Part 2, Pocahontas County Commission’s March 7th Meeting
In Part 1 of the Pocahontas County Commission’s March 7th meeting story, we heard about the creation of the County’s Bi-Centennial Commission and listened to Bob Sharp read a historical and amusing letter written in 1823 Huntersville.
Additionally the Commissioners heard Amy Scott present some interesting economic objections to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (or ACP) being built through Pocahontas County. Scott said that the completed pipeline will move 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas through Pocahontas County per day destined for Virginia and North Carolina. That natural gas is valued at 4.52 million dollars per day, yet none of it will be available for use in West Virginia. She pointed out that Dominion’s donations of $7,000.00 to the Pocahontas Meals on Wheels program represents about a minute and a half worth of one day’s gas flow and that Dominion’s $1000.00 donation to beautification represents only about 19 seconds.
Scott is also upset with the State of West Virginia, who is actually decreasing the gas severance taxes – from the current 5% down to 4% this July and reducing it again down to 3% in July of 2018. They are doing this despite facing record deficits that may cause increased taxes on its citizens. This gives huge tax breaks to the gas companies, while depriving the State of a lot of money that could have filled some of the massive holes in the West Virginia State Budget. She pointed out that Texas has a 7.5% gas severance tax, while Kansas has an 8% one and California a 9.5% one.
Rachel Fanning of Pocahontas Indivisible also presented pipeline related information to the Commissioners. While sort of conceding that despite her organization’s opposition to the APC; because of the new Administration in Washington, the ACP at the end of the day will very likely be built. She said Pocahontas Indivisible is looking beyond that fight and working with the State Legislature to help West Virginia prepare for these pipelines. Pocahontas Indivisible has met with several State Legislators including Senator Greg Boso to see if a bill could be introduced that would create an emergency fund that would be immediately available to counties for compensation and clean-up in the event of a major pipeline disaster. Fanning said the cost of this fund could possibly be passed along to the gas companies maybe through additional severance taxes. The Commissioners indicated they thought this could be a good idea but would first like to see the draft of the legislation when it is available before actively supporting the idea.
The Commissioners also voted to support the 2017 West Virginia Court Security Grant application, which could be used to repair or replace the Courthouse cameras.
They received an update on the One Room University from Roger Griffith of the New River Community and Technology College. Griffith said the philosophy of the One Room University is to “bring education to the people rather than the people to education”. He said that there are currently 29 students attending the Marlinton campus who are enrolled in 151 courses. Since 2012, there have been 23 students who have received Associate Degrees. Griffith said New River remains committed to the One Room University but if the State deeply cuts funding to the college, they may have to re-evaluate this committment.
Lauren Bennett of the County Parks and Recreation asked the Commissioners to change the way the Hotel/Motel Tax would be distributed next year. She said if the Commissioners would spread out the fixed contributions to the Hospital, EMS, the Fire Association and the Bricks and Mortar fund over 2 months, it would allow Parks and Recreation to pay salaries and meet expenses next February and March without having to take borrow from their bank line of credit. The Commissioners agreed to discuss this with the Hospital, Fire Association and EMS to see if they had any objections to the idea.
The Commission’s Attorney, Bob Martin, reported that Robert Orndorff from Dominion answered the letter Martin had sent him on behalf of the County Commission in which Orndorff was asked what Dominion’s intentions were in buying 1200 acres of the Buckskin Boy Scout Camp located near the Seneca State Forest in Dunmore. Orndorff’s reply said that Dominion Conservation Fund was asked by Dominion Power to help purchase that land. In direct contradiction to Orndorff’s earlier pledge to the County Commission that he was “committed to transparency”, Orndorff would only add that “there are ongoing, sensitive and confidential negations about the future use of the property”. The Commissioners, and others, have suspected that Dominion may be planning to use that land as a bargaining chip to reduce opposition to the running of the ACP Pipeline through Seneca State Forest.
The Commissioners also voted to allow Aflac Insurance to discuss optional insurance with County Employees, and approved an annually required memorandum of understanding with the Day Report Center and an annually required resolution supporting the Region 4 Planning and Development Council’s Multijurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan.