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Commission Sends Geological, Hydrological Presentation to PSD

Thursday April 5, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Pamela Pritt

The county commission voted unanimously Tuesday to have the Pocahontas County Public Service District view a presentation concerning the karst terrain in the area surrounding the proposed Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant. That presentation also includes an alternative plan to the proposed regional plant.

The presentation, made by George Phillips, president of Eight Rivers Safe Development, lasted an hour. Phillips pointed out there are 68 caves and springs in the area.

He explained that karst, or limestone, can be defined as where the hydrology of an area is controlled by the presence of soluble limestone. Karst areas are characterized by sinkholes springs, intermittent or absent surface streams and caves and underground streams. Approximately 10% of the earth's surface and 20% of the US is composed of karst landforms and 25% of the world's population lives on karst, he said.

"The hollow nature of karst results in the very high pollution potential," Phillips said, because you don't have filtration as you do with normal groundwater that flows through soil and sandstone and limestone. Any contaminants that enter the groundwater is distributed very quickly by the caves, so you have a very fast and large dispersion of any contaminants."

Water in karst terrain is measured in feet per second like surface water, he said.

"Shallow karst terrain is not a suitable place for a sewage treatment plant," Phillips said.

After a virtual tour of caves and springs in the Slaty Fork area, Phillips told the commission he recommends an alternative plan for the Slaty Fork area.

Phillips said he envisions the existing treatment plant at Snowshoe Mountain Resort being retrofitted with an immersed membrane system that will allow the effluent from that plant to be returned to the Shavers Fork Watershed instead of piping raw sewage some five miles into the Elk River Watershed.

Immersed membrane will typically double or more the plant's existing capacity. Cost estimate for immersed membrane retrofit would be $5-$8 million, nearly one-third less than the $20 million proposed regional plant.

Second, he said, smaller cluster plants could be built at intervals near any proposed development, instead of "preinvesting" in development.

"We don't know how soon development will happen," he said. "It divorces you from the pipeline.You're treating sewage where it's generated and you're building the treatment plant when it's needed."

Commissioner Martin Saffer said he wanted the PSD to not only see the presentation, but to report its reaction to the county commission.

Commissioner Reta Griffith seconded the motion.

However, Griffith noted that the PSD has already been through the engineer hiring process.

"It's not like we can go out on the street and just hire someone," she said.

Phillips said Thrasher Engineering has done exactly what it was told to do—design a regional plant. The company was not told to explore other alternatives, he said.

Sharp's Country Store and Bed and Breakfast owner Tom Shipley called the proposal a "win-win" situation for everyone.

Federal grants are available for wastewater harvesting, Phillips said.

Phillips is a chemical engineer.

The presentation was shared with State Senators Walt Helmick and Clark Barnes and Delegate Bill Proudfoot in March.

The PSD meeting,which will be Tuesday, April 24, will take place at the Green Bank Public Library at the request of the commission. The agenda will be posted at the court house in Marlinton and on the door of the PSD office near Durbin.

In other business, the commission:

  • approved a contract for the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department with the U. S. D. A. Forest Service for patrols and a Governor's Highway Safety Program Grant for $4750 to purchase a camera for a patrol car
  • approved the use of the gazebo lot in Marlinton for a Pocahontas Woods demonstration during Pioneer Days
  • tabled until August a $1000 request from Mountain Resource Conservation and Development

The commission meets again in regular session April 17.