Thank you flanaryb for the post on the Snowshoe Sewer Project. DWW left a post that is complete hogwash. If you will allow me.
"Snowshoe wanted to build the sewage treatment center on it's own property several years ago"
This SPIN comes right out of the mouth of Snowshoe execs and project planners. Snowshoe did want to build a sewage treatment plant on its own property, but a very important part of the story is not addressed in this definitive statement. Although Snowshoe, in 2003, was in the middle of a lawsuit filed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for hundreds of violations of their NPDES discharge permits with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines, they (incredibly) filed an application for permission to build a plant at the base of the mountain to serve their new valley development only; Hawthorne! This plant had nothing to do with solving the problems of failing infrastructure and failing treatment plants at Silvercreek and Snowshoe Village on top of the mountain.
Snowshoe requested the grand amount of 90,000 gallons per day (GPD) wasteload allocation, a tiny amount equivalent to a teaspoon into the river. In the application, Snowshoe claimed 90% of that allocation for their Hawthorne Village and brokered the remaining 10% to a private entity (one family). If Hawthorne Village exceeded expectations of growth, Snowshoe even reserved the right to take the remaining 10%.
Why a request for such a tiny wasteload allocation? Could it be that by asking for a small allocation, Snowshoe could claim need for all of it and not be required to share with those pesky neighbors as all utilities are 'encouraged' to do by the state?
"Non-Snowshoe developers in the area took that notion to court and forced it into the public arena (because they wanted a piece of the action)."
Snowshoe's application for the tiny Hawthorne plant was presented to the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC). About a dozen intervenors filed protests for the Hawthorne plant. Approximately half did not show up for the PSC hearing and were dismissed. Several of the remaining intervenors were residents at Snowshoe Village at the top of the mountain. Their argument was that they should not be forced to pay for a new treatment plant at the bottom of the mountain (Hawthorne) that would not solve the mess up at the top of the mountain (Silvercreek Village and Snowshoe Village). The few intervenors left over were neighboring developers using the incorrect or mistaken premise that Snowshoe was taking all of the available wasteload allocation in the area by being the first to ask for it and then claiming all of it.
"Then the PSC had to find a more neutral location so that the system could service communities outside Snowshoe (whether they wanted it or not)."
The PSC had to do nothing of the kind. Why? Because the premise of these intervenors was false. In fact, the DEP sent letters to Snowshoe offering them up to one million GPD wasteload allocation. This would have enabled Snowshoe to build a plant large enough to solve the mess at the top of the mountain, provide service to their new Hawthorne development at the base of the mountain, and SHARE with their neighbors. Curiously, Snowshoe withdrew their application to build the Hawthorne plant and presently pumps the sewage out of the ground and hauls it away.
The argument of those handful of intervening developers that wasteload allocation was being taken, all, by Snowshoe since they asked 'first' is hogwash. Even if Snowshoe managed to slide by with putting a treatment plant to serve only their Hawthorne community at the base of the mountain, they would only have been taking 90,000 GPD out of an available one million GPD! Could it be the real concern of the developers was that they might have to finance the planning, construction and operation of their own treatment plant?
Using the myth that Snowshoe tried to build their own plant (the mythmakers hoping no one will delve too deeply into that statement, the connotation being that Snowshoe actually endeavored to build a plant and fix its aging and inadequate infrastructure to solve all of its problems plus share with its neighbors to boot!) somehow the unsuspecting residents of the valley were 'TOLD' they had asked for a 'regional' sewer project. No one asked for a regional plant. Neighboring developers just wanted a piece of the (treatment plant) pie. Snowshoe solved that problem by simply not building ANY plant.
"Six locations were evaluated including public land and private land. Because of the centralized location requirement (in order to serve the public good beyond SS) and the tricky karst geography in the area (not to mention the lack of flat land) the Sharp farm became the target"
Does DWW have it wrong? No. To have something 'wrong' means that an individual is mistaken. There are so many hidden facts in the 'six locations were evaluated, including public land.." DWW fails to mention that the application for this project (Facilities Plan) included not one public land. In fact, the engineer responsible for choosing the treatment site location, during sworn deposition testimony, said she never looked at public land, assuming that one agency of government could not condemn the land of another. She also testified that the assumed location of the sewer treatment plant would be at the bottom of the drainage basin on the Elk River. Another sworn fact?..that the site at the Elk River was not chosen because of an 'agreement' between the head of the project and a powerful landowner.
