Commission hears from the past, present and future

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

Tuesday’s Pocahontas County Commission meeting began right on time with an interesting and varied agenda.

Commissioner David McLaughlin reported that the ad seeking a Water Task Force administrator had elicited 10 applicants, two of whom were due to be interviewed this week. 

After addressing routine business, the commission got down to the work of the day, and, first up, they approved a request from Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire Department for a letter of support with regard to relocating its fire station to the former Sheets Garage building in Green Bank.

Jason Bauserman of The Pocahontas County Historical Landmarks Commission came before the commission to submit the group’s 2016 financial report and its proposed budget for 2017.

Bauserman explained that the Landmarks Commission has committed to several important projects this year:

1. Durbin signage project to identify buildings of historical significance to encourage tourists to explore more of Durbin and providing signage after the completion of the railroad tracks between Cass and Durbin- which is expected to be completed this year

2. Continuing archaeological work at Fort Warwick

3. Work on the Hunters-ville jail

Bauserman also mentioned the Civil War Trust Fund project next to Traveller’s Repose at the intersection of Rt. 28 and Rt.92 in Bartow and one of the dishes formerly used by the Green Bank Observatory, which will be developed as another historical site.

Bob Sheets, also on the Landmarks Commission, addressed the meeting regarding the ongoing archaeological dig at Fort Warwick and acknowledged the support of the county commission and the generous donations to the effort by the Durbin Lions Club and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

A 10-day-to-two week dig is scheduled for the spring.

Sheets said he brought something special to show the commissioners. He pulled something out of his pocket, and offered a tiny artifact in the palm of his hand for everyone to see. 

“I’m holding one of the most significant finds we have ever unearthed at Fort Warwick,” Sheets said with pride. The tiny “intaglio” or impression is of the image of King George III. It must have been removed from an officer’s watch fob and was lost to the centuries here in the earth of Fort Warwick.

Sheets explained that 125 men gathered at the fort before the battle of Point Pleasant. 

“This battle was a pre-curser to the American Revolutionary War,” Sheets said. “It was the first battle with American militia being led, not by British officers, but by American officers.

“Their success allowed the extension of the boundaries of the colony of Virginia and gave the Americans confidence in their ability to organize and direct a powerful fighting force without the aid of the British. Many historians say this was the first step toward the colonists having the confidence to eventually mount a revolution. The history of Fort Warwick is bound up with this important pre-Revolutionary War history.” 

Sheets told the commissioners that the Landmarks Commission plans to have about 300 middle and high school students come through the site this year to give them some experience at an archaeological dig. He also said that the commission would be producing a pamphlet about Fort Warwick. 

Bauserman concluded the presentation by saying that the Landmarks Commission is proud to be “literally unearthing the history of Pocahontas County and sharing it with all the people of the county.”

As part of the events of the day, the commission appointed Ruth Taylor to the Historic Landmarks Commission for a five-year term, ending June 20, 2021.

Moving from the past to the present and future, Dominion Resources Government Affairs Representative Bob Orndorff reviewed the history of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project and gave an in-depth presentation of the project, which has been in the works since 2015. 

He focused his remarks on the benefits from the pipeline that he said would accrue to the taxpayers of Pocahontas County. 

The proposed project would construct a 42″ diameter pipeline 28 miles through 42 tracts of land in the county. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in its December 30 draft environment impact statement established a 90-day comment period, to elicit public input. The comment period ends April 6, 2017. 

On March 2, 2017, FERC will hold a Scoping Meeting at the Wellness Center in Marlinton from 5 to 9 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend and ask questions. 

When the current comment period ends on April 6, FERC will issue its final impact statement about the project. 

Orndorff stated that Dominion hopes to get the necessary certificate to begin construction “sometime late summer or early this fall.”

He explained that property owners who negotiate a sale of their property to Dominion will receive a one-time payment as compensation for their crop losses, timber losses and/or the value of their land. The right-of-way property in which the pipeline will be built will still belong to the landowner, who will continue to pay property taxes on it. Personal property taxes assessed on the pipeline itself will be paid by Dominion. 

Orndorff stated that although the commission had previously sent a letter of support for the project, given that there is now a new commissioner, he asked the commissioners to write another letter to FERC in support for the pipeline project. 

Beard asked if anyone in attendance wished to ask any questions or make any remarks. 

Doug Bernier, of Marlinton, responded and read a statement which stressed the potential negative consequences that the pipeline could have on the people and the environment of Pocahontas County. 

