Commission president misses meeting due to heart attack
Pocahontas County Commission president David Fleming wasn’t present at the first commission meeting in November. As the commission meeting began Tuesday morning, it was announced that Fleming had suffered a heart attack while in Florida. Commission assistant Sue Helton said he is recovering after having surgery to insert two stents into his heart and should be on his way home soon.
With Fleming gone Commissioner Bill Beard agreed to act as president pro tem in Fleming’s absence. Beard had his hands full with contribution requests, a dispute over a street name and a request for the commission to take a more proactive stand in opposition to the Birthplace of Rivers national monument proposal among other issues.
Four organizations sought contributions from the commission in this second of four contribution request meetings that are spread out over the entire fiscal year; the Pocahontas County Little League, Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity (AHHH), Linwood Alive/Pocahontas County Farmers Market and Pocahontas County High School. Only the Habitat for Humanity group was successful in securing funding from the commissioners.
Judith Fuller, speaking on behalf of AHHH, presented a request for $10,000 for materials and labor needed to complete the interiors of the three houses built by the group in Durbin this past summer.
“We need cabinets, trim, flooring, appliances and other finishing items to be able to get those families into their homes by the end of the year,” Fuller said. “On the surface it may appear that these homes only serve a singular family; however the process engages hundreds of other residents during the process of construction including the vocational class at the high school, church groups, building professionals, community leaders and residents.”
All three homes were “blitz” builds, meaning that the framing and outside shell of each house was completed in just one week. The motion made by Commissioner Jamie Walker to grant the $10,000 request was approved.
Terry White with Linwood Alive spoke to the commissioners about a proposal to build a community use pavilion. Linwood Alive is a collaboration between non-profit groups in the Linwood area near Snowshoe Mountain Resort. The group has played host to the county Parks and Recreation children’s programs and this past summer worked closely with the Pocahontas Farmers Market, hosting a three and a half hour market near the Linwood library every Friday for 22 weeks – sometimes under adverse weather conditions. The pavilion would not only provide shelter for the farmers market, but also create a community space that could be used by a number of groups.
White said they have applied for federal non-profit status, but have no estimate on when that status may be granted. And therein lies the problem – the county commission can only make contributions to non- profit organizations. Tolly Peuleche, former president of the Pocahontas Farmers Market said they do have “provisional” approval of non-profit status, but even hat was not enough to persuade the commissioners to finalize a contribution, even though both Beard and Walker indicated that they do support the project. There’s also the question of an agreement with Snowshoe for land to house the pavilion. Commissioner Walker suggested that this be added to the next commission meeting to give the two groups time to either verify their non-profit status or find a group who already has that status in order to funnel the funding through them.
Morgan McComb’s request for funding to help build restroom facilities at the high school baseball field was also postponed until the next meeting, when he failed to provide proof of non-profit status and a detailed materials list. McComb said he was only passing on the information provided to him by the high school, but will come to the next commission meeting with the required documents. No one was available to speak on behalf of the Pocahontas County Little League.
Street name change
Charles O’Neill, a resident of Huntington who is building a home in Pocahontas County, is not happy with the 911 address name of his street – Schoolcraft Lane – and wants the county to change it. The name of the road comes from the surname of Kenneth Schoolcraft, who also resides on the same street. Schoolcraft said when he contacted the 911 center to ask about his physical address under the new mapping and addressing, he was told they didn’t have a name for his road. Unaware that using surnames for road names is discouraged, Schoolcraft agreed to let 911 name the road after him. County emergency services director Shawn Dunbrack agreed it was not handled properly.
“Well, I have to agree that it was done improperly,” he said. “Unfortunately I was out of town at the time that this all came up, so that’s probably why Mr. Schoolcraft wasn’t aware of the policy. He talked to some of my staff about it and that was not fair, so I’ll take the blame for this being done improperly.”
O’Neill complained that the name was created with no input from him or other residents of the road. Schoolcraft said he has already gone through the arduous process of changing his address information on all of his correspondence and has no desire to do so again. Additionally, per the commission’s own policy, for any road with 10 or less residents, the commission can’t change the road name unless all residents are agreement, which is not the case in this situation. Commissioner Walker asked prosecuting attorney Eugene Simmons to look into the legality of the situation for the next meeting.
Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
Although the Commissioners at first supported the monument proposal, they officially rescinded a motion in support of the monument in early 2012 and passed a motion opposing the creation of any such monument in the county. They have subsequently reinforced this viewpoint whenever it came up in the course of a commission meeting. Russell Holt believes that’s not enough – he wants the commission to hire an advocate who would take that message to whoever will listen.
The commission room was filled to overflowing as this discussion played out over the course of nearly two and a half hours. It appears that a majority of residents of Pocahontas County feel as the commission does; adamantly opposed to the monument, fearing that such a designation would restrict hunting and other outdoor activities in the county. Supporters of the monument appear to be primarily those who live outside of the county, with some notable exceptions.
Jerod Harman, president of the West Virginia Wildlife Federation said his group is one of those exceptions, as demonstrated in this excerpt of letter submitted to the commissioners Tuesday.
“The West Virginia Wildlife Federation is strongly opposed and rejects the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument on the Monongahela National Forest,” he read. “The proposal is a real and present danger to every hunter, trapper and sportsman of the state. The Birthplace of Rivers National Monument is completely unnecessary; the land…in Cranberry Glades wilderness area is completely protected under current Mon National Forest Management.”
Harman goes on to point out that the designation could also restrict efforts to protect and manage the trout streams so prized in the county. He said his organization is supported by many other smaller wildlife and outdoors groups in the state who also share his opposition to the monument.
Allen Johnson, one of the few voices not directly speaking out against the monument proposal, asked the commissioners to do their own research, including speaking to other government and outdoors enthusiasts in states out west where national monuments have already been established. He said he also sees this discussion as an opportunity to start a conversation about a much larger issue, the economic and social future of the county itself.
Commissioner Walker said they would like to have input from other counties also included, albeit with much less acreage, in the proposed monument area. Mark Mengele, Doug Cooper and Holt, all opponents of the monument, nonetheless agreed to speak with other county commissioners in Greenbrier, Nicholas, Randolph and Webster counties. The commissioners took no other action on hiring a representative to act as their advocate on this issue.
The next meeting of the Pocahontas County Commission will be Tuesday, November 19, at 5:30 p.m.