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

Judge Hears Wastewater Arguments

Friday September 14, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner, Staff Writer

Circuit Judge Joseph Pomponio heard the first round of arguments in what promises to be a contentious legal battle between a handful of Slaty Fork property owners and the county's public service district.

Late last month, seven Slaty Fork residents and land owners filed an injunction in Pocahontas County Circuit Court to prevent the PSD's takeover of sewage treatment at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and to compel the PSD to ask state regulators to completely re-examine its plans for a regional sewage treatment system.

The plaintiffs are Tom Shipley, Barbara Sharp Smith, Gil and Mary Willis, Ronald Pickering, Walter Workman and Lowell Gibson.

On August 17, the PSD asked the state's Public Service Commission to approve what the PSD considers to be minor changes to the project, including a $2.5 million advance on funding from the state's Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and the takeover of the resort's sewage treatment facilities.

Tom Michael, attorney for the PSD, said those changes won't affect the overall cost of the project or the rates that customers will pay and that the takeover of the resort's facilities is simply happening "sooner rather than later."

Representing the parties from Slaty Fork, attorney Deirdre Purdy said the takeover of Snowshoe Mountain's facilities is, in fact, a significant change from the PSD's previous plans to receive the resort's sewage customers and the pipes in the ground while paying the resort to continue treating sewage until the new regional plant is constructed.

The PSD now plans to take over the resort's collection system, treatment facilities and liabilities "lock, stock and barrel," said Purdy.

The original certificate granted for the regional project allowed for the PSD to acquire the resort's collection system, "not the entire utility," she continued.

The basis for the PSD's request to state regulators is false, Purdy argued

Michael responded that the plaintiff's complaint was misplaced. Rather than bringing such issues before the circuit court, they need to be raised before the PSC, he said.

Additionally, Michael noted, the PSD's application with the state explains that the primary change from its previous plan is, in fact, the takeover of the complete system at Snowshoe.

"How is that false?" Michael asked the court.

When Pomponio asked why the PSC could not deal with Purdy's clients' complaints, she responded that county officials with the PSD were filing "false statements" on the behalf of local residents.

The PSD's petition with the PSC states that the state agency's "certification of this project included phasing in the acquisition of the existing sewer utility and its customers by the [PSD]."

Michael noted that the PSC's own staff in Charleston generated the language he used in much of the petition.

"I take offense to her saying we're lying," Michael said.

"Just because the PSC makes an untrue statement doesn't make it a fact that can be cited in this petition," Purdy shot back.

The state's original order allowed for the county to take over the resort's collection system, not the entire utility, she reiterated.

Purdy said the new petition should also say the county is now acquiring the entire system and its associated liabilities.

Throughout the proceedings before the PSC, it has been noted that Snowshoe Mountain's sewage treatment facilities have a history of violations of state and federal water quality standards.

Michael became exasperated as the hearing continued.

"I can't believe you're letting this hearing move forward," Michael told the court. The PSD attorney said he would object to anything that was not relevant until it was clear what the PSD was expected to do.

"Their petition asks us to file for a reopening," Michael said. "We did."

Purdy was prepared to elicit testimony from Snowshoe Mountain President and Chief Operating Officer Bill Rock and PSD President William Rexrode regarding the truthfulness of the PSD's petition with the state, but Pomponio cut the hearing short.

Pomponio said the hearing would be continued, but no specific date has yet been scheduled.

Outside the courtroom, Rock said that the resort "supports all reasonable alternatives to this plant and hopes to avoid the use of eminent domain."

The latter part of that statement was a reference to the PSD's preferred site for the regional plant on land belonging to members of the Sharp family at Slaty Fork.

Bystander John Leyzorek, who is an intervenor in the PSC case, asked Rock why the resort was not doing anything in support of that statement, such as withdrawing its support of the regional plant.

Rock responded that the resort had been ordered by the state's Department of Environmental Protection to support a regional project.

When pressed further by Leyzorek, Rock said he did not want to continue the conversation in front of the press.