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PSD designates new treasurer

Thursday November 8, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner, Staff Writer

The Pocahontas County Public Service District did some legal repositioning in light of a lawsuit pending in Circuit Court.

The lawsuit, filed by county resident John Leyzorek, attacks the PSD's plans for a regional sewage treatment plant at Slaty Fork on several fronts. A recent amendment to the suit challenges the make-up of the board and the legality of its actions. Board member Mark Smith has served as the district's treasurer without ever having been bonded, Leyzorek asserted.

At the board's monthly meeting last Tuesday, PSD attorney Tom Michael advised members to appoint Durbin water plant manager Rick Barkley as the district's treasurer.

Michael said that state law allows for the treasurer to be someone other than a board member, and that Barkley-who is bonded-had long acted as the district's treasurer and managed its books.

"Mark has been elected treasurer, and he's not bonded, but I understand that's been taken care of," Michael said.

"To get right with the statute, we have to do one of two things," Michael said. "Either Mark has to take control of the books, or you appoint Ricky treasurer."

Michael presented a copy of a resolution that would do the latter, if signed by the board.

The board adopted the resolution unanimously.

In e-mail correspondence after the meeting, Leyzorek said the move by the PSD would not affect the arguments he makes in his lawsuit. Leyzorek noted that all the applications filed by the PSD and the proceedings for the regional project were done with an unbonded treasurer.

"If they now have a properly bonded treasurer, [it is] time to refile it all from beginning, properly," Leyzorek said.

Michael, however, disagreed that any of the PSD's previous actions were open to question.

"The office of Treasurer is not a voting position," he said. "The treasurer does not have to be a board member."

Leyzorek's lawsuit also challenges Michael's contract with the PSD and his ability to represent the district in circuit court, alleging that a conflict of interest exists since Michael's legal fees are tied to the completion of the regional project.

The PSD took up questions of Michael's contract in executive session. At one point, Michael and Barkley were asked to step outside while board members continued their discussion. Following their closed talks, the board voted unanimously to keep Michael as their counsel, saying they saw no conflict of interest.

Board members also voted unanimously to extend its line of credit for the project with Pendleton Community Bank, on which the PSD currently has a balance of about $177,000. The extension is for one year.

Michael and the PSD anticipate paying that off with part of the first phase of funding from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council totaling $2.5 million. The IJDC has pledged a total of $9.5 million toward the project.

The $2.5 million installment is awaiting approval from the state's Public Service Commission.

Once the PSC approves the funding, some of it will be used for additional design work that has been requested by the Department of Environmental Protection, Michael said in an e-mail after the meeting. The DEP is requiring the PSD to add a cooling system to the proposed treatment facility to keep the treated discharge from raising the temperature of the upper Elk River and to limit the plant's impact on the trout population of the Big Spring Fork.

Michael said the money will also be used to design the proposed relocation of the outlet from the Big Spring area and to explore at least one alternate treatment plant location.

"Once this work is complete, the PSD board will decide on the next steps," Michael said.

Michael noted that the pending legal challenges to the project have the potential to delay its progress.

Correction: The October 18 story PSD attorney's contract challenged stated that PSD attorney Tom Michael was being paid $194,000 for services rendered so far, based on a funding application filed with the IJDC. Michael will actually receive $90,000-$100,000 for the work he has done to this point. The remaining balance is budgeted for Michael's further work on the regional sewage project.