Last Tuesday evening, Pocahontas County Commissioner David Fleming attended his last meeting as a county commissioner, at least for the next six years. Fleming was defeated in the May Democratic primary by incoming Commissioner David McLaughlin.
Fleming started the meeting by thanking his fellow commissioners.
“It’s been an real honor to serve Pocahontas County for the last six years,” he said. “It’s been a tough job; it’s been a good job. Jamie, working with you and Bill has been an honor. I feel like we got a lot of stuff done for the county and I think we did the best job that we could do. Dave, I welcome you to the Commission. I look forward to seeing you work for them and I wish you well. I think you’ll find it to be a good job, too.”
Commissioner William Beard was appointed to the Commission by Fleming and Commissioner Jamie Walker in July 2013, and elected to the position this fall. Beard thanked Fleming for his work on the Commission.
“I appreciate both you and Jamie trusting my ability to go on the Commission and it has been a real enjoyment working with you,” he said. “I appreciate all the help and guidance you’ve given me since I came on and it’s been a good time working with you.”
“The main thing is just working together,” said Walker. “You learn from each other.”
“Don’t make yourself a stranger,” added Beard. “Your input into the Commission over the years has been good and we want to keep that line open to you, so that we can use it for the betterment of the County.”
Commission Assistant Sue Helton administered the oath of office to McLaughlin, who will become the new Commissioner for the County’s northern district on January 1.
Commission drops Litsey removal petition
The first item of business for the Commission was a recommendation by Prosecuting Attorney Eugene Simmons to drop a petition to remove Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) board member David Litsey. The petition, authorized by the Commission in November 2013, claimed that Litsey had failed to “diligently pursue the objectives for which the district was created” and “failed to perform the duties” required by a West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) order of August 2012.
That PSC order overruled a vote by the PSD board to build a decentralized sewage system, with separate sewage plants at Snowshoe Mountain and Linwood. The PSC order decreed construction of a single, large, centralized sewage plant near Linwood to serve Snowshoe and the surrounding area.
Litsey favored the decentralized plan, largely because it eliminated the need for a sewage pipeline from Snowshoe to a plant at the bottom of the mountain. Watershed and environmental groups also favored the decentralized plan, which the PSD board selected in June 2012.
But Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., and a group of Snowshoe-area large landowners campaigned and litigated for the centralized plant design. The powerful interest group achieved victory when the PSC issued its August 2012 order, which overruled the PSD vote and ordered construction of a centralized plant near Linwood.
Because Litsey continued his opposition to the centralized design, he became a target of its proponents. The group of litigants and a fellow board member, Amon Tracey, filed two complaints against him at the West Virginia Ethics Commission.
Swayed by the landowner interest group and Tracey, the County Commission voted unanimously to file the removal petition.
At the time, Litsey promised that he would be vindicated.
“The only thing that I can say about what the County Commission did, is that I welcome the opportunity to present the facts, in their entirety, to the court and to the public of Pocahontas County, so that they may truly realize the danger of what is being proposed, both in terms of the sewer system and the resort area district,” Litsey told The Pocahontas Times. “However, I honestly feel that it’s going to get thrown out on its face because we will be able to unequivocally demonstrate that none of the actions taken by [me] have resulted in anything but benefit to the community and its district.”
The Ethics Commission dismissed both complaints against Litsey last month. But a hearing on the removal petition remained on the Circuit Court docket for December 19. During Tuesday evening’s County Commission meeting, Simmons recommended the petition be dropped.
“My advice is – we’ve served our purpose,” he said. “We got his attention and now he’s not causing any problems. If we go ahead and remove him now, he’s going to take it to the Supreme Court and they will tie our project up for a long time. Plus, it might cost us a lot of money. Right now, my thought is, it’s probably the best thing to do to just back off on it. If we have to, we can come back, but right now I don’t think it’s really feasible to go ahead and spend the extra money.”
Beard spoke in support of dropping the petition.
“I think in the last several months, he’s been moving forward, as far as the sewer system,” he said. “I don’t think you can criticize anything’s that’s been going on. Everything’s been positive, now.”
“He’s knowledgeable, and if we can keep him in line, he’s an asset,” he said.
The Commission followed the Prosecutor’s advice and asked Simmons to remove the petition from the court docket.
Gil Willis, proprietor of Elk River Touring, and U.S. Forest Service employee Nicholas Brown updated the Commission on a project to improve trails in Pocahontas County. Willis and the Pocahontas Trails Club previously have worked to obtain federal grant money to improve and expand recreational trails in Pocahontas County. The grant money derives from a federal gasoline tax.
Brown said a new grant would be used to expand the trail system in the Marlinton area and improve trails in other areas.
“There’s the Marlin Mountain Road that goes up behind the cemetery, above the Marlinton office,” he said. “There’s a road that comes down there called Halfway Run. It’s one-and-a-half miles long and it meets right up with the Greenbrier River Trail. It’s kind of been used as a trail. It is a road, but it’s not maintained. There’s probably 50 trees down on it. What we want to do is convert that into a trail. It provides really easy access for the local community to a loop.”
Brown said the new trail would be an excellent detour off the Greenbrier River Trail for beginning hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
“The Greenbrier River Trail is extremely beginner – it’s basically flat its entire way,” he said. “This would give them a place to go up and do some more climbing.”
Willis said the project requires no county money, but requested that the Commission act as the fiscal sponsor for the project.
“We’ve backstopped many grants for many organizations that need a non-profit or a government entity to sponsor the grant,” said Fleming.
Fleming asked McLaughlin for his opinion.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said McLaughlin. “It’s not costing the county anything. It’s a great idea to get some of that money.”
The Commission took no action but expressed support for sponsoring the project moving forward.
In other business, the Commission:
– Heard an update from Charlotte Slagle on Pocahontas County Artisan’s Co-op activities. Slagle said the group plans to formally request inclusion in the hotel/motel tax distribution scheme in January.
– Scheduled 2015 Board of Review and Equalization meetings for January 30, 1 p.m.; February 3, 8:30 a.m.; February 6, 10:30 a.m.; February 11, 10:30 a.m.; and February 17, 5:30 p.m.
– Accepted a Woodford Oil bid to supply county gasoline at Marathon rack price plus 15 cents.
– Heard an update from Day Report Center Director Tammie Alderman.
The next regular meeting of the Pocahontas County Commission is scheduled for January 6 at 8:30 a.m.