Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Pocahontas County Commission meeting began promptly at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday with the Pledge of Allegiance.

After considering routine matters, the commission turned its attention to time for Hear Callers/Public Input.

Dunmore resident Amy Scott read a statement outlining her many concerns regarding the Pocahontas County leg of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and whether or not it will truly be in the best interests of county residents. 

Scott summarized her remarks by asking the commissioners not to support the ACP. 

While residents are welcome to express their opinion and concerns during the Hear Callers/Public Input portion of the meeting, the commission listens but takes no action with regard to the information presented there.

First on the day’s agenda was Pocahontas County Magistrate Cynthia Broce who asked the commission to sponsor a grant application for funding from the 2017 West Virginia Court Security Grant. The funds are being made available by the West Virginia Supreme Court to county courthouses across the state in need of revenue to upgrade their security. 

Broce explained that Sheriff Jeff Barlow and Joe Clendenin have both concluded that the security system at the courthouse needs an overhaul, at an estimated cost of $50,000.

Counsel Bob Martin advised that this grant application is for an “outright grant,” meaning no matching funds would be required from the county.

If the grant application is approved, it would require a project director to be assigned to administer the security upgrade process.

McLaughlin made a motion that the commission sponsor the grant application and that commission president Bill Beard be designated as project director.

Rachel Fanning, of Slaty Fork, appeared before the commission to report that several members of the community who belong to Pocahontas Indivisible, recently travelled to Charleston to meet with representatives regarding the ACP and other issues of interest to the county. 

During those meetings, the suggestion was made by the group that the state should consider creating an emergency fund for West Virginia counties which are traversed by pipelines. 

The idea was met with interest by several of our representatives, Fanning said. 

“As an affected landowner, I was thrilled to receive your letter stating that the commission does not support the ACP’s revised route,” Fanning told the commission. “But being realistic about the chances of the pipeline going through Pocahontas County with or without our support, I am working with several people on drafting legislation that would put in place a state supported clean-up fund, in case of any accidents down the road.”

McLaughlin agreed that this was a concern for many people in the county.

“This would be like a rainy day fund for pipeline accidents and I would push for Dominion to put up the money for this fund,” McLaughlin said.

Martin said that he didn’t want to “throw cold water on the idea,” but that drafting and getting the votes for such legislation would be an extremely complicated process. 

“Although getting this fund may never happen, I agree that at least we should try,” Beard said. “I think there should be a tax on the gas company imposed by the state to put the money into the kitty for this type of emergency fund. 

“If we could get the funding and the legislation for it, it would be a good thing.”

Commissioner Groseclose agreed that the effort sounded like a “good idea.”

Fanning said a letter of support is not necessary right now, but asked if she might come back and ask for one at a later date. 

The commissioners assured her that they would be in favor of drafting such a letter should it be helpful later in the process. 

Next to address the commission was Roger Griffith of the New River Community and Technical College, gave an update on the One Room University.

Griffith told the commission that the One Room University has been in existence for six years and was initiated as an endeavor “to bring education to people.” 

After an initial two-year pilot project, it was determined that there was sufficient need in Pocahontas County for the One Room University. Griffith said that the ORU has never been operated as a for-profit center. 

Since 2012, the program has graduated 23 students with associate degrees or certificates. 

There are currently 29 students who are enrolled in 151 courses provided by New River Community and Technical College for the 2017- 2018 academic year, 19 of whom will be continuing toward their degrees in the fall of 2017.

“Many of our students are working adults who want to further their education,” Griffith said.

Elaine Diller, local administrator of the program, said, “we have students in our nursing program, returning students, working students and even some students in their 50s. It’s never too late add to one’s education.”

Griffith added that the ORU offers a paramedic certification course, continuing education credits, EMS courses and even a course in probate law tailored to the needs of county clerks. 

Many questions were asked and answered during the extensive presentation, after which, commission president Beard spoke in favor of the ORU. 

“I have been a supporter of the ORU since the beginning,” Beard said. “Education is the backbone of any community, and I am in full support of community college. I feel that the money we spend on this program is justifiable and from what we see here, it’s doing well for the community.”

Beard concluded the discussion by saying that “as long as there is money in the budget, we will be in support of the One Room University, and we certainly appreciate all that you do.”

Next on the agenda was the an update on the formation of the Pocahontas County Bi-Centennial Commission. This commission will begin to plan for the county’s 200th birthday celebration which begins December 2021. An official proposal was presented to the county commission by Convention and Visitors Bureau director Cara Rose. 

Rose asked that the following members be appointed to serve on the Bi-Centennial Commission:

Bill McNeel- Pocahontas County Historical Society; Cara Rose and Chelsea Walker- CVB; Lauren Bennett- Parks and Recreation; Ruth Taylor- Dramas, Fairs and Festivals; Bob Sheets- Educator, Community Representative; Jaynell Graham- Community Representative; Bill Jordan- Chamber of Commerce; Michael Holstine- Community Representative; Judith Fuller- Community Representative, and one County Commissioner recommended.

The commission added Groseclose as its representative as his term extends through that time period.

During the discussion of the formation of the Bi-Centennial Commission, Bob Sheets, known for bringing fascinating “show and tell” items of historical note, read excerpts of bi-centennial interest from a letter written in Colonel J. Howe Peyton in 1823 and published in a family history book entitled, “A Blackhurst Comes to Burner Land.”

Colonel Peyton was the first Virginia Commonwealth’s attorney for Pocahontas County. The excerpts which Sheets read were from Peyton’s diary, written during his first visit to Pocahontas County for the first term of “Superior Court” at the county seat of Huntersville. 

For your reading pleasure, we offer these few quotes: 

“Pocahontas, 1823. On Tuesday at 2 o’clock we arrived at Huntersville, the seat of justice of Pocahontas County – a place as much out of the world as Crim Tartary (a reference to the Crimea). The so-called town of Huntersville consists of two illy-constructed, time worn (though it is not time that has worn them) cabins built on logs covered with clapboards…

“One of these wretched hovels is the residence of John Bradshaw… where there is a large fireplace, which is an ingenious contrivance for letting all the warmth escape through the chimney, while most of the smoke is driven back into the chamber. In the chimney corner I prepared my legal papers before a roaring fire, surrounded by rough mountaineers, who were drinking whiskey and as night advanced, growing riotous.”

The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, March 21, at 5:30 p.m.

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