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Commission to hold off on property transfer

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

During the October 7 county commission meeting, Commission Attorney Bob Martin reported that the Board of Education had voted to accept the county’s transfer of the Green Bank Industrial Park property back to them.

In last Tuesday’s meeting, the Pocahontas County Commission put the property conveyance on hold.

“I’d like to speak to that,” Commissioner David McLaughlin said. “Being that the property is in the Green Bank district and that’s where I’m from, I’m quite interested in that. I’d like to delay conveyance of that property to seek another option for a parcel of that land.”

Commission president Bill Beard expressed interest in commissioner McLaughlin’s stance, but had concerns about the lack of interest shown from members of the community.

“At this point, I haven’t received anyone here that said they wanted that land and requested it,” Beard explained, “but maybe we hadn’t moved far enough to get that request.”

To that, Jacob Meck Construction Company office manager Michael O’Brien, of Green Bank, reiterated an interest in the nine acres – located at the back of the property – discussed in the September 22 meeting.

A misunderstanding led Beard to believe that the company would pursue the nine acres via negotiations with the Board of Education once the transfer had been made while O’Brien had a similar misunderstanding and had hoped that the commission would hold off on the transfer and turn those nine acres over to the Greenbrier Economic and Development Authority in order for Meck to negotiate with them.

“I’ve talked to Jacob Meck,” commissioner McLaughlin said. “There’s nine acres up there already surveyed and pinned, and Jacob is quite interested in them. Jacob’s buying two new trucks, he’s starting his trucking business, and he’s out of parking room. His is the only business in the county that’s growing. He’s the only person that’s hiring people to work. I think I’m right about that, and I think we’d be doing a disservice to the county and that business if we turn our backs on them.

“Jacob has a good relationship with the Greenbrier Economic and Development Authority, and he knows how to work with them. He’s done it with what he’s got up there with the three acres, and he’s working twenty-two full time jobs. That money’s being put back into the local economy.”

According to McLaughlin, if the property transfer would go through, Meck would have to start over at square one and work with the Board of Education in order to obtain the desired nine acres.

“I agree with Mr. McLaughlin,” Beard said. “We do need to support a growing business if we can do it some way. I guess I misunderstood, and I’m sorry.”

Meck joined the conversation and reiterated O’Brien’s request.

“I appreciate you all considering our project there in Green Bank,” he began, “and I think there’s been somewhat of a change in the opposition that we’ve had. One of the biggest reasons for that is – when we looked at the nine acres that were surveyed in, I believe, 2010 – we were specifically looking at the sewage storage issues, and that caused some heartburn in the community, and that was understandable. We have completely changed our approach to how we’re dealing with that and how we’re taking care of that. Matter of fact, that facility has been built on the three acres that we have, in a different form and fashion, and we’ve had absolutely no complaints.

“What we’re looking for now is property. I don’t even have property for my guys to park on. I had an agreement with Mr. Irvine, and he sadly passed away several weeks ago, and I’m certain there will be several changes to that. So, we’re in need of something now. We’ve been working on this for five years, and we don’t even have proper employee parking.”

He expressed concern about the fact that he has large trucks entering and leaving the highway, as well. According to Meck, his trucks have to be nosed out to the white line in order to see in both directions, which causes a potential hazard to both his employees and the general public.

“I would like to take immediate steps to get that fixed,” he said, “and by picking up that additional property that has already been surveyed off, will allow us to get that extra hundred feet plus and open that road up a little bit so that we can get equipment on and off the road safely. It is an immediate need and an immediate concern.”

Despite voicing their support of aiding local businesses, the commission refrained from taking any action for the time being. The issue will be revisited at a later date.

Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food Act

Additionally, the commission revisited a prior request from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food Act to pen a letter of support regarding state-based food labeling laws at the request of commissioner McLaughlin.

