Commissioners hear concerns and plans from area residents and organizations

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Pocahontas County Commission meeting began as usual February 21, with the public input/hear callers portion of the agenda.

Charlie Sheets, Chairman of the Board of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, attended the meeting to introduce the commission to Andrew Hagy, the GVEDC’s new Executive Director.

Hagy told the commission that he has West Virginia blood in his veins, as his parents are from McDowell County, and 32 years ago, he proposed to his wife at Snowshoe.

Hagy will work to attract jobs and businesses to Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas counties. His office is in the Rahall Building in Maxwelton. 

Hagy will be the keynote speaker at the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce dinner on March 16. 

Several people expressed their concerns as well as opposition to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Amy Scott, of Dunmore, quoted a number of passages from the ACP Environmental Impact Statement which was recently released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

After reading from the FERC report, Scott concluded her remarks by saying that she appreciated the Commissioners coming to the ACP public meeting at Linwood last week.

Trish McNaull read a letter to the commissioners from Pocahontas Indivisible, a recently formed organization formed to address local, state and national issues of importance to the citizens of Pocahontas County. McNaull stated that although the organization was only formed a matter of weeks ago, it already has 240 members. 

Quoting from her letter, McNaull said “…whereas the ACP poses a real threat to the citizens of Pocahontas County, the limited economic gain does not warrant approval by our county commission.”

McNaull reminded commissioners that FERC would be holding a public meeting from 5 to 9 p.m. on March 2nd at the Wellness Center and asked the commissioners to attend. 

The next speaker was Margaret Worth. She began by thanking the commissioners for their attendance at the “very enlightening” ACP public meeting held at Linwood the week previous. 

Worth said she understood that the commission consists of just three people and that the pipeline issue has presented controversy. Worth said that she had, during the week since that Linwood meeting, made an informal survey of county residents who oppose the ACP coming through Pocahontas County. 

She presented a list of 143 signatures to the commissioners, explaining that 13 of the names on the list are from the northern end of the county, 57 are from Marlinton and the surrounding area, 35 from Hillsboro, 11 from Lobelia/Droop Mountain and 27 from the Snowshoe area. 

“Ideally, I would like the commission to write a letter to FERC opposing the ACP coming through Pocahontas County, but if you won’t do that, I would at least like you not to write a letter of support for it,” Worth said.

The commission then got down to the items on the agenda.

John Simmons presented the 2016 Senior Citizens Annual Report. He said most of the employees who work for the Senior Citizens are working for $8.75 an hour, or minimum wage, and are extremely hard-working and dedicated. Simmons detailed the four major programs that he administers:

•Meals on Wheels – serving 100 home-bound seniors in Pocahontas County with two trucks – one     located in Marlinton and one in Hillsboro

•Medical Transport and the Pickup and Drop Off program for seniors who do not drive

•In-Home Care

•In-House Meals at the Senior Centers – which served 22,893 meals in 2016 – 10,942 of which were served in-house, the rest were delivered via the Meals on Wheels program

“Due to last year’s state and federal budget cuts, beginning April 1, 2016, I have had all employees, myself included, on a abbreviated schedule,” Simmons said. “We have had to take off one day without pay, per payroll period, which is every two weeks. This is not necessarily a hardship for me, but for most of my employees, who are trying to live on minimum wage, this cost savings measure has been difficult for them. 

“I want to thank Bob Martin for his help in recovering, in one case, $11,000 and, in another, $12,950 when we were faced with not being reimbursed those amounts for minuscule errors in paperwork. Martin took up the fight, and he never charged us a cent.

“Senior programs are threatened with cuts in the state budget said to total $20 million a year.

“I just want to say that it’s going to be very bad news for the senior citizens of Pocahontas County if the state makes any more cuts. We just can’t lose our senior programs. They are too important.”

Commission president Bill Beard thanked Simmons for his report.

“You’ve got a tough job,” he said, “and we appreciate all your hard work.”

Beth Little, Water Resources Management Coordinator, reported on the response to the advertisement for the water resource position. 

“We got several wonderful applications,” Little said. “Margaret and I interviewed the applicants and decided to hire Madison Ball, unfortunately she withdrew her application when she learned that she had been offered a full-time position with the forest service.

“I don’t think we can get someone to come here for a part-time job. Perhaps we should revise the budget to provide for a full time position.

“We also need a water resources plan and a groundwater plan to determine exactly what our groundwater resources are.”

Beard thanked Little for the report and said that the commission would “get into the budget in March, so we’ll see.”

Glenn Galloway presented the Day Report Center’s monthly report for January. 

There were a total of 15 participants in the program (9 male and 6 female), one new participant, one participant completing the program, one termination from the program, zero drug court participants and zero participants on home confinement. One participant was unemployed and one found employment during the month. There were 41 drug screenings completed with one positive drug screen on intake. 

Bob Martin responded to Galloway saying that “the judges are adamant that we get the number of drug screens increased. We just have to get more drug screens administered to our day report participants. That could make the difference with our grant and with our judges. We need one drug screen per week per participant. 

“We also need to get hours of individual therapy up, too,” Martin continued. “As you know, Tanya Hoover, of the Greenbrier County Day Report Center, has been trying to take control of our day report to Greenbrier County.” 

Martin and Beard were scheduled to meet with the judges the following day to address these issues.

Pocahontas County 911 Director Mike O’Brien told the commission that due to two of his employees having medical issues, they are unable to work complete schedules, so he needs to hire a part-time dispatcher to cover these hours. 

O’Brien asked the commissioners to allow the 911 center to hire Dale Kinnison as a part-time dispatcher at $10 an hour with no benefits, to begin February 25. 

Commissioner Jesse Groseclose moved that the commission authorize this hire and commissioners approved the motion.

Letters to the commission were discussed, including a letter from Trish McNaull asking the commission to bring back the “Birthplace of Rivers” description on the county’s point of entry signs. That description used to be on the signs, which now say “Pocahontas County.”

Gail Hyer, representing “Watoga Art in the Park,” reported on plans for an art show that will take place on Labor Day weekend, September 2 and 3. 

“This is a new event sponsored by a new group, “Experience the Arts, Inc. which is working with the West Virginia Division of Culture to bring artists from outside and inside the county for this event,” she said. “There will be twenty-two workshops and fifty artists participating.

“We are hoping to draw approximately two thousand visitors to this event. It will be held in the area of the stable access road and the picnic shelter there. Because we want visitors and participants to stay in the park and not have to leave for meals, we have organized a food vendor for the weekend. But that means we will need electricity to that area. We have received a grant through First Energy to upgrade electric access to that area. We are requesting letters of support from the commission for this project.”

A motion was made and passed and letters of support were signed.

Martin presented two more letters for the commission’s signature:

One was a strongly worded letter to the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts regarding the changes that have been taking place at the scout camp located here in Pocahontas County. The commissioners have complained that their letters and phone calls have not been met with an adequate response from the Boy Scouts. 

Martin presented another letter to be sent to Mr. Griffith of the One Room University detailing the amount of money that Pocahontas County has contributed to the One Room University since March 2011 and asking that Griffith please contact the commission to set up a time to come and talk with the commissioners to explain when the venture might be considered to be self-sustaining. 

“We have been asking for this meeting for some time and have, so far, not had a response,” Beard said. “The commission has contributed $11,000 to this venture, which is worthwhile, but there have been many people involved in it over the years, and many people in the county served by the One Room University, but we need to know what the financial situation is now.”

The next commission meeting will be Tuesday, March 7, at 8:30 a.m. in the commission room.

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