Commission takes action to preserve history and secure future

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Pocahontas County Commission, as members of the Board of Ballot Commissioners, held a special meeting Monday, November 14, to canvass the November 8 general election. The canvass lasted all day but there was no change in the election results.

The Commissioners returned to the courthouse Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for their regular meeting.

Before the meeting was called to order, Commission President Bill Beard made an announcement to the commissioners and those assembled in the room. He shared some unwelcome news about the Buckskin Scout Camp located near Dunmore.

“Unfortunately, the West Virginia Boy Scout Council has voted to ‘mothball’ the Buckskin Scout Camp,” Beard said. “We need to get the word out around the county to all concerned that, unless something changes, this is happening.

“I think we should also get some people involved from the counties around us who send scouts here to our camp. Pocahontas County residents should consider sending a delegation to the next Buckskin Council meeting to let our feelings be known about this decision.”

Moving on to the business at hand, the first item on the agenda was to open bids and award a heating oil contract for the courthouse offices and jail building for the 2016- 2017 heating season. 

Only one bid was received, that being from Woodford Oil Company. The quote for the heating oil contract was for the Marathon Oil company’s Roanoke rack price plus $.12 per gallon. 

At that rate, for instance, the cost of heating oil on the date of the meeting, November 15, would be $1.4699 per gallon. The quoted price excludes taxes and fees.

The Woodford bid was accepted by unanimous consent.

The commission then moved to approve the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation as Pocahontas County’s Lead Economic Development organization.

According to West Virginia state code, it is a requirement that each county have its own economic development organization or belong to one from a neighboring county.

“We hope to see more economic progress by linking ourselves to the GVEDC,” Beard said. “I’m hopeful that there will be some big improvements to our economy this year.

“They have a new director, Jay Andrew Hagy, from Glen Allen. I am looking forward to meeting with him this coming Thursday.”

Commission administrative secretary Sue Helton read a letter from the State Ethics Commission, stating that the county is in full compliance.

The commissioners recognized Cathy Kunkel, a representative from Energy Efficient West Virginia, a consumer watchdog organization that seeks to assist consumers in keeping an eye on their energy bills. 

Kunkel began her presentation by reporting that Mon Power rates have risen 30 percent since 2009. 

After addressing the commission on the background that leads Energy Efficient West Virginia to oppose what they believe are Mon Power’s plans to purchase the Pleasants Power Plant from First Energy, Kunkel asked that the commission pass a pre-emptive resolution not to approve the Public Service Commission approval of the sale, as it would, in her opinion, inevitably lead to higher consumer prices for electricity.

It was pointed out, after questions and discussion, that, as of yet, neither First Energy nor Mon Power have sought the approval of the Public Service Commission for such a sale. But Kunkel says she has information that indicates that First Energy plans to apply to the PSC by the first of the year.

Also heard on this matter, was First Energy Area Manager John Norman, who works with 12 counties, including Pocahontas. 

Norman disagreed with Kunkel’s conclusion that the sale of Pleasants Power Plant to Mon Power is set to take place in the near future and stressed that it would be premature for the commission to take any action, as there is no pending application before the Public Service Commission at this time. 

The commissioners stated that the commission would need more information on this potential purchase by Mon Power, and its impact on energy costs for local consumers. 

“This is, indeed, an issue that we do take seriously,” Beard said.

The commissioners said they will wait to take action until Kunkel returns with more information and she agreed to do so.

The next agenda item brought Lauren Bennett of Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation before the commission to request its approval for Parks and Recreation to use a portion of the former shoe factory building (ARC) for skate boarding activities. 

“We have gotten a very enthusiastic response to this idea from our young people,” Bennett explained. “I anticipate that this indoor facility would be used primarily by middle schoolers.”

Bennett noted that should the commission give permission for her to do so, she anticipated being able to move in and be ready for skate boarding at the ARC building sometime in the first three months of the new year.

“We already have some ramps that we’ve been using for skate boarding down at Stillwell Park, which we could easily move indoors at ARC,” she said.
“I would anticipate working around the archery team, which practices in the ARC. We would be sure not to schedule skateboarding while the archery team is there.”

She continued to delineate specifics about the plan and insisted that all skateboarding activities would be supervised by Bennett, a member of her staff or a responsible volunteer.

Commissioners expressed concerns about the insurance liability that this proposal might entail and attorney Bob Martin asked about the use and/or requirement for the use of helmets.

Commissioner Jamie Walker asked if moving skateboarding indoors at the ARC building would be covered by the existing Parks and Recreation’s insurance policy. 

