At the June 1 Pocahontas County Commission meeting, Allen Johnson, of Eight Rivers Council; Ken Gaiter, of Snowshoe Mountain Resort; Cara Rose, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau; Gil Willis; and others presented their case against the proposed NIOSH Underground Mine Safety Research Facility at Mace. They presented a letter to the commissioners, and asked them to adopt it and send it to the Governor and both U.S. Senators. The letter requests that a search be initiated to find an alternate and more appropriate location in West Virginia for the mine safety facility.
The entire group opposed building the facility in Mace, not because they oppose the need for such a facility, but because this is just not a suitable location for such a facility.
A few of the reasons listed in the letter for why they believe the site is a bad idea include:
• It is located near the county’s primary tourist attraction, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, which will hurt tourism because of congested roads, loud explosions at the facility, and damage to the wild and natural environment that attracts tourists to the area.
• This destruction of the wild and scenic environment will also hurt residents in the area who chose this area to live because of its beauty and serenity.
• Both air pollution in the form of smoke and water pollution caused by chemicals such as firefighting foam, will be released during normal operations at the facility.
• The de-watering of wells and springs because the facility will remove vast amounts of ground water.
• The pollution of the headwaters of both the Elk River and the Tygart Valley Rivers which are located near the proposed facility, and all the resulting damage downstream.
• The resulting light and noise pollution will discourage visitors who come here to enjoy the peace and quiet.
• The inevitable destruction of a unique system of limestone caves located there.
The letter also pointed out that, once operational, the plant will only employ 12 people, most of whom will be researchers from out of the area, while the negative effects on the Snowshoe Resort and other tourism spots in the county could cost far more jobs here.
Randy Sharp was the one voice supporting building the facility in Mace. He said it could be built and operated without damaging the environment. He said he is tired of seeing new enterprises blocked from coming here because they may hurt the tourism industry.
Commission President Helmick proposed only writing a letter to the Governor asking for more information about the project so that the commissioners can make a more informed decision in the future. However, Commissioner Jesse Groseclose made a motion to write the letter asking the state and U.S. governments to look for alternate sites in West Virginia for the facility, which wouldn’t have the negative environmental and economic damage that this site could possibly create. Groseclose said the commission has a responsibility to assist communities who ask for its help. All three commissioners voted for Groseclose’s motion.
In another matter, Lisa Cutlip, the District Manager of the Snowshoe Resort Community District (SRCD) and Chris Monger, the SRCD Board Chairman, asked for the commission’s help in obtaining more law enforcement presence at the resort area because of an increase in property crimes, including the breaking and entering into homes there. They said it can take up to an hour for a deputy to arrive after being called. Cutlip said they have talked to the sheriff about this and while he wants to help, he told them he does not have the money to hire more than the eight deputies now working in the county. Cutlip and Monger feel that Snowshoe residents already provide more then their fair share of financial assistance to the county so should get adequate and timely police protection.
Monger said that on a winter weekend, there can be up to 25,000 people staying in the resort area, and now with the increase in mountain biking, the number of people staying near the resort in the summer has tripled over past years.
Walt Helmick said one idea would be to create a Ranger District within the SRCD. He also said that while the commission can discuss with the sheriff his financial needs, state law prohibits the commission from telling the sheriff how to deploy his deputies.
Helmick will ask the Sheriff to come to a future commission meeting to discuss these issues and possible financial solutions.