The Sharp farm site is NOT a centralized location. Snowshoe is smack dab in the middle of the planned four-phase project. The Sharp farm site is almost at the far west end of the proposed project.
How does all of this site 'evaluation' business stack up? Projects such as this are financed (by the way, Intrawest pays not a dime for this project. Instead, the taxpayers are financing the construction, the repairs to failing infrastructure and the DEP mandated cleanup of their utilities at the top of the mountain) in phases. This project has four ostensible phases. Phase 1 would be financed up to a certain level where the ratepayers would pay the debt down to a point where more money could be released to build the next phase and so on. Certain requirements from one funding agency calls for the evaluation of three sites with the option of 'no site'. Another requirement is for the most 'cost effective' decisions. (project officials will swear to anyone who will listen that this means the cheapest. This concept is very important as you read further. Remember, we must have the cheapest site) Here is where it gets very 'interesting'.
Back to Phase 1. Phase 1 is a huge geographic area. It includes Snowshoe with almost 2000 customers (who already have a sewer plant) and goes all the way down a bucolic valley along Scenic Route 55/219 five miles down to the Sharp farm to add a grand total of about 20 new customers who are not already served by Snowshoe or state sanctioned package plant at the base of the mountain. One might ask if it would not make more sense to add service to Slatyfork as needed and pump the sewage to Snowshoe. Project leaders say they couldn't possibly do that. "It is very dangerous to pump sewage uphill!" They used this excuse for months in an effort to thwart growing concern over their decision. Lo and behold, we find that the 'gravity' system which they claimed in the original Facilities Plan (to the PSC) as the reason for picking the Sharp farm site.....is not a gravity system at all! How can that be? The addition of Silvercreek. You see, Silvercreek was not to be part of this 'regional project'. In fact, their application made a blanket statement about the fact that Silvercreek was in a completely different watershed and, therefore, will not be part of the project. Curiously, Silvercreek was added (rumor has it against their wishes) months into the project. Why is that important? Because it means pumps. Pumps? Yes, pumps. To do what? To pump the raw sewage UPHILL - up and over Cheat Mountain at great additional cost. What is the big deal about the additional cost? Curiously, this is the reason the project officials say they could not possibly move the plant because they say it would mean, get this, adding pipes into an area not previously planned. (As Yogi said, deja vu all over again) But, no - you say there are more pumps? Yes. A $400,000.00 pump has to be installed about 4 1/2 mile down Scenic Route 55/219 to get over two ridges. Well that's got to be done, right? Guess how many additional customers will be served by that $400,000.00 pump? 2. (yes, two) But, that DOES let them get to that Sharp farm!
And what about that tricky karst geography and lack of flat land? Well folks, there are thousands of acres of flat land in hollows off of state owned away from the Scenic Highway, businesses and homes. And that darned karst. (fissured limestone with underground water channels, caves, conduits and sinkholes) DWW forgot to mention that one (1) (yes, that's right, one) entire study point was performed under the headworks building (raw sewage) or SBR tanks (open vats with millions of gallons of sewage)on the proposed sitee and it found a VOID! (This void was the same size found on another infamous site, looked at belatedly in the scheme of things, which the project leaders announced they couldn't possibly build a plant there due to its presence)
They found voids all over the Sharp farm site. Microgravity studies were ordered (kind of like ground x-rays) and, guess what, voids were found. The county's own consultant ordered core drillings to see if the 'soundings' on the microgravity report indicated a cave. Only two new core drillings were done and they were not underneath the proposed site of the headworks or SBR tanks. The consultant contacted the Sharps and shared his concern that the project officials chose to not share the core information with him nor was he asked to evaluate that information. Would you be surprised to learn that the two new core samples found voids? One sample found seven stacked voids on top of each other. Why is this important?
