Pocahontas Commissioners to Ask Gov. Justice to find Different Location for NIOSH Mine

At the June 1st County Commission meeting, Allen Johnson of the Eight Rivers Council; Ken Gaiter of the Snowshoe Mountain Resort; Cara Rose of the Convention and Visitors Bureau; Gil Lillis; and others presented a strong case against the proposed locating of the NIOSH Underground Mine Safety Research Facility at Mace. They presented a letter to the commissioners, and asked them to adopt it and send it forward 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 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 twelve 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 told us that 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 won’t cause the negative environmental and economic damage that this site would. Groseclose said the commission has a responsibility to assist communities who ask for its help.  All three commissioners ended up voting for Groseclose’s motion.

In other actions at the meeting, the commissioners:

  • Permitted the Health Department to have sound-proofing foam installed by professionals to ensure the privacy of patients in their examination room.
  • Agreed to issue a proclamation declaring June 21st as Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
  • Agreed to ask the public to write or email the FCC with the reasons they want satellite TV providers to provide West Virginia TV channels to them.
  • Agreed to write a letter of understanding to WYK, LLC ensuring them that if the grant to fund the construction of a new EOS/911 Center is approved, WYK will be the company doing the engineering work on the project.
  • Approved supporting 911 Director Mike O’Brien’s efforts to expand the exceptions to the National Radio Quiet Zone restrictions for the 91 Center to provide better emergency radio communications in the county.
  • Removed all mandated COVID mask and social distancing requirements in the courthouse.
  • Appointed Ruthanna McNeel Beezley to a 5-year term on the Historic Landmarks Commission.
  • Appointed Pamela Burns to a four-year term as the county resident member of the Farmland Protection Board.

The commissioners also discussed several items:

Regarding the Tannery site in Frank, Walt Helmick said the efforts have been stalled to establish a demolition site on two acres of the site due to new changes to the flood plain maps that might put those two acres in the flood plain. He has put the project on hold until they meet next week with Don McNeel and learn whether that land will be in the flood plain. He said those map changes could also affect other areas such as the courthouse and any proposed future construction of a courthouse annex building.

Commissioner Groseclose and Mike O’Brien explained why these flood maps can change. They said in the past some buildings have added fill-dirt to raise them out of the flood plain, but doing that just displaces flood water which has to go somewhere else, causing former unaffected areas to be subject to flooding.

Commissioner John Rebinski said that he has learned that the state litter control grant can also fund the demolition and removal of abandoned buildings that are eyesores.

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 than 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 twenty-five thousand people staying in the resort area, and now with the increase in mountain biking in the summer, 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 SRCP. 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. Helmich will ask to Sheriff to come to a future commission meeting to discuss these issues and possible financial solutions.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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