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Commission investigating Green Bank Industrial Site

Cass resident John Fitzgerald talks to the Pocahontas County Commission about a proposed lease of land at the Green Bank Industrial Site. Fitzgerald said he wanted to lease 30 acres at the site for agricultural purposes. Pictured, left to right: Commissioners Jamie Walker, David McLaughlin and William Beard, Commission Assistant Sue Helton and Fitzgerald.
Cass resident John Fitzgerald talks to the Pocahontas County Commission about a proposed lease of land at the Green Bank Industrial Site. Fitzgerald said he wanted to lease 30 acres at the site for agricultural purposes. Pictured, left to right: Commissioners Jamie Walker, David McLaughlin and William Beard, Commission Assistant Sue Helton and Fitzgerald.

The County Commission will begin the new year with an investigation into possible uses of the mostly vacant, county-owned Green Bank Industrial Site. During its meeting Tuesday morning, the Commission agreed to have Prosecuting Attorney Eugene Simmons investigate allowable uses of the site. The Commission also will seek advice from the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC).

Commissioners decided they need more information after John Fitzgerald, of Cass, asked to lease 30 acres at the Green Bank site for growing hay and other crops. Fitzgerald presented a draft lease to the Commission during Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’ve watched this property for a long time, sitting vacant with no actions being taken on it,” said Fitzgerald. “So, we decided to try and lease it for agricultural purposes.”

Fitzerald said the parcel on which he wants to grow crops is directly across Route 92/28 from the Green Bank Senior Citizens Center.

Commission Assistant Sue Helton said the land had been acquired from the GVEDC with deed restrictions.

“This land is tied up, totally and completely tied up,” she said. “This land is to be used for economic development and industrial use and no other – absolutely no other. Plus, there is another issue with this land. We had studies done before and there’s a rare grass growing on that property. There’s a rare grass growing on that property that cannot be disturbed.”

Fitzgerald said a county-erected sign stood on the site, advertising it for industrial use.

“Why is the sign still up there that [late former Commission President] James Carpenter put up there years ago, and here we are with county property that can’t even be used to make hay?” he asked.

Commissioner Jamie Walker said he was unclear about the definition of economic development.

“Is that industrial business, is that commercial business, is that residential business, is that just a business that you’re selling something out of – what is considered economic development?” he asked. “What would be the difference if you were growing hay and selling it?”

Commissioner David McLaughlin gave his opinion on economic development.

“If it’s economic development, it has to involve employing a certain amount of people,” he said, “To give people employment – that’s what Jacob [Meck] did with his property. He employs 15 or 16 people. That’s how I see it.”

“I can see that side of it, and then I can also see the side of self-employment of your family,” replied Walker.

Fitzgerald said he planned to employ people in the future, if he was granted a lease.

Commission President Bill Beard advised getting legal advice on the issue.

“The best thing I can think of about that deed is that we need to get an attorney to look at it and clarify the things we can do,” he said.

The Commission agreed to have Simmons provide a legal opinion on the deed restrictions and to seek advice from the GVEDC. The Commission will reconsider Fitzgerald’s proposed lease during its meeting on February 3, after it has time to consult with the GVEDC.

B.J. Gudmundsson, Project Officer with the non-profit Preserving Pocahontas, gave an annual update on the the organization’s activities. Of particular note during the past year is an arrangement with West Virginia University (WVU), the new repository of the Pearl S. Buck archives. The WVU history research website will include a webpage linked to the Preserving Pocahontas website. Gudmundsson said the new arrangement is expected to greatly increase the already high web traffic at the group’s website a preservingpocahontas.org.

Gudmundsson said Preserving Pocahontas would be requesting an allotment of the county hotel/motel tax this year.

The Commission rejected a bid of $29,565 for maintenance work on trails in the Tea Creek area. The County Commission is the fiscal sponsor for the project, but is making no expenditures. U.S. Forest Service employee Nicholas Brown explained that state grant money for the project was less than previously believed. Rather than nearly $30,000, as believed when bids for the work were solicited, the project has received grant proceeds of just $22,400. Brown said the trail work will be re-advertised in the future with less work or possibly divided into individual trails.

The Commission reorganized for the new year and elected Bill Beard as its new President. The Commission also made board appointments. Beard will serve on the Senior Citizens, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, GVEDC, Emergency Medical Services and Region IV boards. Walker will serve on the Health, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Farmland Protection, Extension Service and Community Corrections boards. McLaughlin will serve on the Water Resources Task Force, Local Emergency Planning Committee and Region 1 Elected Officials boards.

In other business, the Commission:
– Accepted a bid of $28,503 from Greenbrier Motors for a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee for the Sheriff’s Department;
– Acting as the fiscal sponsor, approved a $2,000 grant contract and resolution for Linwood Alive to purchase appliances for its day care center; and,
– Approved a budget revision for a $7,337 insurance reimbursement to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for January 20 at 5:30 p.m.

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