By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Kelsey Kirby, the W.Va. coordinator for the Virgin Hyperloop Project attended the Tucker County Commission meeting to share her excitement about the project to come. “In the last days, I think there were four or five super competitive cases that they were deciding between, and I can tell you the team that was working on this was sweating bullets, just dying to know if perhaps we were going to win. Over the course of the year, at first, it was kind of a long shot, and as we went through these phases we found more and more people in the state, more partners, and really strong ways that there was good overlap between what Hyperloop was trying to do and what our state knows how to do,” said Kirby. The Hyperloop board decided to go with W.Va. for their project and then two weeks later, October 8, is when the announcement was made publicly.
Kirby then shifted from being with West Virginia University to working with Virgin Hyperloop as the only state resident as an employee thus far. Her goal is to be receptive and learn from the locals what is most important to the community and how they can be helpful as a positive part of the region.
“Virgin Hyperloop really is in the very early stages of planning, so there are a lot of unknowns because those plans are still being made,” said Kirby. Commission President Lowell Moore asked if an estimated timeframe of construction could be provided, to which Kirby responded, “Most likely, they could be breaking ground at the end of ‘21, but again that’s still a little bit uncertain.”
Commissioner Jon Bush stated that this project would offer a strong presence on the Northern end of Tucker County where a lot of other projects are taking place, which leads to a need for infrastructure and the impact of housing and all that will follow this project. He added that there are several skilled tradesmen in the area who travel outside of the county for work that he felt could be an asset to the hyperloop project. Kirby agreed and has a desire to bring back locals of the state and region as a result of this.
Commissioner Fred Davis asked if there would be any career opportunities for individuals who may not have a college education. Kirby stated she is still working to become aware of all of the careers that will accompany the certification center as this will be the first one. She explained that the center will ensure the safety of the unit, aid in the understanding of the operation, and train employees; however, this is intended to be a permanent facility so the future capabilities are endless.
Davis questioned if Virgin had plans to work with the local entities such as the golf courses, the schools, and aid in infrastructure improvements once they are established. “We’ve got a lot of big ideas of how we can get involved and be helpful,” responded Kirby. “There are a handful (of engineers) and growing at the company that is so excited working with students to get them excited about STEM,” she added. Communication with the National Youth Science Foundation has already commenced and they are looking forward to a relationship with them.
Tom Whitaker, Vice President of telecommunications company Shentel, gave a presentation about their company and offerings. Shentel has been in contact with Canaan Cable and has proposed to acquire their business and have agreed to take on their assets in Canaan Valley. “We’re going to acquire that network and that infrastructure and we’re going to spend somewhere between half a million to a million dollars to upgrade that infrastructure to bring the broadband speeds up higher, more consistent with an urban system and also probably upgrade the video platform over there,” explained Whitaker.
Moore asked how far Whitaker expected services to expand throughout the county which he responded they could include Dry Fork and Harman, however they would not overbuild Atlantic Broadband in Davis. Bush made a motion to approve the resolution with both Davis and Moore in favor.
There were several county board appointment proposals on the agenda beginning with the reappointment of Bobby Snyder to the Canaan Valley Zoning Board along with Jennifer Newland and J.Tucker Garten, all for three-year terms. Moore made the motion to approve with all in favor. Angie Shockley and Marti Neustadt requested re-appointment to the Planning Commission along with Tim McLean for three-year terms. Bush moved to approve the Planning Commission appointments with Moore and Davis in agreement. The Parks and Recreation Board had two re-appointment proposals including Thomas Gutshall and David Lambert, also three-year terms. Davis made the motion to approve the re-appointments with all in favor. Zachary Phillips requested a five-year term on the building commission along with Susie Carr asking to serve three years on the Animal Shelter Committee and Diane Hinkle for three years on the Ambulance Authority Board. All were approved unanimously.
Tom Gutshall spoke on behalf of the Parks and Recreation Commission and the projects that have been completed and yet to be done. An estimate was being developed on electrical work at the baseball field and facility at Camp Kidd. “We’re planning on trying to get a new floor put into the 4-H Camp,” Gutshall said, though with the pandemic, the PRC is financially strapped like a lot of groups are. The recent water improvements made were a result of golf tournaments and did not come out of the general fund. He explained that funds have been transferred amongst the accounts at the PRC to cover bills and associated costs until the hotel/motel tax is received in January.
Gutshall wished to dispel a rumor regarding how PRC members are selected, stating those interested have to put an application into the PRC board that then is discussed amongst them before applicants are presented to the county commission. “We have never turned anybody down that wants to be on the Parks and Rec and wanted to work,” confirmed Gutshall.
Bush asked Gutshall if he wished to discuss something that was covered in an earlier newspaper article. Gutshall was under the impression that there was some discrepancy regarding a quote in a PRC article that since the commission meeting has been addressed and validated.
James Snyder with the Tucker County Health Department was available to provide a Covid-19 update. He stated he had to keep his report brief as the vaccines arrived in Tucker County the day prior and administration was set to begin. “It’s a very limited supply,” Snyder said, which is set for First Responders and nursing homes first. “We have got to take this shot people,” Snyder stated. While Tucker County has been fortunate thus far, the numbers have taken a turn for the worse.
