Commission reports no Broadband Implementation Grant

Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

The Pocahontas County Commission revealed at their November 2 meeting that the county was not awarded the long-anticipated U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Re-Connect Broadband Grant. The USDA did award $7.6 million from that grant to Citynet to provide high-speed broadband internet in Barbour, Randolph, Webster and Doddridge counties, but did not approve any broadband funds for Pocahontas County. The reason given for the county not getting the grant was that all the grant money had been used for this year, leaving the possibility open for future approval if the grant is renewed next year.

The Commissioners expressed dismay over this, especially since they had earlier received a $75,000 broadband study grant from USDA Rural Development to determine the locations in the county where the implementation grant would install broadband.

Region 4 Planning and Development had been assisting Pocahontas County in its efforts to secure broadband from the USDA’s grant. The commissioners were upset with Region 4 since Webster County, which is also a member of Region Four, received broadband funds through this Re-connect Grant.

Commissioner Walt Helmick pointed out that because of a lack of cell service, Pocahontas County has a greater need for broadband service than Webster County.

Related to this, Chris Giannini, a homeowner along Gum Road in the Cass area, once again asked for the support of the commission in his efforts to convince either Frontier or Citynet to allow his cable installation company to hook into their backbone fiber optic lines which run near Gum Road. If allowed to do so, it would enable him to provide high speed internet hookups to all the homes on Gum Road. Giannini has offered to do the hook-ups for free, and doing so would create new customers for either Frontier or Citynet. But he first needs approval to connect to their fiber optic line.

Giannini has asked the commission to support his proposal since July, but they have not done so in the past because they expected approval of the Re-connect Broadband Grant.

The commission approved a motion to invite Region 4, members of the County Broadband Committee and representatives of Frontier, Citynet and Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone Company to the next commission meeting. The purpose is to have Region 4 explain why they did not receive the grant and talk about the probability of future grant approval.

They will also explore alternate ways to bring broadband here.

The commission once again discussed the Silver Creek Association’s request to re-classify various parcels of real estate. They clarified that since this a tax classification issue, not an assessment issue, the only thing the county can do is request a decision from the West Virginia Tax Commissioner, which they have done.

Tina Kershner, of the Assessor’s Office, explained that this issue involves about 20 condominium owners at the Silver Creek Association’s condo building who only use their condos for their personal use. She said that because there is about 50,000 square feet of common area in the building, including 19,300 square feet leased to businesses, the entire building and all of the condos in it, regardless of whether they are leased out or privately used, are taxed at Class III commercial rates.

Helmick said prosecutor Eugene Simmons has written a letter to the Silver Creek Association telling them that the commission cannot change a tax classification, only assessments, but it has referred the case to the State Tax Commissioner.

The commission discussed the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation’s (GVEDC) request for a letter to the Pocahontas County Board of Education (BOE) encouraging it to transfer the deed to the Slaven Property in Green Bank to the GVEDC. The commission at past meetings has said that the purpose of this deed transfer would be to enable the sale of that property by the GVEDC directly to Jacob Meck without requiring public bidding.

Commissioner Jessie Groseclose said that, in his opinion, what the BOE does with its own property is not the concern of either the commission or the GVEDC. The other commissioners agreed with this, and therefore no action was taken on the GVEDC’s request.

Allen Johnson of the Eight Rivers Council brought a few people, including a number of Mace residents, Shawn Cassell from Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Cara Rose from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, all of whom spoke in opposition to the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute of Occupational Safety’s (NIOSH) Underground Mine Safety Research Facility proposed to be built at Mace. They cited the dangers to groundwater and wells from building a large underground facility in karst and cave landscape, air pollution from fire fighting sprays being released, noise from truck traffic and the damage to both the tourism industry in the county, and to the communities in the Snowshoe and Mace areas.

Randy Sharp said that if all these people are really concerned with the water table in the Mace area, they would stop building homes and installing wells and septic systems there.

Although the commission believed the project had already been abandoned, Johnson informed them that was not the case, and that NIOSH is planning to drill a six-inch test shaft at the site November 9. He also said that a draft environmental impact study has already been done.

The commission voted to send a letter to the CDC expressing its concerns about appropriateness of the project being located at Mace and asking them to stop all work at the site until NIOSH can prove that the project will not adversely affect the county economically or environmentally.

In other actions the commission

* voted to become a partner with Work Force West Virginia’s Career Connections Program, which will allow members of that program who are seeking a career path and work experience to work for county agencies at no cost to the county.

* approved a request from High Rocks Educational Corporation for $4,507 to purchase a commercial dishwasher.

* voted to write a letter to the Federal Communications Commission requesting the addition of local West Virginia channels to DirectTV and Dish Network customers in the county. Commission president David McLaughlin said this would be a first step. His research into other locations where the same request has been made to the FCC, revealed that such a request would require lots of additional documentation to the FCC.

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