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

PSD Hears Alternative Sewage Proposal

Thursday May 17, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner

Members of the Pocahontas County Public Service District had little to say after an hour long presentation on geological risks of treating sewage in Slaty Fork and possible alternatives to the centralized regional plant the PSD is pursuing.

The May 8 presentation was the same given by George Phillips, to the Pocahontas County Commissioners and the county's state legislators in recent months.

Phillips is the president of Eight Rivers Safe Development, which was organized in reaction to the PSD's regional proposal.

Representatives from some of the state's leading conservation groups attended Tuesday's presentation, including state chapters of the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, and the National Speleological Society, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen's Association.

As the site for the proposed plant is near a cabin where General Robert E. Lee was reported to have had dinner, the meeting attracted a representative from the West Virginia Sons of the Confederacy.

Snowshoe Property Owners Council Executive Director Skip Mills was also in attendance.

During a round of introductions before the presentation, Mills said Snowshoe property owners were opposed to paying for the first sewage treatment project proposed by the resort in 2001, as well as the regional plant currently proposed by the county.

"We support George Phillips and Eight Rivers Safe Development," said Mills.

The financing of the project, he said, would leave resort property owners footing the bill to subsidize further development on the mountain and in the valley.

After viewing the presentation in April, the county commission voted unanimously to have the PSD view the virtual tour of the region's streams, springs and caves and how they might be impacted by the plant, its discharge into the Big Spring Fork and the miles of pipe that will transport wastewater from the resort and surrounding developments to the plant.

Phillips has suggested retrofitting the plant that currently serves the resort and using small, "cluster" systems to treat wastewater onsite at individual developments off the mountain.

Phillips explained that in karst areas the movement of water 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-features created as water gradually dissolves the limestone bedrock.

Approximately 10 percent of the earth's surface and 20 percent of the U.S. is composed of karst landforms, according to figures quoted by Phillips. About 25 percent of the world's population lives on karst terrain, he said.

"The hollow nature of karst results in the very high pollution potential," Phillips cautioned the PSD. "You don't have the filtration that 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."

One of the characteristics of karst areas is that the soil above bedrock tends to be much more shallow than in other areas, limiting the filtration of potential contaminants.

Accompanying Phillips was Western Kentucky University geology professor Roger Brucker, who used funnels, colanders, sponges and pitchers of water and green food coloring in a presentation reminiscent of the television science show, "Mr. Wizard," in an attempt to illustrate how quickly a sewage spill or leak might move through the limestone geology found around Slaty Fork.

Both Phillips and Brucker noted that water and spills infiltrate karst areas at rates measured in feet per second, rather than feet per year in areas where the soil is deeper and bedrock less porous.

Project engineers with Thrasher Engineering, Ken Moran and Dayton Carpenter attended the presentation, taking notes throughout.

The engineers and PSD attorney Tom Michael declined to comment after the presentation and left soon after it was finished.

PSD president William Rexrode also declined to comment on the presentation, but treasurer Mark Smith said the board would discuss the presentation "at some length" at it's regular meeting May 22.

PSD secretary Scott Millican did not attend the presentation and could not be reached for comment.

At the county commission's meeting May 15, Moran and Michael were present to report to commissioners on the presentation.

"We're at a crossroads," Moran told commissioners. "Now the design has to be revised. We need to address the concerns of Mr. Phillips as well."

"It's going to take time and it's going to take money," Moran continued, "and we've went about as far as we can go with time and money."

Moran said he would like to sit down with Phillips to address his concerns with the project's design.

It would not be the first time the engineering firm has had to revise its designs for the plant due to environmental concerns.

In July 2006, the Department of Environmental Protection said engineers would need to add cooling equipment the plant after several groups, including Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Elk, the Elk River Headwaters Association and West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen's association contracted an outside firm to study the impact of the plant's discharge on the upper Elk River. The research firm Downstream Strategies, of Morgantown, found the plant's discharge would have raised the upper Elk River's temperature enough to threaten its native trout population.

The cooling system is estimated to add about $1 million to the plant's $17 million price tag.