Beard stated that he is generally in favor of expanding healthy recreation opportunities for our county youth and reiterated his support for the work that Bennett has been doing with Parks and Rec. 

“Lauren, you have been doing a good job working with the young people of this county,” he said. “We appreciate all your hard work.”

The commissioners asked Bennett to draft a formal proposal and bring it back to the commission so that it might be forwarded to the county’s insurance carrier for their review. 

Ashton Berdine, from the West Virginia Land Trust, attended the meeting to inform the commission that plans were proceeding to secure the Civil War historical Camp Bartow site. 

Berdine said the Land Trust finally reached an agreement with the owner of the 14 acre tract, the most historic portion of the Civil War site.  
Purchase price of the land is $84,000, with the Land Trust paying $49,200 of that amount and the remainder being paid by a grant from the West Virginia Department of Highways. 

He explained that the site plan for the Camp Bartow includes plans for a foot path, interpretive signage, benches and a parking lot.

Historian and author Hunt-er Lesser was present at the meeting and said he would be involved with the preparation of the interpretative signage.

There is a time consideration at work as the DOH grant expires December 31, 2016 and all invoices associated with the project will need to be received by them before that date.

The commission agreed to front the grant’s portion of the expenses and be reimbursed by the DOH.
But that will require that a new memo of understanding be drafted and approved before they can move forward. 

Berdine and Martin agreed to meet and draft the new memo, outlining in detail the commitments by all parties. 

The Commissioners scheduled a special meting for Tuesday, November 22, at 5 p.m. to review and vote on the rewritten memo of understanding.

Bill McNeel of the Pocahontas County Historical Society was present at the meeting and said that he is pleased by these plans for Camp Bartow.

“We are very excited about what this means to the future of Camp Bartow and would like you to know that we are available to help with this project in any way that we can,” McNeel said.

Beard agreed that this is, indeed, good news for the county.

“Camp Bartow is an important historical site and these improvements can only mean good things for it,” he said. “It may very well lead to more tourism for the county,” President Beard stated.

Glenn Galloway, director of the Day Report Center, delivered his detailed report for the month of October.

He said that he and Martin had met with Kyle McGee, the director of the program in Charleston, who came to Pocahontas County to inspect the day report program’s operations and recordkeeping to be sure that it is in complete compliance with state regulations.

Galloway said that he was proud to say that the program received a clean bill of health. Martin agreed, saying that he heard nothing but good things from McGee, who was very thorough in his inspection of all the documentation.

The commissioners were pleased by the progress that the Day Report Program is making under Galloway’s leadership. 

“We want to thank you, Glenn, for the work you’ve been doing with the Day Report Program,” Beard said. “It’s really gratifying to see how the center has been turning around. And we also appreciate the time that Mr. Martin has spent getting our day report center up to speed and in compliance with state regulations.”

The commissioners requested that the Water Task Force Board rewrite the job announcement for the Water Task Force Coordinator position before they approve a request for résumés. Further action will take place when the rewrite has been received.

Commissioner David McLaughlin, who is the commission’s representative on the Water Task Force board, said he will take the request to them and come back with a rewrite. 

The Farmland Protection Board’s request that the commission approve its recently rewritten bylaws was discussed. But the feeling among the commissioners was that they should not get involved with another county agency’s bylaws, stating that the commission’s approval of agency bylaws was neither required nor authorized by state law.

The commission asked Martin to check the legality of their stance.

The commission approved McLaughlin’s motion that the Commission draft a letter of support for the Green Bank Observatory.

“There was a lot of public support at the two recent public forums hosted by the National Science Foundation,” Beard noted. “We certainly want to add our voices in support of the observatory staying open and hopefully, being kept as it is.”

Helton will draft a letter encouraging the NSF to continue funding the observatory and opposing efforts to close it. The letter will be signed by the commissioners and sent to the NSF, with copies also being sent to our elected representatives.

The following individuals were appointed to two-year terms on the Pocahontas County Emergency Planning Committee: Anne Walker, Mayor of Hillsboro, Heather Niday with Allegheny Mountain Radio, Leisha Cassell with the Bartow/Frank/Durbin Volunteer Fire Department, Mike Holstine with the Green Bank Observatory, John Rebinski with Cass Fire Rescue and John Leyzorek as Community Representative. 

An undesignated representative from the Pocahontas Sheriff’s Department was appointed to a three-year term on the LEPC.

The commission meets again Tuesday, December 6, at 8:30 a.m. in the commission room at the Pocahontas County courthouse.

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