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

County commission gets last-minute plea from Sharp Farm advocates

Thursday June 7, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

by Pamela Pritt

With an already-full agenda, commissioners took time Tuesday to hear from opponents of using the Sharp Farm for the Slaty Fork Sewage Treatment Plant. They listened, but did not take action on the group's request to write a letter to the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Develoment Council asking them to deny a $2.5 million loan slated to pay Thrasher Engineering, attorney Tom Michael, Region IV Development Council and to hire a project coordinator.

The money will also be used to evaluate other sites, according to the Pocahontas Public Service application.

The group asked the commission to act with urgency since the IJDC met Wednesday to hear the loan request. site developer David Fleming gave the commission an ultimatum to act quickly.

Fleming said he would give commissioners until late afternoon Tuesday to comply with his request to write a letter to the IJDC that asked for the denial of a $2.5 million loan that will pay the engineer firm, attorney and other expenses. For the remainder of the day, Fleming sat outside the courthouse with a protest sign.

A computer programmer and webmaster, Fleming said the PSD had not taken minutes at the May 8 presentation by Eight Rivers Safe Development president George Phillips because it was not a meeting. Further, Fleming said, PSD members had told him they would not use the information on karst terrain Phillips had presented to them.

"It is clear that the PSD intends to build their sewage facility as originally planned, upon the Sharp Farm site, using eminent domain," he said.

Fleming asked that the commission remove PSD members Scott Millican, Bill Rexrode and Mark Smith from their positions and, thus, "remov[e] the PSD from this project."

The commission took no step in that direction.

Commissioner Martin Saffer made a motion for adjournment and an emergency session to discuss a letter to the IJDC. The motion died for lack of a second.

Saffer said he had written a letter to the IJDC as a commissioner, but not on behalf of the commission as a body. He encouraged commission president James Carpenter and commissioner Reta Griffith to do the same.

Fleming asked for Carpenter and Griffith to resign.

Neither did.

Two members of Snowshoe Property Owners Council (SPOC) told commissioners that existing rates may be low, but homeowners are opposed to what could be 10-fold increases by the time the project is completed.

In the interim, even the lowest rates will quadruple, according to Donnelle Oxley, SPOC's vice- president.

Oxley said SPOC urged the commission "very, very strongly" to go with immersible membrane technology-the plan proposed by Phillips- to retrofit Snowshoe's existing plant and to use cluster systems in the Elk River Valley.

"It's so logical," she said.

Oxley said SPOC is in the process of raising funds for legal help to fight for the Eight Rivers plan.

Another SPOC member, Dale Leatherman, said the group would rather work with commissioners than against them.

Elk River Touring and Elk River Restaurant owner Gil Willis told commissioners they should get used to a court room.

"[These] lawsuits aren't going away," he said. While he said money had already been wasted on the project, more money would be spent to defend the project in court.

It wasn't the commission's only contentious agenda item.

The expansion of wilderness areas on the Monongahela National Forest discussion took a crowd of 25-30 from the commission room to the court room.

There, DNR representatives Terry Jones and Shawn Head told commissioners the DNR supports the expansion of the Cranberry Wilderness area, but not East Fork, a 10,000+ acre site, and Spice Run, a 7,254 acre site, as proposed by the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. About a third of the Spice Run area is in Pocahontas County.

Governor Joe Manchin supports the Cranberry expansion, as well, Jones said.

Jones said the DNR does not advocate more wilderness because the act is "forever and absolute," meaning that the forest's wildlife habitat could not be actively managed.

The DNR manages game species on national forest land as part of an agreement with the USDA. The Forest Service manages habitats.

Jones said the DNR is not against wilderness areas.

"We feel these other areas are too much," he said.

In reaction to the DNR presentation, Beth Little, of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition and the Sierra Club, said she was "particularly dismayed" that the DNR had been invited to do a presentation and her groups were not.

David Saville, the coalition's campaign coordinator told the commission that wilderness is an important issue.

Saville said the coalition is asking for four percent of the Monongahela's 310,000 acres.

"That's a miniscule amount of land we're trying to see protected," he said.

In addition, Saville said, protecting the headwaters of the Greenbrier River could ease Marlinton's flooding problems.

"What protects Marlinton from flooding more than protecting the headwaters?" he asked.

Saville noted that no wilderness exists in the Greenbrier River drainage.

He called on Allen Johnson, Christians For the Mountains, and Gil Willis, Pocahontas County Tourism Commission.

Johnson said human beings need time in the wilderness for spiritual growth, noting Biblical figures Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus all spent time in the wilderness. While Johnson said he could not say where God intended wilderness areas to be, he did say it was human "hubris" that told us to "manage"the forests that had existed here for centuries.

Willis told commissioners they had a unique opportunity to create a legacy that bolstered the tourism industry.

"Tourism is affected by wilderness in a positve way," he said.

Commissioners took no action on either side of the wilderness issue. In the past, both Carpenter and Griffith have opposed wilderness expansion. Saffer has said he is in favor of more wilderness areas.

Commissioners addressed issues at East Fork Industrial Park, as well.

John Commerci and Richard Satterfield, both from the USDA, said they administer grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission that fund the cleanup at East Fork.

Commerci said the ARC wants a quarterly report on the cleanup progress, as well as a financial report.

Griffith said the commission is "doing the best (they) can" with the cleanup efforts there.

Carpenter said no one could want the area cleaned up more than the commission; however, those tasks are hampered by weather events. The contractor at the site moves up to 100 tri-axle loads a day when it's dry, Carpenter said, and needs 21 days of dry weather to finish.

"We understand the weather is the biggest problem," Commerci said.

Commissioners said they will comply with the ARC's reporting requirement.

After three executive sessions on personnel-all with County Clerk Sandy Friel and one that included Prosecuting Attorney Walt Weiford-the commission voted to have a special meeting Friday at 8:30 a.m. to transfer personnel from the clerk's office to the county commission.

In other business the commission:

  • appointed Ruth Sharp and Kenneth Ervine to the Pocahontas County Building Commission
  • appointed Jeff Barlow and Amos Meck to the 911 Advisory Board
  • appointed Jim McCoy, Heather Niday and David Henderson to the Local Emergency Planning Committee
  • appointed James Johnson to the Board of Health
  • approved the rental agreement for the Durbin Magistrate's office
  • approved adding Saffer to the county's Westlaw Internet Account on a 2-1 vote, with Carpenter dissenting.

Saffer will share the password with other commissioners.