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Pocahontas PSD Battle Over Funding for Sewage Plant

Friday August 17, 2007
The Inter-Mountain

By Cathy Grimes, Staff Writer

RILED UP — Pocahontas County Public Service District board members Chairman William Rexrode, Scott Millican and Mark Smith listen to comments about the Slatyfork sewage plant.
RILED UP — Pocahontas County Public Service District board members Chairman William Rexrode, Scott Millican and Mark Smith listen to comments about the Slatyfork sewage plant.

The Slatyfork regional sewage treatment plant recently sparked off tempers and heated debates as Pocahontas County Public Service District board members argued over funding sources and how best to meet the needs of those involved.

“I’m having a lot of concerns about the whole project,” Pocahontas County PSD Chairman Bill Rexrode told board members Scott Millican and Mark Smith in reference to the proposed Slatyfork regional sewage treatment plant. “We need more information.”

Board members discussed applying for a Local Economic Development grant in the amount of $25,000 and conversation turned heated at times as Millican, who is also a developer, campaigned persistently to get the board to approve the application.

The grant would be used for consulting or alternative site investigation for the project.

Millican said he had additional funding of up to $100,000 lined up, but was not prepared to divulge the source at the meeting.

The LED grant would provide funding to hire a project liaison at a salary of $35,000 for six months and to pursue drilling and stream flow studies at alternate sites for the regional plant.

According to the application, funding could not be used for salaries, a fact which Smith questioned.

Millican said he had talked to the governor’s office and was told the governor had previously had problems with the salary conditions. He said it was the governor’s choice, his policy and he could alter it to adapt to his needs.

Despite Millican’s determination and efforts to convince the other board members that their approval to submit the application was the right thing to do, both refused, based on their need for more information, the salary issue and the money Millican said he had lined up coming from unnamed sources.

Millican said he could not understand their hesitation and his tactics throughout most of the meeting did not dissuade Rexrode and Smith from withholding their support.

“I don’t think I’ll be laying my signature on this,” Rexrode said.

Smith proposed they put the motions aside until they could talk to Region IV Executive Director W.D. Smith and Ken Moran from Thrasher Engineering regarding the salary issue.

To some meeting attendants, Millican’s tactics gave the impression that he was trying to persuade Rexrode and Smith by using guilt tactics when he said several times during the meeting, “If the project was stopped, a million dollars of liability will fall on Pocahontas County.”

“Pocahontas County may not have a liability,” a Sharp Farm advocate Tom Shipley countered. “Thrasher Engineering and PSD attorney Tom Michael agreed at the beginning to be paid when funding for the project had been obtained.”

Millican had no response to Shipley’s comment.

“Lack of support is blocking this project,” Millican told the group, “based on site location.

The governor doesn’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole, because of the issues of eminent domain. People have protested enough that the Public Service Commission is not going to proceed with the project.”

Millican indicated if the governor approved the application it would be as good as endorsement.

“I talked with Bill McNeel at Snowshoe this past weekend and a lot of Snowshoe property owners and I got a lot of support for the regional plant, along with McNeel endorsing the regional plant, with the exception of the site,” Millican said.

Representatives of the Snowshoe Property Owners Council in a recent interview refuted Millican’s statement that he had a lot of support from Snowshoe property owners.

According to SPOC representatives, “Snowshoe president Bill Rock indicated after the transfer of the Snowshoe sewage treatment plant to the Pocahontas County PSD, he would support looking at alternative solutions to the much embattled proposed regional plant.”

“We believe the regional plant would prove an environmental disaster, and we support the reverse membrane cluster system if it proves viable at Snowshoe. We also believe the Eight Rivers plan is the alternative of choice since it is environmentally safe, eliminates the eminent domain issue and would be less costly for Snowshoe Homeowners.

“It is not anti-development,” the SPOC representatives said. “Cluster plants are the way to go and developers should pay for them, not homeowners.”

“About 60 people attended a presentation by George Phillips of Eight Rivers Safe Development at Snowshoe,” an SPOC representative said. “The people who attended the presentation were vocal in their support for pursing the Eight Rivers plan and were even more adamant in their concern about the negative environmental impact the proposed regional plant would have.”

According to the SPOC, those attending “expressed their belief that it was a no brainer to go the alternate route, even if the cost is higher than projected, because it would be a safe solution and would greatly benefit Snowshoe, who could recycle water for snowmaking, triple their facility’s capability and do the right thing environmentally.

“Millican was personally invited to attend the Eight Rivers presentation because he was at the State of the Shoe meeting,” an SPOC representative said. “But he refused, even though he had been asked previously by the Pocahontas County Commissioners to see the presentation.

“We believe he has tunnel vision in this matter and wants a regional plant at all costs,” SPOC representatives said. “We think this is short-sighted and at odds with the vast majority of the people in Pocahontas County, whom he is supposed to serve.”

As the discussion continued, Millican managed to rile the audience again when he said, “It doesn’t matter where the money comes from, it could come from Hades,” referring to the $100,000 from the unnamed source and stressed that it was free money.

“In the 12 months I’ve been on the board,” Millican said, “nothing has been done, the project is dead in the water.

“Why didn’t you do something in the past 12 months?” Millican asked Smith. “I took the initiative in pursuing this grant money and worked on it for several months and you took the forms and took the initiative to turn it around and do something else.”

Millican said he was not going to commit any more hours to working on the grant.

Pocahontas County Commissioner Reta Griffith explained that the grant process takes a little more time than what Millican expects. To his understanding, once the application was received, the funds would be available. Griffith explained that was not the case.

“It is a lengthy process,” she said, adding that it could take up to two months.

“I have a feeling there is going to be special consideration for this just based on who I have talked to,” Millican said.

Millican added he could not guarantee the $100,000 would still be there if board members do not agree to see the funds from the unnamed source.

“I didn’t expect this to be an issue tonight. I’m dumfounded,” Millican told the board. “I’m not even going to ask for the money. I’m done with it, and I’m taking it back off the table.

“It’s a done deal,” he told Smith when asked if he wanted to table the issue until the next regular meeting.

In a final comment to the board, Shipley explained the Canaan Valley Institute, a West Virginia agency that specializes in rural wastewater issues, has offered its help to find a solution that will help and benefit everyone.

The PSD meetings are held the last Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the water plant.