Shipley sees road ahead for Snowshoe sewage plan
Slaty Fork, WV –
The Pocahontas Public Service District board has submitted plans for a Snowshoe-area wastewater treatment system and is working the Public Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection to gain approval for the design. PSD contractor engineering firm WWMI submitted a plan which calls for rebuilding the Snowshoe Village sewage plant, to serve the mountaintop resorts, and construction of a second plant on Hawthorne Drive near Linwood to treat sewage from the valley.
The PSC has given the PSD until July 2 to obtain DEP approval of the plan. PSD board chairman Tom Shipley says a May 3 meeting with WWMI president David Rigby and DEP engineer Robert Koontz went well.
“For an entire day, starting early in the morning, Waste Water Management and Mr. Koontz, went on site on a field study of all the areas and addressed every single question or concern that remained,” he said. We were told y Mr. Koontz that he was very pleased – that he and Mr. Rigby had gone over every single thing – that he was confident that we wanted to move forward and that we were close. And then, he reiterated that we were very close.”
In 2010, Thrasher Engineering proposed a $26 million centralized, single sewage plant, which the PSD rejected. The board was surprised when Koontz told them he wanted to see a single-plant design from WWMI, too.
“Mr. Koontz said, the reason he’s doing that is because Waste Water Management demonstrated to him that it doesn’t cost $27 million to put in a regional project,” Shipley said. “The two-plant system was about $19 million, so, he’s very interested in seeing what one plant would cost. So, he is requiring Waste Water Management to do a centralized plan. He wants the board to consider a centralized plant, designed by Waste Water Management. His theory is that it would be even cheaper.”
Environmental groups and many area residents strenuously oppose any single-plant design, such as Thrasher’s, which includes a sewer pipeline transporting Snowshoe’s untreated waste into the valley. Opponents of a centralized design claim that such a pipeline would pose an unwarranted danger of pollution to the karst ecosytem of the upper Elk River watershed.
Shipley says the PSD will not be obligated to choose a single-plant design, just because it’s cheaper.
“As a board, we have to consider cost, but we also have taken a lot of time and spent a lot of effort to understand the concerns of the community and the geology, the hydrology, the separation of communities and that sort of thing,” he said.
Using average daily flow capacity as a yardstick, Thrasher’s rejected single-plant had a capacity of 500,000 gallons per day for both Snowshoe and the valley. WWMI’s two-plant proposal calls for a total capacity of 850,000 gallons per day – 550,000 at the Snowshoe plant and 300,000 for the valley.
Despite an ongoing lawsuit by valley landowners, arguing for more sewage capacity in the valley, the DEP might require the PSD to downscale its plant capacities.
“Now, the DEP is telling us that they have looked at the facts and the figures and the wants and the needs and they’re asking us to scale down, by some degree,” he said. “We were talking millions of gallons a day before and now, they’re talking about a total of 550,000, which would mean 400,000 up on the mountain and 150,000 down in the valley.”
The Pocahontas County Commission and the Snowshoe Property Owners Council support the WWMI design and both groups wrote letters to the PSC urging approval of the decentralized design. SPOC’s February 16 letter reads in part: “This decentralized approach meets the financial, environmental, safety and service needs of our community while addressing future growth in an intelligent and responsible way. The site enjoys near total support from the community, and while we understand there will be the need for some new permits and clearances, this support will enable the process to move forward in a more expeditious manner.”
Shipley says he doesn’t see light at the end of the tunnel, just yet, in the decade-long search for a Snowshoe sewage solution, but he hopes he will soon. The chairman said construction could begin within 18 months if the PSC approves a WWMI design.