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Despite protests, council approves treatment plant for Snowshoe

Thursday June 7, 2007
Charleston Daily Mail

by George Hohmann
Daily Mail business editor

A council that oversees funding for water and sewer projects across the state has voted to move ahead with a controversial plan to construct a new wastewater treatment plant to serve Snowshoe Mountain Resort and others.

The state Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council voted Wednesday to fund the $4.5 million first phase of the $17 million project after hearing objections from a landowner, several environmental groups and others.

The first phase of the project would transfer Snowshoe's existing wastewater treatment plant to the Pocahontas Public Service District. The plant is valued at $2 million. The project also would receive a $2.5 million loan from the council and a $5,000 grant from the Pocahontas County Commission.

The project calls for eventually building a new plant on land that might be taken by eminent domain. Tom Shipley, the landowner, said the community was not involved in the process that led to the decision to undertake the project.

"We respectfully ask you to take a step back," Shipley said. "People don't want this project."

Regina Hendrix of Charleston, representing the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said those groups oppose the project, which she called "ill-conceived and unsafe."

She predicted that if the new plant is built, it would eventually fail because it would be constructed on unstable soil.

"The Sierra Club recommends this project be put on hold," she said. "We want to see the headwaters of the Elk River preserved."

She said a meeting of all stakeholders should be held to determine what should be done and an environmental impact statement should be required.

David Fleming, who described himself as a citizen of Pocahontas County, said there's a lack of knowledge of the geology of the proposed site for the new treatment plant and the pipeline routes to it have many natural springs.

Fleming said Snowshoe operates the existing wastewater treatment plant "at a six-digit loss" and "is trying to transfer their liability to our public service district."

The project is not time-sensitive and should therefore be tabled "so further input can be considered," he said.

Skip Mills of the Snowshoe Property Owners Council asked the council to "give this more time. There are new facts that need to be considered."

No one representing the Pocahontas Public Service District, Snowshoe Resort or the Pocahontas County Commission spoke.

Following the public comments, council member Bernie Yonkosky moved that the funding be approved. Yonkosky, of the state Water Development Authority, is chairman of the council's Funding Committee. The committee approved the project last Friday.

Mike Johnson of the state Department of Environmental Protection seconded Yonkosky's motion.

Council Chairman Ken Lowe said the project is "obviously a very sensitive issue, of great interest."

He noted that he is a Shepherdstown real estate developer "and a West Virginian." He said people want development and also want to protect the environment. "I think there's a lot at stake here," he said.

The council consists of representatives of all of the state agencies that have a stake in water and sewer projects. Lowe said he would ask the council members to comment, then call for a vote.

There were no comments. Lowe called for the vote. Most if not all council members voiced approval to proceed. When Lowe asked for those opposed, the room was silent.

Afterwards, Fleming said he wasn't surprised by the vote but found it "very disconcerting" that Lowe hadn't taken up the idea of postponing a decision.

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 348-4836.