortar fund.

Parks and Recreation and Dramas, Fairs and Festivals will each receive 18% of what's left of the money, Pocahontas County Free Libraries will get nine percent, the Landmarks Commission, three percent and the Arts Council, two percent.

Saffer said he wanted the libraries to receive a bigger percentage, and suggested trimming half of a percent from Parks and Recreation and Dramas, Fairs and Festivals.

"The library has great outreach in the community," he commented. But, Saffer said, all the recipients of H/M funds are "doing a good job."

Griffith is helping draft a bill which will enable the county to use $300,000 for acute health care and could raise H/M tax from three percent to six percent, a move she said would likely be opposed by Snowshoe Mountain Resort and the Greenbrier Hotel.

In other business the commission:

  • approved a $2000 contribution to the Northern Pocahontas Food Pantry
  • approved a letter of commitment for the purchase of a computer for the PSD
  • created a 9-1-1 Mapping and Addressing position

The commission meets again in regular session February 6.