Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

The Pocahontas County Commission held its last meeting of 2017 on the evening of December 19.

Charles Sheets, president of the Greenbrier Valley Ec-onomic Development Corporation and GBEDC director Andrew Hagy introduced representatives of the West Virginia Hardwood Alliance Zone who gave a presentation and advised the commission as to how membership in their organization could benefit the county.

Sheets asked commissioners to carefully consider the merits of joining the WVHAZ, which is a marketing organization, currently representing nine contiguous West Virginia counties.

WVHAZ assists existing timber and wood product businesses, attracts new businesses and provides wood product training and education. 

A 45 minute presentation was given by WVHAZ president Robbie Baylor and WVHAV secretary/treasurer Gary Weir.

Cost to Pocahontas County to become a member of the alliance would be $3,000 for the first and second years plus $500 dues per year.

Baylor pointed out that the wood industry is a multi-billion dollar business in West Virginia, and her organization feels that it has the capacity to grow far beyond that figure.

Commissioners thanked Baylor and Weir for the presentation and assured them that they would be getting back with them early in the new year.

Preservation Officer B.J. Gudmundsson reported to the commission about Preserving Pocahontas projects in 2017 and plans for 2018.

Gudmundsson explained that she has kept busy this year, scanning photos and preserving countless documents from many private collections.

She expressed her pride in the fact that 90 percent of the exhibit photos in the West Virginia Railroad Museum and Exhibit in Elkins came from the Pocahontas County archives.

Historical Watoga State Park photos were also archived and placed in an exhibit at the park.

Preparations are being made to apply for a state grant to assist in the Pocahontas County bicentennial project.

Much work has been done to include more documents related to local servicemen in the WWII exhibit at the historical museum.

Gudmundsson reports that interest in the website continues to be keen, with more than three million pages and files having been accessed so far.

Commissioners thanked her for her work.

Nicole Brock, representing approximately 29 people belonging to the Pocahontas County Saddle Club, a budding local horse show organization, asked the commission whether they might be allowed to use the property behind the ARC building for regular horse shows.

Commissioners said that the idea sounded like it had merit, but that the group would first need to establish itself as a non-profit organization with the West Virginia State Department and seek tax-exempt status with the IRS.

It would then need to get liability insurance and take detailed plans for an arena before the county flood plain coordinator.

Brock and other members of the club were invited to bring the idea before the commission again, when they had jumped through all the necessary “hoops.”

Cynthia Gurreri, president of the Pocahontas County Arts Council, brought that group’s annual report before the commissioners.

Guerreri mentioned that council members had had an especially busy year

• providing continuous education and art supplies to schools

• taking a key role in Watoga Art in the Park 

• organizing and “throwing” pottery for the Empty Bowls fundraiser, which involved local artists,  high school art students and many members of the community. That event raised more than $4,000 for the FRN food pantry.

Commissioners thanked Gurreri and her organization for their work.  
Danny Arbogast gave the November Day Report statistics to the commission.

The month began with 16 participants, with three new participants being added to the program. One participant completed their commitment, zero participants were terminated, two participants were on home confinement and bond supervision through day report and two were in rehab.  

There were 12 males and nine females, with 12 unemployed and six finding employment. Forty-three drug screens were completed with five Day Report participants testing positive (three on intake). There were also 43 alcohol screens with one positive result.

Staff training, participant classes and participant classroom and therapy hours is continuing.

Family Resource Network director Laura Young, who has been volunteering her assistance to the program by writing grants for the Day Report program, was present to explain a new state grant opportunity.

Because of the opioid addiction problem in West Virginia, which is the worst in the nation, the state is encouraging the hiring of Peer Recovery Coaches to assist people in overcoming their addiction.

It is also offering grants to assist counties in hiring these coaches.

Young said that while the addiction problem is serious, she is encouraged by the organization and continued growth of the Day Report program and the work that it is doing. 

She asked if the commission would want her to prepare a grant application for $5,000 for peer recovery.

Commissioners agreed that she should begin the process and thanked her for her work.

Arbogast also thanked Young for the assistance she has given him on the Day Report program.

County Emergency Management Director Michael O’Brien asked commissioners to approve his application for a $46,415 state emergency management grant. Commissioners agreed that he should proceed with the application.

County counsel Bob Martin said that mandatory sexual harassment classes for all county employees are scheduled to be held January 22 and January 30, 2018.

In other business, the commission

• tabled adoption of Pocahontas County Fire Association standards as the Fire Association has yet to approve the standards.

• appointed Ruthana Beezley to the Mountain Resource Conservation and Development Board for an unexpired term ending June 30, 2018.

• will continue to solicit bids for gasoline for 2018, as no bids were received. 

The commissioners withdrew into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, during which no action would be taken.

The next regular meeting of the Pocahontas County Commission will be January 2, 2018 at 8:30 a.m.