“I did a little more checking,” he began, “and I talked with the lady [Tabby Bennett] up at the State Farm Bureau office. I think that was one of your [commissioner Beard’s] concerns – did they support it? I talked to her, and they do support that. I’m not saying I support everything the Farm Bureau supports, but also, the senior citizens supported this. There was a senior citizen constituent in our county thought we should go with this thing, and that’s why I brought it back up. We didn’t discuss it much the last time, and I just wanted to bring it back up. My position is that I support it.”

Two of Pocahontas County’s residents voiced their opposition of the coalition.

Doug Bernier, of Marlinton, was the first to speak and presented the commission with three reasons as to why he opposed the idea of supporting the coalition’s request. In his first point, Bernier reminded the commission that they were elected to represent the interests and requests of county residents and that the coalition’s letter originated outside of the county.

Bernier’s second point drew the commission’s attention to a recently passed “anonymous” no tolerance policy.

“I think the commission would be acting against one of their own policies,” he explained, “and that is the policy of not responding to anonymous requests. Although that letter does have a signature on it, I don’t believe that any of the commissioners – probably myself, as well – can tell you exactly who this Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food is, what’s behind it or what they represent.”

His third reason tied itself to the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

“’The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,’” Bernier quoted. “I think that if the commissioners support this, that they’d be violating their oath of office where you all agreed to honor the Constitution of the United States because what these folks are trying to do is to give that power to regulate/for that regulation to the federal government, as opposed to allowing individual states to have it, and I think that’s against the Constitution.”

Local Emergency Planning Committee member John Leyzorek joined Bernier in opposing the commission’s consideration.

“The only position I will express here is that the more everybody knows, the better,” he said. “I believe in information, and I agree with Doug that, at the national level, a lot of pressure is going to be brought to bear for the FDA to decide that all of these ingredients should be generally recognized as safe. I don’t think any of us here, including me, are equipped to decide whether this stuff is good or bad, but I think one of the powers, one of the good things, we have in this country is room for diversity of opinion and diversity of approach. Pocahontas County can go their own way in certain limits, and states can go their own way in certain limits. That’s kind of why the 10th amendment is there. Government – at all levels, unfortunately – tends to be subject to all kinds of pressures. Sometimes it tends to be corruptible when you put all powers in one place, and all pressures come to that place.

“I would also point out – I used to be a member of the Farm Bureau. I know something about their policy process. The FDA is going to be much more influenced by the big farmers in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas than they are by the little farmers in West Virginia. I’m hoping, again, that my county commission is going to represent a local interest before anything else, and I think, because we have a lot of small-scale farmers, we’re trying to grow our local economy with local foods and diverse foods. I think a bill like this is likely to step on important, local initiatives. The kind of policy this letter is pushing for will tend to step on local initiatives and local diversity of options. I think it’s a bad idea. I also think that the Pocahontas County Commission’s voice will be very soft in all this. It will be a grain of sand on the balance, and I would hope in the interest of humility and doubt, you guys would kind of just let it go by – that you would decline to put your foot in this particular trap.”

Following the public’s input, commission president Beard expressed a desire to hear from a Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food representative. In the end, the commission took no action regarding the letter of support.

In other news:

  • The commission accepted Woodford Oil’s bid for #2 heating oil – Marathon rack price plus 12 cents per gallon to heat the courthouse offices and jail building beginning November 1, expiring on October 31, 2016.
  • Tammie Alderman appeared before the commission and presented the Pocahontas County Day Report Center’s monthly update.
  • The commission authorized Sheriff David Jonese and commission attorney Bob Martin to enter into negotiations with Snowshoe Mountain Resort regarding a possible five-year contract. During those five years, the sheriff’s department would station a third deputy at the Sheriff Department’s Snowshoe Detachment, that would service the central part of the county, as well as Snowshoe. Snowshoe would pay the initial start-up costs – which would include salaries and equipment purchases.
  • Following a closed executive session, the commission voted two to one – with Commissioner Jamie Walker opposing – to immediately terminate 911 Dispatcher Lisa Friel’s employment at the 911 Center.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for November 3 at 8:30 a.m.

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