Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

Representatives from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s office and District 8 Engineer and Manager James Rossi, with the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, addressed the Pocahontas County Commission at its September 19 meeting about the upcoming Roads to Prosperity highway improvement plan.

The proposed road bond project will be funded by increases approved by the West Virginia Legislature earlier this year.

Voters in West Virginia will decide the fate of the proposed road bond in the special election set for Saturday, October 7.

The governor’s Legislative Director Bob Ashley and Area Representative Lynn Phylipps spoke about the importance of the road bond program.

“The governor believes that West Virginians deserve to drive on better roads,” Ashley said. “And we know that transportation routes are vital when companies are considering commercial and industrial investment.

“We are looking to bring that investment to our state.”

Although, increased Department of Motor Vehicle fees, an average 3.5 cent gas tax and toll increases, passed by the state legislature, will pay for many road improvement projects already slated for the state, the road bond program would fund an ambitious transportation improvement plan that would touch every county in the state, but it needs the approval of the voters.

“We believe this is the right time to sell bonds to fund these transportation improvements,” Ashley said.

“This would be a $3.6 billion dollar investment in transportation infrastructure in our state, with $1.6 billion of that coming from the sale of road bonds. This is an incredible opportunity for West Virginia.

“We can offer the bonds at 3.5 percent interest and there is a low rate of inflation right now, making this a good time for investment in major construction projects.

“And this will bring with it jobs, lots of jobs – with the employment generated coming from a seventy-five mile area around each project.”

“A massive construction push like this will provide a major boost to our state and local economies.”

Pocahontas County, along with Pendleton, Randolph and Tucker counties, comprise District 8 – an area encompassing 2,600 road miles.

Rossi outlined the Roads to Prosperity Highway Program Project List for District 8.

The road improvement projects slated for Pocahontas County in the next four years include nine projects which will be paid for with increased DMV fees and tax increases already in place.

Five additional Pocahontas County projects are “candidate projects” which would be paid for with the proposed road bonds.

Commissioners and members of the public present at the meeting asked questions and a lengthy discussion began.

Commission president Bill Beard suggested that those wishing to get further details of the proposal should meet with the officials after the meeting, and several people did so.

Continuing to address issues affecting the county, the commissioners received a proposal from Pocahontas County Free Libraries Director Cree Lahti.

The proposal was made to satisfy the requirements for distribution of the hotel/ motel tax to the library system.

The proposal includes provisions to continue the transformation of the county’s libraries into tourism centers.

Lahti reported that the PCFL board had met with Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Cara Rose and commissioner Jesse Groseclose to work out the details of the proposal.

Among other provisions set forth in the proposal, the PCFL and CVB boards detailed many ideas for improving marketing of the visitor-related services that PCFL currently provides, including:

• computer services

• Wi-Fi

• maps

• friendly, knowledgeable staff to assist visitors

• programs, such as “story time” and author readings

• business services

• meeting room space

• specialty items to borrow- i.e. GPS units, fishing poles and telescopes

Changes in signage, staff training and hours of operation will be made and the name of the library system will also be changed to reflect the libraries’ increasing focus on tourism.

Commissioners enthusiastically greeted the proposal.

Commissioner David McLaughlin made a motion to accept the proposal and commissioners voted unanimously to do so.

The commission asked the PCFL CVB boards to finalize the proposal and the name change and bring the detailed and final plan before the commission as soon as possible.

In other business, the commission:

• approved the county’s financial statement for publication in The Pocahontas Times as presented by County Clerk Melissa Bennett.

• approved an increase of $0.55 per $500 to the county portion of the excise tax. The previous amount was $1.10 per $500. The total county portion of the tax, with the increase, will be $1.65 per $500 and the increase will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

• voted to approve the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Right of Entry Form for Phase I Environmental Study for Interstate Hardwoods Building Site at the East Fork Industrial Park. This is the next step in the process of allowing Interstate Hardwoods to proceed with the construction of another building.

The commission will meet in regular session Tuesday, October 3, at 8:30 a.m.