Snyder recognized there is a lot of negativity going around about the vaccine. “I am taking mine today, I have no problem with it,” he assured. “This vaccine is a tool that’s given to us, we’ve got to use it, so I encourage everybody when it’s available to you, please go take that shot,” he added. Masks are still recommended to be worn after taking the vaccine as it is not 100% effective and the mask can add to the protection. “Better days are coming,” he stated, “I do believe that.”
Maintenance Director Joe Long stated the security system would already be installed however some issues occurred and parts needed re-ordered. The concrete at the building near the Health Department has been poured and is ready for the building to be ordered. The heat on the second floor is malfunctioning and is being repaired as soon as possible to prevent strain on the master unit.
Beverly Cantrell, newly appointed 911 director, wished to commend her dispatchers as they have received some difficult calls in the last couple of weeks. “They’re doing a great job, they’re hanging in there,” she said. Incoming callers are continuing to be asked Covid screening questions. Weather and road conditions will continue to be monitored throughout the winter months and alerts will be put out as necessary. “The Micrologic tower will hopefully start late January weather permitting,” Cantrell added. She concluded by introducing Michael Simmons, newly appointed Deputy Director of 911.
Kevin White, Office of Emergency Management Director, is still working to distribute personal protective equipment to entities in need. His office is working alongside the W.Va. Department of Highways in preparation for bad weather and responding to accidents when needed. White announced that in the event of power loss, under CDC and federal guidelines, OEM shelters cannot be activated due to the Coronavirus. Instead, all of the entities that are typically involved such as 911, the fire department, and others, will be used to perform welfare checks and assist where they can. “It does not mean they can’t be activated, it’s just highly unlikely they will be,” said White, but it would need to be, “a life or death situation.”
Moore read a statement prepared by Bailey Falls, Animal Shelter Director, stating she and the staff has been busy with more adoptions than she has experienced during her tenure. Work is being continued to assist in controlling the cat population and they have been able to keep up with placing animals with rescue partners when needed.
A road name proposal was submitted by Julia Ann Aucremanne for Eagles Landing, which Cantrell had no conflicts with through 911. Davis made the motion to approve the road name with all in favor. Cantrell stated that Peter Johnson has intentions of constructing 16 homes behind the former Davis Shop N’ Save Building and has requested the road be named River Walk Place. The commission agreed and voted in favor of that address.
Moore explained that the reason for the by-laws of the Tucker County Enhanced 911 Advisory Council being on the agenda was that they had never been signed and to be legal, they must be signed. He assured no changes were being made; they just needed to be signed to be submitted. Moore made the motion with both Davis and Bush in favor.
A piece of property behind the Tucker County Health Department, known as the Miller Property, became available and the Commission supports this property to be utilized for parking for the three entities in that area. “We have got an option to buy the property and have gone through the hoops, we can purchase that property for a total of $16,500 and that includes the house removal, the asbestos testing, the asbestos removal, and a clean air testing,” said Moore. He moved to purchase with all in favor.
The Canaan Valley Public Service District took receivership over the services when Timberline Utilities failed to operate at the required standards. The commission had to sign a $20,000 agreement stating if they failed, they would cover their losses and their bailout up to that amount. “We don’t ever want that to happen,” Moore said. He read the agreement pertaining to an engineering study and the actual construction of a water plant that requests matching funds of $15,000 for the study and $5,000 for construction if the study proves feasible. The existing structure was constructed in the early 1990s and is overworked and outdated. Moore made the motion to agree to the terms, feeling this was a necessary step in providing infrastructure to that area. Bush and Davis agreed to the motion which then carried.
Tucker County FFA Advisor Paul Pennington requested, at previous meeting, for funding for the program. The commissioners discussed the $4,000 request and approved $1,200 be allocated to the FFA.
As part of an attempt to preserve the Courthouse Complex, a bid was received for interior painting and repairs to be made to the second floor. The quote was for $12,800 to complete this project, which passed unanimously. A request for an Advantage Technology Network Rack was submitted for $2,597 which was also approved to redo the utility room.
The payments were approved as presented followed by Moore announcing a proclamation sent by Gov. Jim Justice declaring Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as holidays.
Moore wished to clarify that a recent grant received from the Governor’s Office was for the Community Corrections Program for $150,000. “That money is a grant that the Community Corrections asks for every year, that money is for them, it is not for the medical services throughout the county,” confirmed Moore.
Bush gave his final commissioners report, stating, “It’s been great working with this group of guys and I pray for their wisdom going forward.” He continued, “There are some very crucial decisions that need to be made and if I can I hope to be a part of some of those in the future.” Davis, Moore, and County Clerk Sherry Simmons thanked Bush for his time and commitment to serving the county.
Davis reported that Timberline had a positive debut weekend before Moore recognized all of the employees that have or will be retiring or leaving the Courthouse Complex in 2020. He read a list of names and wished each one well.
The first meeting of 2021 will be held January 4, 2021, at 8 a.m. in the commission meeting room followed by a regular session on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, at 9 a.m.