Karst is ever changing. The force of underground water flow and pressure eats away at the limestone and causes a dynamic, ever changing landscape - above and underneath the ground. Case in point. Just feet away from the proposed site an area that was once a cornfield is now a miniature Yellowstone. It is riddled with water channels spewing water like geysers. Large sinkholes have appeared in the last decade with water rushing out, forming new streambeds. The point being, what was once stable land is not now. Could that possibly happen under the buildings housing raw sewage? Of course! The Sharp farm is full of ancient and current sinkholes. On November 30, 2005, a 20-foot deep, 30-foot wide chasm opened up. A river of water could be seen rushing under the recently exposed boulders in the depths of the hole. Even if the officials claim to be able to find four corners of the karst for each building to rest on, those four corners may not be there tomorrow. Couldn't happen again? Wellllll, not exactly. Just last week a tractor sank into a hole 100 feet from the proposed site and had to be pulled out with heavy equipment.
The other issue of karst is the fact that is so porous. One of the county hired consultants actually warned project officials that the Sharp farm site was the most dangerous due to the close proximity of the karst to an important aquatic habitat on the Big Spring Fork. (the rare host of three naturally reproducing trout and an imperiled endemic crayfish, Cambarus Elkensis) and that any spill, accident or overflow would immediately be spirited away into the groundwater. What about our wells and springs? Good question.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's own geology department filed a 21-page 'trip-study' with its own agency warning about the dangers of a treatment plant and discharge at the Sharp farm.
The most amazing thing is that every karst expert in the world warned against the Sharp farm site. Several local karst experts (known worldwide) suggest that a karst-free site is less than 1/2 mile away. It happens to be on state land. And do you know, that Governor Manchin has offered ANY suitable state owned land to the project leaders for a transfer fee of $1.00? But here is where it gets really twisted. The officials say we couldn't possibly burden the future ratepayers with the added cost to go down that whole 1/2 mile (and, well-uh, Snowshoe can't afford the delay).
What is this all about? It was ok to add Silvercreek. The DEP now requires up to $2 million of changes to the treatment plant (they forgot to plan for the Native Brook Trout and other precious life) but it seems an increase is ok for that....but not ok to move the plant to a safe place off the karst.
Why would it be more money to move the plant to the very place it was supposed to go in the first place? Well, back to those 'PHASES'. Phase 1, curiously, ended just short of the bottom of the drainage basin (at the Sharp farm) the huge geographic area of Phase 1 is, oddly, next to the bottom of the drainage basin in Phase 4. Phase 4? Why would phase 4 be next to phase 1? And why would Phase 4 be a tiny area with only two potential customers?
Remember WAY back at the beginning of this post? One state agency requires that 3 sites be considered (as well as no site). In the official Facilities Plan they list 3 sites. Guess how many were in Phase 1, the phase they are going to build? (in this century) 1 (yes, one....again) Would you be surprised to learn that one and only site was on the Sharp farm? How does that tie in with cost? Well, if they looked at 3 sites within the phase to be constructed the Sharp farm is the furthest point west at the border of Phase 1. If they looked at 2 other sites in Phase 1, the Sharp farm site would, by far, be the costliest because it is the furthest away from Snwoshoe. But no, the officials claim (despite millions spent in legal wrangling to take the farm via eminent domain) the Sharp farm site it the most, well let's just say it, the CHEAPEST! Why is it the cheapest. What if they put the plant down where the experts recommend and where it was supposed to go? "We weren't planning to go down there so we just can't afford to tax those ratepayers for those extra pipes". After all, that area is in Phase 4. Now the light bulb goes off. Consider one site in Phase 1 (the one you are actually going to build) and the other two in Phase 4 (the one that is the least likely to every be built) and you can come up with excuses all day! You will never hear the officials suggest meeting to possibly reconfigure Phase 1 to exclude some Snowshoe customers this go around (after all, Snowshoe and the officials claim this is a 'regional plant' and not Snowshoe's plant) and add them in during the second phase so that the project can move the plant to a safe place and the cost can remain the same and thus not raise the rates.
"The other requirement is that the ultimate rate needs to be affordable for the average homeowner. Most of the other locations evaluated would increase costs significantly due to the need for bridges, longer distances to run lines, etc. "
West Virginia University offered to build this bridge for free with a $500,000.00 grant.
" It's not as simple as buying land from a willing seller (of flat, non-flood-plain, non-karst, centrally located) land. " DWW seems to have been told or has forgotten that the Sharp farm site is actually ALLUVIUM (flood deposits) over KARST. The proposed site was created by flooding. It is called an alluvial fan. And yes, it is flat. So flat that more than half of it is in the official FEMA 100-year floodplain. The buildings are being scrunched up against the Scenic highway to get them in an area 'safe' from flooding.
