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

Homeowners Say They'll Fight Treatment Plant

Thursday July 5, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner

Snowshoe homeowners say they are being squeezed too tightly by the county's efforts to build a regional wastewater treatment system for the resort area.

Members of the Snowshoe Property Owners Council addressed the Pocahontas County Public Service District directly last Tuesday, informing them that the council has started a legal fund to fight the PSD's takeover of the treatment facilities at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Under rates approved by state regulators, resort property owners will see their monthly sewage bill increase several times over. Once a new $20 million plant comes online in Slaty Fork, rates will increase again.

Representatives of SPOC have said they are being forced to subsidize further development in and around the resort through the skyrocketing rates.

"There are a lot of people at Snowshoe who are dissatisfied with what's going on," said West Ridge homeowner Dale Leatherman, "and there are a lot of houses for sale. They are tired of being the golden goose. The golden goose has been squeezed too hard, and people can't afford to pay what is being charged. They can't afford to fund a big mistake, either."

Leatherman and SPOC vice-president Donelle Oxley asked the PSD to consider alternatives to the centralized system, including the plan presented in May by George Phillips of Eight Rivers Safe Development.

Phillips has suggested the project should involve upgrading Snowshoe's existing treatment facilities and let developers off the mountain share the responsibility of building clustered treatment systems for individual housing developments.

Phillips estimated the upgrades to Snowshoe's plant would run less than half the cost of the centralized system.

A similar approach has been adopted in the Canaan Valley resort area in Tucker County.

"Speaking as a homeowner, as well as the vice-president of SPOC, it would solve the problem of us being unduly burdened-for all practical purposes-with the entire cost of a $20 million plant that we don't need," said Oxley.

Such an approach would also eliminate the eminent domain controversy surrounding the project's chosen site for a centralized plant on the Sharp Farm property, she said, while also addressing the environmental concerns raised by myriad conservation and sporting groups.

So far, Oxley said, project planners and county officials have turned a deaf ear to the protests of resort homeowners, environmental groups and county residents.

"I really am appalled about how all this has come about, and that the PSD could ignore this hue and cry that's going on everywhere about what you're doing," Oxley said. "It's like water off a duck's back."

The PSD has also chosen not to respond to inquiries from county commissioner Martin Saffer and his invitations to PSD members to attend commission meetings to update commissioners on the project.

In a written response to Saffer, approved at Tuesday's meeting, the PSD described Saffer's queries as " inappropriate."

"It's the same position I've taken all along," said PSD Secretary Scott Millican. "His letters have been from him personally and not from the commission. If the commission wishes to address us, they should do so in writing, as something they act on as a commission."

One of Saffer's letters requested PSD members report to the commission on the Eight Rivers presentation.

Tom Michael, the PSD's attorney, said the PSD is waiting to hear from project engineers with Thrasher Engineering before reacting to the presentation.

"The position that we've taken is that we've asked our engineers to review it," Michael said. "When we get their report, then the board can consider that as well as what Mr. Phillips presented. If they want to take a position then they can."

Michael also responded to those at Tuesday's meeting who were persistent in asking the board members individually for their reaction to Phillip's presentation.

"You guys can sit here and keep asking them what they thought about it," Michael said. "My advice to them is, wait until our engineers have had a chance to review it and talk to them before they take a position."

Speaking by phone the following Monday, Saffer said he had not received the PSD's letter, but that he was following up on official action taken by the commission, and not acting "as a sole commissioner."

In April, the commission voted unanimously to ask the PSD to review Phillip's presentation and to report back to the commission with a response.

"I am dissatisfied that the PSD members, first, did not all attend the Phillips' presentation," said Saffer.

Millican did not attend the presentation.

"Secondly, I am dissatisfied that they are abdicating their personal responsibility in this matter by deferring to Thrasher," Saffer said. "The public service district members are individually responsible for making reasonable decisions themselves."

"If they are going to be called a public service district, they must be responsible to the public," Saffer continued, "but I don't see that. I see them as being run by their attorney and by Thrasher."

While the financing and construction of the Slaty Fork facility are still down the road, PSD members are also grappling with immediate concerns at the Durbin water plant.

Despite a rate increase of more than 18 percent this spring, Millican said the plant's finances are in "dire straits."

While the new rates were expected to produce a surplus of $11,000 to repair the leaking water system, that amount has been offset by the recent closing of the Hermitage Motel, in Bartow, which generated a monthly water bill of $1,000 to $1,200, according to water plant manager Ricky Barkley.

At its next meeting, Millican said he wants the PSD to consider selling its backhoe. Millican said he knew the idea might be unpopular and could be met with some resistance, but that he felt it was in the best interest of the system's rate payers.

"Most PSD's don't have their own equipment," Millican said. "It's a luxury. It's one that's nice to have. I told you it wouldn't be popular. But if it comes to a luxury or our ratepayers, I'm going for the ratepayers. I have a responsibility to them."

Millican estimated the backhoe could be worth as much as $40,000 which would more or less cover the cost of the PSD making the repairs to its system, which loses between 30 and 50 percent of the water that is treated before it reaches customers' homes and businesses.