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BOE debates state forest right-of-way request

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting Monday evening, the board returned to a previous discussion concerning the Seneca State Forest request to construct a right-of-way on board land near Pocahontas County High School.

The proposed right-of-way would give the state forest better access to the Michael Mountain area.

West Virginia Division of Forestry representative Zachary Collins shared the plan with the board and explained the purpose of the right-of-way.

“We just want to gain right-of-way access across the property there,” Collins said. “It’s approximately seven hundred feet. In exchange, we would put gates either on the county road there and on the property line or both, if you would like that. It would be up to you. We would maintain the road and the signage. It would just be for us or contractors going through there to get onto our property.”

Collins added that the right-of-way would be accessible to the forestry classes to use to access the state forest if so desired.

“We plan on constructing a three mile road across the mountain, and it would allow them to get to different sites because different sites grow different kinds of thees,” he said. “They could look at creek crossings and stuff like that.”

The forest has limited access to that area with only steep roads leading up the mountain. With this right-of-way, Collins said it would give the forest an easier route to the mountain in case of emergency or other situations.

“There are trails through there, and there’s no way to get to them if somebody got hurt,” he said. “We’re looking to put in wildlife plots for hunters, so they can hike to those plots, and we’re going to plan on harvesting some timber out through there.”

The board stated that it understood the need for the right-of-way, but there were some concerns with how accessible the area will be during school hours.

“One of my main concerns is you’re not going to be able to keep hunters out of there,” board member Justin Dilley said. “They’re going to have an easy road to get on top of Michael. Unless somebody is sitting up there patrolling that, they’re going in there.”

Dilley added that he is also concerned about the wording of the contract, which states it will be an easement and not a right-of-way, and that it is a permanent easement.

“Maybe I would be a little more open if this was a temporary thing,” he said.

Dilley said he spoke with forestry teacher Scott Garber who said the right-of-way might be more of a hindrance than a help to the forestry classes. Garber was unable to attend the meeting due to basketball practice.

“Mr. Garber had some of the same concerns – where the right-of-way is going to be going. They have a lot of timber in that area that they use for their class and to clear some of that out to make your right-of-way – especially if you end up using all that width – you’re going to be taking some of their trees that they use for their class.”

PCHS principal Joe Riley spoke on Garber’s behalf and agreed that Garber said he would like to have more information about the logistics of the right-of-way before the plan was set in motion.

Collins said that the easement was written as it is to give the board an idea of what the forest wants, but added it is open for changes to the board’s satisfaction.

“We gave that to you as a thing that if you want to change anything on that – if you want to knock it down to twenty-five feet – we’re willing to work with you on that,” he said.

With all the paperwork and preparation the forest has to go through to get the right-of-way in motion will take time, so Collins said there is no rush in making changes.

“It would be two years down the road before this project got underway, give or take,” Collins added.

Sharing his personal views, Dilley reiterated that he is still uncomfortable with the plan as it is now.

“If I’m being a hundred percent honest – my personal opinion – I’m not really in favor of this, mainly because of what would be opening up that close to a school,” he said. “I know you said we could post it and all that, but I’m not for sure of the actual laws when it comes to a state right-of-way like that either. I don’t have a problem with logging or hunting or anything like that, but creating more of a flow of people through that area – especially during school time – is a little bit of a concern.”

The board discussed the issue and decided not to vote on the right-of-way at this time. The board asked Collins to meet with Garber after basketball season is over to discuss the logistics.

Collins said he did not have a problem with that and will get in contact with Garber and will return to discuss the issue with the board at its request.

In updates:

• Superintendent Terrence Beam reported that there is concern in regard to students waiting for buses in cold and dreary weather at Marlinton Elementary School. He said he is looking into having a shelter built to give the students a better place to wait.

Beam added that he was contacted by the Marlinton Post Office which said the front lobby will be locked in the mornings due to some damage caused to the windows. The postmaster told him the students who currently wait for the bus in the lobby will no longer be able to wait inside.

The board recalled that MES parent J. L. Clifton mentioned a plan for a shelter at the LSIC meeting held early this school year at the school. Beam said he would get in contact with Clifton to see if he has made progress on the plans.

• Student representative Jarod Liptrap joined the board for his first meeting of the semester. Liptrap said he did not have much to report, but did say the student section at a recent boys’ basketball tournament received an award for being the Most Outstanding Cheering Section at the tournament. The students will receive $500 for the school for showing school spirit and good sportsmanship.

Liptrap added that the band will attend ratings on March 28.

In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:

• Megan Luikart as volunteer cheerleading coach at Hillsboro Elementary School for the 2018-2019 season.

In personnel management, the board approved the following:

• Unpaid medical leave of Sarah C. Brown as teacher of Title I at Hillsboro Elementary school, effective upon exhaustion of personal leave for up to six weeks.

• Unpaid medical leave of Laurel B. Dilley as teacher of mathematics at Pocahontas County High School, effective upon exhaustion of personal leave for up to six weeks.

• Requested transfer of Pam Bennett from custodian IV/sanitation operator at Pocahontas County High School to custodian III at Pocahontas County High School, effective January 9, for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year. Term of employment is 110, in addition to days already worked during the 2018-2019 school year. Term of employment shall be 200 days each year thereafter.

The next board meeting will be Monday, January 28, at 6 p.m. in the board of education conference room.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted

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