Too bad they had the adjacent Middle Mountain stream declared 'non-existent' (bodies of water under the jurisdiction of the Army Corp of Engineers require bothersome environmental studies) because the stream, which created the very site, still floods onto it like a monster during heavy downpours and sudden snowmelts. Where does it enter? Right at the spot of the headworks building and SBR tanks. Ouch! The Big Spring Fork above the site was straightened to accommodate the highway, so the water gains a tremendous velocity as it approaches the site. Since the alluvial fan (the site) is in the direct path of the Big Spring Fork, it is forced to negotiate a sharp left hand turn to get around. Does it always manage this? No. In severe flooding, the river jumps its banks and flows over the (somewhat) higher part of the site right along the highway (and where the buildings will be).
"In fact, the owner of the Sharp Farm land in question was a willing seller early on until the rest of the family jumped in. " Well, since DWW is from Cincinnati he or she couldn't possibly actually know that this is a LIE! By the way, do you know how the Sharp family found out about the fact that their land would be taken? In a newspaper report. Lovely. The family member soon, thereafter, received a letter about eminent domain. I am happy to share a copy of the reply sent to WD Smith, project manager. Could it possibly have begged him to not take the precious land? Could it have informed him of the geological anomalies on the site? Yes? Yes. No wiling seller, folks. Why would the Sharp family allow this land to be taken? It is part of an 8 generation Pocahontas County heritage. It is land that has been kept in the family at great expense and sacrifice. The situation of a sewer treatment plant next to the Sharp's Country Store, established in 1884, and the recently restored 1900's farmhouse B&B will spell ruination. Loss of livelihood means loss of farm.
Trout Unlimited, The Isaak Walton League, The National Speleological Association, Friends of Elk, The Elk Headwaters Watershed Association, The West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen Association, The Mid-Atlantic Fly-Fishermen Association, the Sierra Club, countless experts in biology, hydrology and karst have filed letters of protest about the Sharp farm site selection.
Did I mention that two graves of historic Sharp family pioneers (one a Civil War casualty) will be bulldozed? Oh, they can't do that. Wanna bet? Less than 100 feet above the site is a hill with the family cemetery with the founders of the community buried. Mourners will look down upon 2.25 million gallons of human waste in open vats. One project leader (by the way, a Snowshoe exec) asked, "Will they smell it? The dead people. Will they smell it up there?'
Why on earth is the State of West Virginia determined to ruin the Sharp's hopes and dreams and way of life, endanger the aquatic life, and threaten the underground water supply when FREE state land is about 1/4 mile away? This site has 1 million gallons per day higher available wasteload allocation than the Sharp farm site. Snowshoe could build Disneyland up there with that allocation.
Lastly, permit me one 'emotional', 'sentimental' moment. Evva Shelton. Who is she? Well, she did what we all strive to do. Raise a family (3 girls) provide for them and live life in peace and not bother anyone. Evva did this all by herself. Her husband died soon after her twins were born. She has lived on the Sharp farm (just feet from the proposed site) for 66 years. She is 94 years young. Ladies and gentlemen, she was sent her very own eminent domain letter!
Eminent domain in a rural setting with thousand of offered state owned acres available is ludicrous. We are not in Manhattan, folks. Please move this plant! Please call the governor's office at Toll-Free: 1-888-438-2731
/ ask for his executive assistant, Joe Martin.
Please call Bill Rock, general manager of Snowshoe at 304-572-INFO.
Please call the soon to be new owners of Snowshoe, FORTRESS INVESTMENTS (Wesley R. Edens) 212-798-6100 and ask them to do the right thing.
Tell them you want to ski, but not on the backs of the Sharp family and the communities heritage. You might mention the fact that hundreds of Snowshoe property owners sent letter with individually signed petitions asking officials to move the plant. Over a thousand local residents likewise signed. The peition doesn't ask to stop Snowshoe, stop economic development or stop anything. It merely asks to move the sewer treatment plant away from the Scenic Highway, off the Sharp farm and onto safe land.
Please visit http://www.savethesharpfarm.com