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PSC holds wastewater hearing in Marlinton

Dozens of attendees crammed into the council chamber at Marlinton’s Municipal Building last Friday for a public hearing on a proposed Snowshoe area sewage system. Administrative Law Judge Keith George, seated center, presided over the hearing.

In February, the Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) applied for a certificate of convenience and necessity to build a $27 million wastewater system to serve the Snowshoe area. As part of its process to rule on the application, the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) held a public hearing at the Municipal Building in Marlinton on Friday afternoon. Administrative Law Judge Keith A. George presided at the hearing.

Several Snowshoe area residents spoke in opposition of the new plant, or to request that their homes not be included in the new sewage system.

Snowshoe resident Katherine Long said “the dream of Snowshoe home ownership is slipping away” due to high utility costs.

“We love it here, we want to stay, but it’s becoming more impossible to do that,” she said.

Long and other Snowshoe residents said the proposed plant is too big and too expensive.

Slaty Fork resident Christine Smith told the judge that nobody in her Locust Glen neighborhood wants to connect to the new system.

A membrane biological reactor inside a building, similar to a sewage facility proposed for the Snowshoe area. Siemens, Inc. photo.
A membrane biological reactor (MBR) enclosed in a building. A proposed $27 million sewage plant for the Snowshoe area incorporates MBR technology, which results in very clean effluent water. Siemens, Inc. photo.

“It’s come to my attention that a couple of subdivisions have opted out of this plan, one being Slaty Fork Farm and the other being Slaty Ridge,” she said. “I understand it was because the engineers thought it would probably be too expensive to run the sewer lines up into those areas because of the steepness of the property. All we’re asking for – the five full-time residents that live there – is to get the same consideration as those neighborhoods.”

Tina Beckwith, of Slaty Fork, said she and her neighbors didn’t need the new plant.

“We have our own septic, we have no need for it, no use for it,” she said. “We just feel the fees are phenomenal and for any of us, it’s just a fee that none of us have the money to put out for.”

PSD attorney Chris Negley presented testimony and evidence in support of the project. Negley solicited testimony from PSD treasurer Rick Barkley to show that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has cited the PSD several times for water discharge violations at its existing plants. The attorney also showed that the DEP is currently withholding fines as much as $25,000 per day for each violation, but can impose the fines at any time it determines the PSD is not making progress toward a solution.

The result of the hearing will be a recommendation from George to the PSC on whether or not to grant the certificate of convenience and necessity. The three-member PSC will make the final decision.

Negley said the public comments could have some bearing on George’s recommendation.

“The administrative law judge is entitled to listen to any evidence he wants and give it whatever weight he wants,” he said. “Obviously, those individuals will be heard and he will determine the validity of their concerns.”

Contractor Waste Water Management, Inc. (WWMI), of Fairfax, Virginia, designed the $27 million sewage system. WWMI president David Rigby explained why the cost is so high.

“Technologically, it’s a state-of-the-art plant,” he said. “It’s designed to protect the aquatic environment in the region and the waters of the Elk River. It’s also relatively expensive compared to a number of plants because of the character of the location – meaning it’s a ski resort and it’s in the mountains in West Virginia.”

Many local residents, sportsmen from around the state and environmental groups lobbied strongly with the PSD to make the plant safe for the Elk River watershed.

“You have a widely variable range in flow,” Rigby continued. “Because of that, it makes it difficult to maintain a constant level of treatment if you don’t protect it from the elements. One of the ways we’ve done that is we’ve put the entire plant inside a building, and that comes at a cost.

“It also has the membrane treatment technology which, 10 years ago, was emerging and there wasn’t a lot of history on it. A lot of people weren’t going to it. There were a lot of doubters and legitimate concerns on how long it would last. Now, we’ve got 15 years of good experience with membrane and it’s a state-of-the-art treatment system.”

Rigby said the size of the plant had been a compromise.

“It was a collective decision,” he said. “The state had lots of input into it, with both [PSC engineer] Bob Koontz and DEP leaders in Charleston. It was accepted by Snowshoe and also by a number of the property owners – larger property owners – so I think it became a good compromise.”

Negley said the PSD is hopeful the project will move forward.

“We believe it’s a good project for the citizens, right now and in the future, and we anticipate, if we are granted our approvals, that construction can begin as early as next year.”

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