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Showshoe property owners files sewer complaint

Wednesday October 3, 2007
The Charleston Gazette

By Rick Steelhammer
Staff writer

The Snowshoe Property Owners Council has filed a complaint with the West Virginia Public Service Commission seeking to block the proposed transfer of the Pocahontas County resort’s sewer system to the Pocahontas Public Service District.

The proposed transfer of the 1,800-customer sewer system from private ownership to the PSD came about as part of a plan to build a new, larger sewer processing plant for the resort and other nearby homes and businesses. Plans call for the new plant to be built along U.S. 219 near Sharp’s Country Store, adjacent to Big Spring Fork of Elk River.

The proposed new sewer plant has drawn flak from the Sharp family and from a variety of conservation and angling groups who object to locating the plant on porous limestone terrain and using an Elk River headwaters trout stream as the discharge point for treated sewage.

The complaint charges that the Pocahontas PSD “has no meaningful assets or operations” and is essentially a “paper utility” formed to develop a regional wastewater treatment system serving Snowshoe Mountain Resort and 108 other customers at the base of Snowshoe Mountain.

Last year, the PSC granted the Pocahontas PSD a certificate authorizing the construction of the sewer plant and acquisition of Snowshoe’s sewage collection system. But the PSC did not approve the transfer of Snowshoe’s near-capacity wastewater treatment plant to the public service district, according to the complaint.

The Pocahontas PSD now proposes to acquire the entire Snowshoe collection system, including the old sewage treatment plant, which, according to the complaint, “has been in non-compliance with state and federal clean water laws and regulations for a number of years.”

Since the Pocahontas PSD has not provided a plan or a budget for maintaining the old plant, “it is necessarily unknown whether those increased costs will require further rate increases,” the complaint states. “Already, rates for service to un-metered homes are set as high as $102.75 per home per month when the project is completed.”

The existing Snowshoe sewage system “has employees and assets to address the various problems with the current sewer system,” the complaint contends, while the Pocahontas PSD “has no experience in this field, has no demonstrated assets, and upon information and belief, only one employee.”

Therefore, the complaint concludes, the planned transfer of Snowshoe’s entire sewage system to the PSD would allow Snowshoe Mountain to abandon its sewage responsibilities to the homeowners and simply pass any liabilities on “to an entity with no meaningful assets or personnel, and no demonstrated ... ability to address the problems at Snowshoe.”

The PSC also is reviewing a petition by Sharp’s Country Store operator Thomas Shipley seeking to reopen the new sewer plant’s certification process on grounds that the cost and scope of the project has changed since it was initially presented.

The public service district has 10 days in which to respond to the Snowshoe Property Owners’ complaint, which was filed on Friday.

To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer, use e-mail or call 348-5169.