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

SPOC Members Urge Commission to Back Off Regional Plant

Thursday August 23, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Pamela Pritt, Editor

Two Snowshoe Property Owners Council members met with county commissioners Tuesday to urge that body to look at alternative plans, not an alternative site, for the Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Dale Leatherman told commissioners that homeowners on the mountain are aware of "the haphazard way this issue has been handled and they are outraged."

According to Donelle Oxley, about 60 homeowners attended a presentation by George Phillips, of 8 Rivers Safe Development, on karst terrain and immersible membrane technology, and "at its conclusion were convinced even more that retrofitting the current plant is the right way to go."

While many of those homeowners came to the presentation concerned with rate increases, but in the end, expressed "concern...equally for the environment, if not more so."

Oxley said rates for homeowners with a two-bedroom home are as low as $11 per month, and $15 per month is the maximum paid by homeowners with six-bedroom lodging. She acknowledged the current rate is too low, and said paying up to four times as much would not be out of the question; however, she said paying as much as 10 times more than current rates is not acceptable.

Leatherman said Snowshoe president Bill Rock had stated to homeowner association presidents that to bring the resort's infrastructure up to spec would cost $10-$20 million, a price that would escalate the current rates.

Rock, who was not at the meeting, later clarified that statement.

"If it costs $10 million or $20 million, it will be cheaper for the ratepayers through the PSD," he said. Rock said the resort supports moving the plant's ownership to the PSD where the cheapest funding for upgrades and repairs can be obtained.

"They can borrow at zero percent or .5%," Rock said. "The company would have to pay market rates."

The transfer agreement is good for ratepayers, he maintained, because the PSD can improve the plant and get the best possible rates.

"It gives them [the PSD] more opportunities than they have today," Rock said.

While Rock said the resort supports a regional concept "because we think it's the best thing for economic development in the region," he also said the resort's management wants a solution that is environmentally sustainable.

"The 8 Rivers proposal deserves some study," he said, as do "all reasonable alternatives," including an alternative site.

"We're open to reasonable solutions here," he said.

The current site for the plant is the Sharp Farm in Slaty Fork. Opponents to that site say that, environmentally speaking, the location is a potential disaster because of karst geology, meaning that underground porous limestone is prone to developing sinkholes and has several caves.

In addition, Sharp family members, most notably Tom Shipley, owner of Sharp's Country Store and Bed and Breakfast, say that their land will not be taken without a fight, meaning the county would have to use eminent domain to obtain the nine-acre field where the plant is proposed.

Eminent domain-described Tuesday by county commissioner Martin Saffer as the "flashpoint" issue-has made the sewage treatment plant more controversial.

"That's the issue that needs to be removed from the table so that we can talk about [the plant] more rationally," Saffer said.

"I don't want to use the Sharp Farm," said county commission president James Carpenter, "if they can find an alternative site-wonderful."

But Carpenter went on to say he didn't believe that retrofitting Snowshoe's existing plant with immersible membrane technology is the answer to development in that area.

"All I want is a sewer system over there," he said, "a decent sewer system to serve Snowshoe and that valley."

Carpenter said he understood that cluster plants have not worked in Tucker County and that the PSD there is consolidating 17 plants into five.

It is.

However, according to a Public Service Commission order dated April 27, Tucker County is allowed to consider membrane filters once its discharge limits are established.

The commission president did not accept Saffer's request to order the PSD to not use the Sharp Farm as a location for the plant.

Leatherman and Oxley maintained that SPOC will not support a regional plant in any location.

"We do not oppose the transfer of the plant to the county," Leatherman said. "(But we are) opposed to a regional plant. It's an environmental hazard wherever you put it."

And, she said, the PSD is not talking about anything but alternative sites, since one member, Scott Millican, has yet to see the 8 Rivers presentation.

"We'd like to see a development plan taking into consideration how much water there is. We'd like to see you bring all the stakeholders to the table," she said.

"This shouldn't be 'us' and 'you.' We should be working together on this because it's going to impact all of us," Leatherman said.

That impact goes beyond the environmental issues, as well, according to Gil Willis, who also attended the meeting.

Willis said Pocahontas County now has a tourist-based economy.

"If we don't get the best deal with sewage over there in the best possible way we can, it is going to hurt our tourism economy down the road," he said.

Willis, who is a co-owner of Elk Mountain Outfitters and Elk River Restaurant, also presented some environmental data to the commission.

Collected by the Elk River Headwaters Association, in three different locations, Willis said the data showed the river is currently healthy, with low levels of concern.

The association intends to continue studying the river, where a few years ago, about 60 Rainbow trout eggs were found under one rock, an indication of the river's good health.

Commissioners took no action on the project.

In other business, the commission:

  • contributed more than $600 to Huntersville Traditions Day for renovation of the 1890 Huntersville School
  • discussed an alternate location for the Pocahontas County Health Department so that court house space could be used for storage and the basement conference room be used for early voting
  • hired Terry VanReenan as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher.
  • read deeds for East Fork Industrial Park and Green Bank Industrial site for transfer to the Greenbrier Economic Development Corporation
  • voted to oppose House Resolution 811 that would ban electronic voting equipment
  • approved a letter to DEP representative Mike Zeto noting the progress made in remediation at East Fork Industrial Park. The letter asks that Zeto approve the use of geothermal clay to entomb the sludge left over from the tanning process at Howes Leather, which closed in 1994.