“Pocahontas County is a very special place and I hate to see a threat to our farmers, our air or our water.” Bernier said. “This pipeline could create irreparable harm to our water and if even one spring is ruined, it’s one spring too many. I also believe that it is wrong to use eminent domain to condemn any private property to seize right-of-way. We have a long history here in West Virginia of our people having to leave here to make a living due to the boom and bust cycle caused by these extractive industries. This pipeline does not benefit the people of Pocahontas County in the long run.”

John Leyzorek, of Marlinton, expressed his opinion that the gas being transported through the pipeline will be sold to foreign markets and will not be used here in the United States and certainly not here in Pocahontas County. 

He stated that he foresees “economic destruction and diminished property values as a result of allowing this pipeline to be constructed in our county.” 

“The voters elected a new commissioner,” Leyzorek said, “…someone who has publicly stated that he is opposed to the use of eminent domain. Dominion has admitted that they will use eminent domain to secure the property of owners who will not negotiate with them. Therefore, I am asking the commission to write a letter in opposition to the pipeline.”

Groseclose responded to the speaker, saying, “I’m not in favor of eminent domain. I know Dominion has already written checks to some landowners…”

Orndorff said Dominion attempts to avoid using eminent domain, “but I can’t tell you that we won’t use it as a last resort.”

Groseclose said it would be hard for him to sign a letter of support.

The commission took no action on the matter, but moved on to the next item on the agenda and recognized Mary Dawson, speaking on behalf of the Watoga State Park Foundation, and bringing before the commission a request for funding. 

“Our most important issue is saving the swimming pool at Watoga,” Dawson said. “The DNR has closed several other pools because of the insufficiency of attendance to support their expenses, and Watoga was on that list, but they gave us another chance. 

“We want to install solar panels to heat the pool and a cover to retain the heat at night when temperatures drop. Research tells us that another draw to the pool would be water slides. We want to build two slides and add poolside games for the kids.”

Dawson said the Foundation has determined that these improvements will cost $7,000 and they delivered their budget to the commissioners for review. 

“We are asking for $5,000 from the county commission to help with this project. We know that these improvements will generate more people coming to Watoga and staying in the cabins and therefore, more revenue for the county. 

“Watoga is the only pool in the area. If we heat the pool, kids will be able to enjoy their swimming lessons and Parks and Rec says they will use it for water aerobics classes.”

Mike Gray, another WSPF member said “our goal is to bring people from around our county and around our region to enjoy all that Watoga has to offer. We feel sure that Watoga can continue to make an impact on tourism in the county and with a heated pool, it can be an even greater draw.”

Sarah Riley presented an update on the AmeriCorps program being administered through High Rocks. She told commissioners that more than 100 AmeriCorps members have come through their program and the impact these AmeriCorps members have had in enriching the county has been great. 

After some further details about the program and their local partnering agencies and organizations, Riley asked the commission for $5,000 to continue their work.

Bob Must, president of the Yew Mountain Center board of directors, was the next speaker, coming before the commissioners to ask for financial help with 500 acre, non-profit facility. 

“We are a 501C educational and recreational facility for Pocahontas County and beyond,” Must said. “All of our board members are local residents. We did find a conservation buyer, Lobelia LLC, who purchased the property and they are leasing the property to us.

“Our plan is to offer field trips to students at no cost and regular seminars in topics like ornithology, beekeeping, local crafts, etc. which will be marketed to urban areas. We envision people coming here to enjoy the beauty of our county and these educational opportunities – they will pay for lodging and meals and thereby contribute to the local economy.”

He added that between November 5 (when the Yew Mountain Center was officially established) and December 31, 2016, the board had raised $25,000, but their projected 2016 budget is $44,000. 

They are seeking grants but they are asking the commission for $5,000 to cover the cost of utilities. The board intends that the facility will be self-sustaining by the year 2019.

After ascertaining what discretionary expenses were left in the budget, and a brief consultation amongst themselves, the commissioners were ready to appropriate funds to the three entities.

“I’m at  $4,000 for Watoga and $3,000 for the other two,” McLaughlin said. “Watoga is very important to the county and will generate money for the county. High Rocks is also important and so is the Yew Mountain Center.”

The other commissioners agreed and approved the funding amounts as presented by McLaughlin.

The meeting was adjourned and the commission went into executive session.

The next regularly scheduled commission meeting will be Tuesday, February 21, at 5:30 p.m.

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