East Fork Industrial Park in Frank continues to be a financial drain on Pocahontas County. The county acquired the property in 1994 following the closure of Howes Tannery, hoping to generate economic development at the site. Along with the property, Howes transferred $250,000 to the county. Since then, the county has spent more than $700,000 to clean up the site.
Prior to June 1997, the county spent more than $300,000 for demolition, debris removal and environmental work. In 2001, the county commission paid $400,000 for sludge removal and construction of a clay-lined sludge pit. In July 2012, the county paid nearly $18,000 for asbestos removal from buildings on the site.
During its August 7 meeting, the County Commission added to the list of East Fork expenditures by approving a $13,000 outlay to demolish above-ground tanks at the site.
The environmental catastrophe on the Elk River in January forced state legislators to improve monitoring of above ground storage tanks. A new law took effect in June, requiring DEP registration of all above-ground tanks holding 1,320 gallons or more. Owners have until October 1 to register tanks with the DEP.
East Fork Industrial Park Coordinator John Simmons told the Commission last month that registration of the tanks, would incur annual DEP inspections and engineer fees. The coordinator recommended that the tanks be destroyed, rather than registered.
“My idea is to get every tank and every container, you might say, on that property to the point where you do not have to declare any of them as tanks,” he said.
The tanks are part of the old tannery’s wastewater treatment plant. During Thursday’s meeting, Simmons, a former assistant superintendent at Howes Leather, presented a proposal from Warner Trucking and Construction to demolish the tanks for $13,000. Under the proposal, the tanks would be rendered incapable of holding liquids, but not completely destroyed.
“The outer wall on it is 16 inches thick,” said Simmons. “When you walk upstairs and look down, those are tanks in there. There were no drains put in them because Howes pumped the effluent from the tannery, about 200,000 gallons a day. That was sort of an experimental thing because, when it was built, about 1980, nobody could come up with a good plan to treat tannery effluent, because it’s got oil and grease, and that type of thing is very hard to treat.”
The Commission unanimously approved the $13,000 outlay, contingent on DEP approval of Simmons’ plan to render the tanks unserviceable. Simmons recommended that the Commission seek reimbursement from the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation.
Commission considers contributions to various groups
The Commission considered contributions to five groups and approved four at requested levels.
The Commission approved a $5,000 contribution to the Pocahontas County Arts Council. After approving the contribution, commissioners recalled that the Arts Council receives a portion of the county’s hotel occupancy tax – which will provide more than $30,000 to the group this year.
“On the contributions, we shouldn’t be giving them more if they’re already financed,” said Commissioner Jamie Walker.
“Well, I went to the checklist and it didn’t cross my mind,” said Commissioner David Fleming.
“That’s not in the criteria,” said Commission Assistant Sue Helton. “So, when they called to ask to be put on [the agenda], I put them on there because that is not one of the guidelines.”
The Commission also approved contributions of $5,000 to the Family Refuge Center and the Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition. The Commission took no action on a $1,000 request from the Mountain Resource Conservation and Development Area because no group representative was present.
The Commission considered and approved a $1,500 request from the One Room University (ORU) to fund a tutoring program.
Walker objected, stating that New River Technical and Community College (NRCTC) had not provided adequate information on ORU finances and when ORU would become a self-sufficient program.
“To this date, to my knowledge, we’ve got no answer as to how much money was made, how much money was spent, how much money was needed, how many kids will make it successful or how many kids will make it fail,” he said. “Until I see some figures, I’m done giving money to an entity out of our county.”
Commissioner William Beard explained why he supported the request.
“I feel like it’s a benefit to a lot of students,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of those students. It’s a big part in their lives to get started. If we can help tutor a few to get through those classes they need, so they can get enrolled in college, I think it’s very important that we support that idea.”
Resort area district update
The Commission received a letter from accountant Michael Griffith, certifying the results of a vote to create a resort area district (RAD) at Snowshoe. Griffith reported that 459 votes opposing the RAD had been received, just 11 votes short of the 460 needed to block the process for one year. Only Snowshoe property owners were allowed to vote.
During a two-month RAD voting process, Snowshoe Mountain CEO Frank DeBerry said he had reviewed ballots for voter qualifications. The Commission received a letter from Elkins attorney David Sims, representing a group of Snowshoe property owners, asking why DeBerry had been allowed to review votes prior to the accountant’s certification.
The Commission will consider and act on Snowshoe Mountain’s petition to create a RAD during its meeting on August 19.
Fleming proposed a letter to Governor Tomblin in support of continued state funding of the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council (WVBDC). Fleming read a letter he had drafted.
“The Broadband Deployment Council levels the playing field for rural communities struggling with inadequate broadband,” he read. “If the Broadband Council is allowed to sunset at the end of 2014, there will be no champion of local, competitive broadband for West Virginia’s rural communities.”
The Commission unanimously approved sending the letter.
In other business, the Commission:
– Appointed Jenny Friel to the Board of Health;
– Approved changing the name of Windsor Park Lane to River Lane;
– Approved an agreement with the Board of Education for the placement of an emergency generator at Marlinton Middle School and;
– Took no action on office space for the Water Resources Task Force.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for August 19 at 5:30 p.m. In addition to the RAD issue, a Dominion Energy briefing on a proposed natural gas pipeline in northern Pocahontas County is on the Commission’s agenda.