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

Pocahontas Seeking Funding to Study Alternative Sites

Wednesday February 14, 2007
The Inter-Mountain

Updated on March 4, 2007: Drafts of alternate sites 5 and 6 now available:

By Cathy Grimes

For two years the issue of eminent domain has generated fierce controversy and outrage in Pocahontas County over the placement of the proposed regional sewage treatment plant at Slatyfork. Area residents, as well as local and national conservation organizations, have rallied against the placement of a 1.5 million-gallon-per-day sewage plant on a shallow karst floodplain located on the historic Sharp Farm at Slatyfork. The nine-acre proposed site is riddled with sinkholes, springs, underground water channels and caves. In a move to seek alternatives to the use of eminent domain and find a safe place to locate the plant, the Pocahontas County Commission voted unanimously last week to enlist the help of state Sen. Walt Helmick, D-15th District, in securing state funding on behalf of the Public Service District to complete two alternative site surveys and hire a full-time site coordinator.

The site surveys, according to Pocahontas County Commissioner Martin Saffer, are for sites No. 5, Boarding House, and No. 6, Beckwith, and would include core drilling conducted by H.D. Knutting and ecological and flood surveys conducted by Thrasher Engineering. The cost of the surveys would be $25,000.

The Public Service District also needs a site coordinator to ram-rod the project, according to Saffer. The position would be for a full-time coordinator for a one-year period, until funding for the project should become available.

The coordinator would be the liaison between the PSD and all professional personnel involved with the project. The salary for one year is estimated to be $50,000 which would include all benefits.

Saffer stated he had recently spoken with Helmick and had been assured the senator would pursue funding for site evaluation but couldn't guarantee the results of grant funding for the project.

"The senator is anxious to help the PSD find an alternative site," Saffer said. "I'm very hopeful that this is the turning of the tide against the use of eminent domain."

The issue of the Slatyfork project is very decisive, according to Saffer, and has created a wall of separation in the county. But, he thinks that once the issue is put to rest everyone can focus on the future of Pocahontas County.

"The Pocahontas County Commission asked for some help to evaluate alternate sites for the project, and I intend to see if I can help," Helmick said during an interview late Monday."

Helmick said he hopes to be able to get the funding the PCC is requesting so the project could move forward.

Helmick said he has worked with the PSD and PCC to see if other sites for the wastewater treatment plant were available, but there is nothing else he can do because the PSD has control of the project.

In response to the PCC request to Helmick for state funding for further surveys, Eight Rivers Safe Development Inc. President George Phillips said, "We are very encouraged that the project planners recognize that the Sharp Farm is not a suitable place for a sewage treatment plant and they are taking action to investigate alternative sites.

"Regardless of whether any alternative site is pursued, a complete and comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement for the final project design, site and pipeline routing is required by West Virginia State Code," Phillips said.

Eight Rivers Safe Development Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized for charitable and educational purposes to encourage the goal of conserving and protecting karst, caves and karst landscapes and to promote safe development on karst lands, filed a formal complaint Dec. 21, 2006, against the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection challenging the Finding of the No Significant Impact Statement and urging that a full Environmental Impact Statement be prepared as required by West Virginia State Code.

At its quarterly meeting on Jan. 28, the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy passed a resolution of support for Eight Rivers Safe Development in its campaign to secure a safe, non-polluting sewage wastewater treatment plant in the upper watershed of Pocahontas County, according to Hugh Rogers, WVHC president. The organization is one of the oldest conservation advocacy organizations in the state and dedicated to the preservation of the unique wildlife and scenic areas in West Virginia.

The resolution, according to Rogers, is based on WVHC's understanding of the project proposal and advice of professional geologists and concerned citizens. It states that the organization is opposed to the treatment plant at Slatyfork and believe it threatens the Upper Elk Watershed, further citing procedural flaws and lack of critical analysis of the project or considerations having resulted in the DEP issuing the Finding of No Significant Impact Statement.

Don Phares, president of the Mountaineer Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, a conservation organization, said because of the problems with sink holes, flooding and being on the main access to Snowshoe, the proposed site is an unsuitable one.

"Most people aren't opposed to the need for a plant, just to the location," Phares said.

According to Phares, a letter of opposition to the proposed placement of the treatment plant was sent to the Pocahontas County Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection by his chapter of the IWL.

The two alternate sites are far more stable than the Sharp farm site, from a structural standpoint, according to Phares.

Asked whether he was optimistic about the new site surveys, Phares said, "I can't imagine the County Commission asking for site review funding and coming back to the Sharp Farm. I think the review is a positive move."

According to Joe Webb, spokesperson for Trout Unlimited, "It's a good idea to look at alternative sites and build on the best site."

Webb also said he hopes Helmick will be able to find funding for the new surveys.

Tom Shipley, a Sharp family member who has fought long and hard against the use of eminent domain in taking of the Sharp property for the purpose of the proposed waste treatment plant, said, "We are very hopeful and encouraged that the PSD will abandon the Sharp Farm site because it is unsafe."

Shipley, however, voiced concern with the Region IV board having two board members, former Pocahontas County Commissioner Joel Callison and newly appointed County Commissioner Reta Griffith, who are on record as opposing the relocation of the regional sewage treatment plant. Region IV is responsible for helping public service districts put together projects such as the Slatyfork sewage treatment plant.

In response to the PCC letter requesting Helmick's help in finding state funding, Shipley said, "The offer of funding was made over a year ago, the question is why didn't the PSD take up the offer then?"