At the request of the Pocahontas County Solid Waste Authority, the Pocahontas County Commission held a special meeting November 1 to discuss the future of Solid Waste in the county after the landfill is closed.
Commission President Walt Helmick explained some of the history of the landfill. He said it was established by the commission in the mid-1980s after the state forced the county to stop burning the county’s trash. Helmick said that, in 1989, the state legislature created Solid Waste Authorities in each county, so the commission’s control of the landfill and solid waste ended, replaced by the new Pocahontas County Solid Waste Authority. The commission appoints two of the five members on the board, while the other three members are appointed by the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the West Virginia Soil Conservation Agency.
Solid Waste Authority Chairman Ed Riley explained the current situation. He said they will find out in January just how many years are left at the landfill – which will likely be about two years.
Riley said, in 2017, the Authority negotiated a lease extension of 50 years with then property owner Jody Fertig, but Jody died before the lease was signed. He said, in July 2022, the Authority negotiated with Jody’s daughter, Renee Hill, about buying the landfill, and they agreed to an acceptable price. Riley said that deal fell through because Renee thought she was selling only the fenced-in part of the landfill, but the Authority’s lease includes additional property that was never fenced in. He said they were willing to leave out some areas of the property that she wanted to keep, but the negotiations stopped when the Fertig family hired Attorney Bob Martin, who told the Authority they could only discuss the sale with him, not directly with Renee.
He said the second issue with the sale was that Renee had wanted the Authority to fence both sides of Landfill Road all the way back to Route 28, but the Authority only wanted to fence in one side of the road, with the family fencing in the other side.
Riley went on to explain that the Authority is spending 15 percent more than their budget to operate the landfill, but since they raised their Green Box fees from $107 a year to $115, and are in the process of raising their commercial tipping fees from $72.75 per ton to $95 per ton, their losses will be only three percent above their budget, rather than the current 15 percent.
He said they have two escrow accounts with the State Public Service Commission. A construction account for creating a new cell into which they are required to deposit $82,000 a year, and which now has $732,000 in it; and a landfill closing and capping escrow account which now has about $1.25 million of the estimated $1.6 million needed to cap and close the landfill when it is full. He said they intend to ask the PSC to allow them to spend the construction account for other construction projects, not for just creating new cells, since they will not be adding any new cells to the landfill. He said a new cell would now cost more than $1 million but, in any event, they do not have enough land on which to create a new one.
Jacob Meck told the commission he was contacted by Bob Martin a couple of months ago. Martin asked him to contact Renee and see if the sale could be resurrected. Meck said he has and he held up the original of a current valid lease for the landfill between the authority and Jody Fertig which was signed in 2013. The lease includes 44.01 acres of land for 20 years, with a right of first refusal to extend it for another 20 years when it expires in 2033. The lease payment is $18,000 per year. He also held up a deed which was made out for the sale of the property. He said the authority’s attorney made 41 changes to the deed, of which Renee has accepted all but two. One of those two involved having the authority fence both sides of Landfill Road from the scales to Route 28, and the other one she wanted to remain unchanged was that the authority agreed to never use Eminent Domain to seize any of her property.
Authority Member David Henderson, as well as Riley, said they would never use Eminent Domain on the landfill property, but they do not want to include the rest of her property in any such agreement. He also said it would cost $84,000 to fence both sides of Landfill Road, which is too expensive. Member David McLaughlin disputed Henderson’s high estimate of the cost of fencing.
There was also a dispute over the exact property boundaries, with Commissioner (and also Authority Member) Jamie Walker saying he would never agree to purchase any property until the property lines are clearly set and marked. Everyone agreed that a full survey would be needed before any sale agreement could be signed.
Helmick said the commission needed some time to study all of this, and while not committing any financial support to the Authority at this time, he said it might possibly happen. He said that the issue is of such importance to the community that the commission wants to be involved in any further financial discussions about all of this.
The meeting was adjourned without the commission taking any action.