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

PSD Debates Merits of Alternative Sites

Thursday March 8, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner

In an effort to move the proposed Slaty Fork regional sewage treatment project forward, the Pocahontas County Public Service District is seeking money from state through Senator Walt Helmick.

At its regular meeting February 27, the PSD approved a letter asking Helmick for help in funding a project coordinator and studies of alternative sites for the plant.

In the letter, the board said it needs more information on whether the sites are in the floodplain, whether they sit upon unstable karst terrain and whether the plant will physically fit on the sites.

"In order to answer these questions, it's necessary to have a flood plain analysis performed, to drill on the site and to do requisite surveying and design work," the letter stated.

The PSD estimated the work would cost $25,000.

The letter also requests funding for a project coordinator to "move the project forward" at a cost of $50,000 a year.

The request echoes a letter sent in February by the Pocahontas County Commission to Senator Helmick after the commission was approached by PSD.

Rather than wait for the money, PSD members and their attorney were already evaluating the alternative sites proposed by Thrasher Engineering Tuesday evening.

One site lies at the confluence of the Old Field and Big Spring forks of the Elk River, while the other is directly across the Old Field Fork.

The board appeared to be leaning toward the former, which is owned by the West Virginia State Rail Authority.

"Ironically... the floodplain is practically not an issue, because the entire site is in the 100-year floodplain," said PSD attorney Tom Michael.

The site would have to be filled in to elevate the plant above the floodplain, Michael said. It would also require moving a county road around the plant to allow access to the parking lot for the Catch-and-Release area of the upper Elk River, he added.

While a railroad right-of-way passes through the site, Michael said he spoke with the SRA's executive director and found that the site is not rail-banked.

At the board's last meeting, Michael had raised the possibility that the right-of-way might be reserved for future rail use. Millican said then that records indicated the site may have had as many as four rights-of-way passing through it.

"They want enough of a spur where it meets the main line... to turn a locomotive around," said Michael.

"[The plant] does fit there, between the boundary of the parking lot and the property line and the railroad, but the county road would have to be looked at," Michael said.

"What we need to do, if you want to pursue this... is present this map to the Rail Authority," Michael told the board.

The SRA's next meeting is March 21 in Moorefield. Millican and Michael both said they plan to attend the meeting.

While the Rail Authority appears to be willing to work with the PSD, Millican said the owner of the site across the Old Field Fork is not interested. That site, said Millican, is owned by Beckwith Lumber.

"Previous to my speaking with Ralph Beckwith, [Thrasher Engineer] Ken Moran had recommended the site, but there's no rapport with the landowner, so as far as I'm concerned, that site is not an option," said Millican.

Millican's reasoning raised questions among members of the public attending the meeting.

"How is that any different from the Sharp farm site?" asked Cass area resident David Fleming. Fleming, a computer programmer, runs website, which has advocated moving the proposed plant off of the land that belongs to the Sharp family near the U.S. 219 bridge over Big Spring Fork.

"I would recommend that the board not discuss the content of negotiations regarding property acquisition with a land owner in public session," Michael said in response to Fleming's inquiry, "which means we can't answer your question, sir."

The PSD was also asked why it was not considering other SRA-owned property in the vicinity.

"There's another rail authority site, just across the river. Is there any reason you've chosen not to investigate that site?" asked Sharp's Country store proprietor Tom Shipley.

The information offered by Shipley appeared to surprise Michael.

"If you know of another site, I'd like to have that information," said Michael.

On a large map of the area, Shipley pointed out the parcel, which appeared to be at a bend in the Elk River, just below Laurel Run, as the river curves toward the northeast. County tax records say the L-shaped, 25-acre tract is owned by the State Rail Authority.

Shipley said he was concerned that the PSD had already eliminated one of the two alternative sites presented by Thrasher and that his family was not given the same consideration as Beckwith.

Moving ahead with its agenda for the evening, the PSD turned to discussion of its interim financing agreement for the project with Pendleton Community Bank.

The PSD has a $300,000 line of credit with the bank to cover land acquisition and other project costs. The district has drawn down approximately $170,000 on the account, said Michael.

Since the line of credit recently expired, the attorney recommended the PSD pursue a $400,000 line of credit with Davis Trust, of Elkins, using $170,000 to pay off Pendleton Community Bank. Another $100,000 would be used to design the cooling system mandated for the plant by the Department of Environmental Protection to protect the upper Elk River's trout population. The remaining $130,000 would be used for "real estate acquisition and other project costs," said Michael.

"I would like to file with the PSC immediately, in either case, to get right with Pendleton or to start the process with Davis Trust," said Michael.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission must approve the financial agreement.

Fleming asked what might happen with the loan if the bond for the project itself was not approved.

"Then the lender would not be repaid," replied Michael. "The only collateral or security for this type of lending is the revenue bonds themselves."

Millican made a motion to seek a line of credit from Davis Trust, which received a unanimous vote from the board.

While Board treasurer Mark Smith said some of the interim financing could be used toward site analysis or the project coordinator position, Millican expressed the same reservations he had in previous discussions.

"Just because we can doesn't mean we should, necessarily," said Millican. "I feel we shouldn't do that."

Millican said he wanted to be sure to have money set aside for land acquisition.

PSD President William Rexrode said he was interested in moving the project forward, but still was not certain whether the PSD would receive the funding it requested from Helmick.

"I'd like to hear something on where the money is going to come from," said Rexrode. "We still ain't never heard, really."

In case the funding does come through, the PSD went into executive session on personnel to discuss candidates for the site coordinator position.

Following the brief executive session, the board voted unanimously to hire Kermit Friel as the project coordinator for the sewage treatment plant once funding is available.

Friel has worked with the board previously to secure the rights-of-way for the sewage project's collection system in the Big Spring Fork valley.

The board drafted a letter to Friel informing him that once funding is received, the PSD intends to offer him the position.

Until funding is available and he has accepted a written letter from the PSD, Friel is not considered an employee of the district, the letter stated.

The PSD's next regular meeting is scheduled for March 27.