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Commission contributes to Green Bank Observatory

Pocahontas Memorial Hospital EMS Chief Travis Copenhaver speaks to the Pocahontas County Commission on November 18. Copenhaver discussed plans to deploy two rapid response paramedics in the county, who could arrive at an emergency scene faster than an ambulance. Copenhaver asked the Commission if two paramedic vehicles could be added under the county's liability insurance.
Pocahontas Memorial Hospital EMS Chief Travis Copenhaver speaks to the Pocahontas County Commission on November 18. Copenhaver discussed plans to deploy two rapid response paramedics in the county, who could arrive at an emergency scene faster than an ambulance. Copenhaver asked the Commission if two paramedic vehicles could be added under the county’s liability insurance.

As a result of funding changes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) facility in Green Bank, managers are marketing the facility to new potential investors. During the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on November 18, NRAO Green Bank Business Manager Mike Holstine requested a $5,000 contribution for a marketing effort to publicize the facility’s new name – the Green Bank Observatory – and generate interest in investment in the facility.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee recommended in 2012 that the NRAO Green Bank facility be defunded over a five year period. The lack of federal funding will result in a multi-million dollar deficit in the facility’s annual operating costs. Associated Universities, Inc., (AUI) manages the facility under contract with the NSF. The site management contract will be up for bid at the beginning of next year.

Holstine discussed the Observatory’s value to the community.

“The Observatory has been a proud member of the community for many years,” he said. “We’ve been privileged to be able to offer our facility to the county for events, emergency services, whatever’s needed up there in the northern end of the county. Unfortunately, the Commission is well aware that we are under a funding issue right now, with both the divestiture of Green Bank from the NSF portfolio and, at the same time, we’re undergoing a re-compete for management of the Observatory. All of the results that may occur, either way, for the health of the Observatory are going to come down to external funding.”

Holstine said a Commission contribution was needed to fund a re-branding of the facility.

“One of the things we’re working on, in order to obtain external funding for the site, is we’re actually going to change, not necessarily the official name, but the doing business name of NRAO in Green Bank to the Green Bank Observatory. We want to be associated directly with the county; we want to be associated directly with the state and we want to be associated with where we are in Green Bank.”

The business manager said the West Virginia Secretary of State had approved the new “doing business as” name for the facility.

“One of our goals is to develop a marketing kit, in order to put the Green Bank Observatory out there in the university arena and education arena and the private sector, for the purposes of finding external sources of funding to keep us alive,” he said. “I have been working on things like a logo for Green Bank Observatory; we’ve been working on a website; we’ve been working on descriptive information to give to people.”

Holstine said the NSF had forbidden the use of their funds, equipment and manhours to market the Green Bank Observatory project.

“We cannot use the government-owned computers at the observatory,” he said. “Any time I spend, doing this, has to be taken as vacation time. Unfortunately, I’m having to come to this Commission to ask for some help, as much as I hate to do that. The Observatory has been privileged in the past to be able to help the community. We’ve given nearly $400,000 to various organizations in Pocahontas County in the last 12 to 14 years.”

Commissioner William Beard supported Holstine’s request.

“My personal opinion is that we need to help out all we can,” said Beard. “I feel that the Observatory has been a benefit to the county for years. If the county can do something at this point to help, I think that we need to.”

Commissioner Jamie Walker concurred.

“I think the Observatory plays a big role in the county, in a lot of different aspects,” he said. “I’ve been up there to two or three of the meetings you all have held, for some of the sewer meetings we had, to some of the Internet meetings and different things that have gone on the past three or four years, some good, some not so good. When we had the power outage, I wasn’t up there, but I know the Observatory played a large role in that for awhile, from feeding people and delivering water and different things. So, I’m definitely in favor of doing it.”

Commissioner David Fleming was not present. The Commission requested that Holstine provide supporting documentation and agreed to consider the request during its meeting on December 2.

The Commission rejected the single bid received for the sale of a new vehicle for the Sheriff’s Department, because the bid did not conform to the advertised specifications. Safford Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Springfield (Virginia) submitted a bid of $29,898 for the vehicle, but the specifications from the Sheriff’s Department required a 60/40 folding back seat and an eight-way manual adjusting driver’s seat, which the vehicle did not have. The Commission agreed to check with the Sheriff’s Department on the vehicle specifications and re-advertise for bids.

Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services Chief Travis Copenhaver gave an update on a pilot project to provide rapid response paramedic teams in the county. Copenhaver said the concept is to have an on-call paramedic in both the northern and southern ends of the county, in order to provide rapid response to medical emergencies.

Emergency Management Services Director Shawn Dunbrack obtained a $29,000 grant to support the pilot project.

“This is something that the volunteers on the EMS Board have been working on for 20 years,” said Dunbrack. “This is something that volunteer squads want. This is not something that the hospital or Shawn Dunbrack is trying to force on anybody. They realize that they can’t make all the calls, because the call volume keeps going up. Volunteers are taxed more every day with their personal jobs, their personal lives, training and all that. They can’t handle the call volume that they’ve got. So, they realize the need for something to back them up. That’s where the program comes from.”

Copenhaver said the pilot program would acquire two vehicles, that would require county insurance coverage. Beard and Walker expressed support for the paramedic program and agreed to act on insurance coverage after the vehicles are acquired.

In other business, the Commission:
– Heard an update from Day Report Center Director Tammie Alderman;
– Approved a lease of space in the Hanover Building to the Pocahontas County Archery Team;
– Approved an expenditure of $3,600 for the purchase of window blinds for the second floor of the Courthouse;
– Hosted an employee meeting to discuss the employee dental and vision insurance plan.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for December 2 at 8:30 a.m.

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