Board of Education president Emery Grimes appeared before the Pocahontas County Commission on Tuesday, September 15, in regard to the Green Bank Industrial Park property.
The property, which was acquired by the Board of Education in the 1970s, was the potential site for a new high school before it was conveyed to the Commission for $1 under the condition that the property be used for economic development purposes.
In an earlier commission meeting, John Fitzgerald, of Cass, had appeared before the commission with a request to lease the property for the purpose of growing hay. However, the “economic development” deed restriction prevented the request from coming to life.
Fitzgerald returned in February with a request that the Commission work with the Board of Education to remove the restriction. While no action was taken concerning the restriction, the commission did state their intention to seek legal advice on what could be done with the Green Bank property.
“This Green Bank property has become a hornet’s nest,” Grimes said. “It really has. Looking at this in the past, it was intended to put businesses in the upper end of the county – to build an industrial park up there. So far, you have one business on that property that employs probably forty-some people. If we leave it an industrial park, will we get more?”
He went on to state that, rather than seeing the property go to the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Authority, he would rather the property be given back to the Board of Education.
“There’s some reasons for that,” Grimes explained. “[Greenbrier Valley] built a building up on the hill at Edray that’s been sitting for seven years, and it’s probably going to sit there for fifteen more. Nobody’s ever going to get in for twenty years because the state and federal government will not release the liens.”
Grimes was not the only Pocahontas County resident to speak on the matter.
Mike O’Brien, of Green Bank, spoke on the behalf of Jacob and Melinda Meck.
“Whenever Mr. James Carpenter was president of county commission, he took a chance on a young couple at Green Bank,” he explained, “and gave them three acres. At the time they moved up there, there were eight employees. Right at the moment, there are twenty-two well-paying positions. With twenty-two positions, we do not have enough property to hardly park our employees’ vehicles on, much less the equipment we have.”
O’Brien went on to detail a proposal that had been presented to the commission a few years earlier. The proposal, which included nine acres on the backside of the property and to the south, was kicked around but never received a definitive answer.
“I would like you to, at least, consider keeping nine acres out, turning it over to the Greenbrier Economic Development board and letting Jacob Meck lease it and maintain those twenty-two jobs in Green Bank,” O’Brien urged. “I think it’s good for the county. If we don’t get this property or some property somewhere close, we’re going to be losing jobs. We’ll have to move part of the operation somewhere else.”
Fitzgerald was in attendance and commented on the issue, as well.
“I feel that it should go back to the Board of Education,” he said, “and the agreements that Mr. Meck or somebody would get some use out of it because it would be up to them, and they wouldn’t have the stipulations. They could put on any stipulations they wanted to on it.”
Fitzgerald went on to state that he would like to see Meck, as well as other Pocahontas County business owners, continue to make use of the park.
“We aren’t in a big rush to decide anything tonight,” Commission president Bill Beard explained. “We were just throwing this out on the table. Our problem is, as a commission, we can’t sell the property. That’s one reason we were talking and discussing it with the board. They have a lot more authority, as far as the land, than the commission does.
“The Meck have done a wonderful job in that area, and we want to support them or any other business that could be put there. We were just looking for an alternative way of maybe turning it over, selling it or transferring it for the best interest of the county and the jobs that could be provided.”
Beard went on to reaffirm that the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue at hand.
“Mr. Martin has done some research on what we can do and what we can’t,” he added. “We want the Board of Education’s input into it because we know their concerns, too. They have a tough budget – one that’s even worse than what we, as commissioners, have.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker commented on the matter, as well.
“From what I’ve gathered from what everybody’s said, I think it will be a benefit to keep [the property] in the county,” he said. “I’ve always said that. Unfortunately, our hands have been tied. Whether it’s jobs, farming or whatever, there’s always complaints, restrictions and problems with it.
“I think the Board of Education retaining ownership of it would relieve a lot of that and put it back to not nearly as many guidelines, restrictions and hoops to jump through. They could lease it, sell it, keep it – whatever they decide to do with it. I’m all in favor with deeding it back over to them and letting them hopefully work with Johnny, Mr. Meck and whoever else would be interested in it.”
In the end, the commission voted to move forward with a proposal to transfer the Green Bank Industrial Park property to the Board of Education and directed commission attorney Bob Martin to meet with the Board of Education to discuss the proposal.
“For those who don’t understand, the county commission has made the motion to give [the property] to the Board of Education,” explained Grimes, “and it’s like the generator deal that Jamie and I worked so hard on. It’ll be put on the [Board of Education] agenda, and then our five-member board will vote whether to accept it or not. As long as there’s a 3-2 vote, we can accept the property.”
In other news:
- The commission approved Gene Tracy as a part-time 911 Mapping and Addressing Coordinator and as a part-time 911 Dispatcher, effective October 1; approved Bridget Shaw as a part-time 911 Dispatcher, effective October 1, contingent upon a six-month probationary period; and approved the purchase of a Generac 22kw generator for the 911 Center from D.C. Construction for a price of $8,005.98
- Tammie Alderman appeared before the commission to present the monthly update on the Pocahontas County Day Report Center.
- The commission awarded Laura Combs $3,000 in response to a wage claim.
- Mark Mitchell was approved to finish extra jail repairs for a total of $2,946; to be taken out of the Bricks and Mortar Fund.
- The commission instructed Martin to compose a letter to Mayor Sam Felton, asking that the wood chips be removed from the former shoe factory parking lot by October 1.
- No action was taken regarding a support request from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food until more information could be gathered.
- The commission instructed Martin to compose a letter to Don Tate, asking that the Fas Check Supermarket coolers and equipment be removed from the former shoe factory by November 1.
- The commission appointed Mike Holstine as the Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory representative for an unexpired two year term, ending September 30, 2016. Herby Barlow was appointed as the West Virginia State Police – Marlinton Detachment representative for a three year term, expiring September 30, 2018.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 6, at 8:30 a.m.