By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The Tucker County Commission requested a meeting be held between several entities to discuss a wastewater issue in the eastern end of the county. Initially intended to be held at the Davis Fire Hall, this meeting was held via teleconference to ensure the safety of all involved and abide by the stay at home order. Those in attendance were included County Commission President Lowell Moore, and Commissioner Jon Bush, Director of the Tucker County Development Authority Steve Leyh, Tucker County Planner Dennis Filler, Region VII Planning and Economic Council Director Shane Whitehair, Mark Holstine with the State Solid Waste Authority and Executive Director of the Tucker County Landfill, Mayor of Davis Doug Martin with Council Members John Felton, Ted Helmick, and Lisa Cousin, Mayor of Thomas Matt Quattro and Councilman Jody Flanagan, and Emily Wilson with the Woodlands Group.
Moore began by saying, “The Tucker County Commission proposes to request funding to complete a comprehensive, feasible study to provide increased sewage service to Tucker County Industrial Park, Tucker County Landfill, the Town of Davis, the City of Thomas, and other developable areas in the immediate vicinity.” “An assessment would be conducted to provide the Tucker County Officials with a plan as to best serve these areas and the most cost efficient and technical ways possible,” Moore added. He expressed the need to highly consider the future of the City of Thomas and Town of Davis when conducting this proposed study. This project will require all entities to be willing to participate in the study that the commission is proposing alongside Region VII. The study must be done to discover any issues that may be within the system in order to implement future development of these areas. “It’s an issue without a doubt for both of the towns, it’s an issue for the landfill, it’s an issue for the development authority, and it’s an issue for the county commission and the county as a whole,” Moore said.
Moore requested Whitehair speak to explain what the study would entail. Leyh had approached Whitehair previously with concerns regarding recruiting and retaining tenants at the Industrial Park due to the inability to provide adequate sewage service to the site. Whitehair stated, “There have been other situations like this throughout the state to where communities request planning funds from different agencies to evaluate the existing systems within a particular area and how to best serve the areas that are not served or under served.” He explained there could be options out there for grants to assist in funding a portion of this project as well as contributions from different agencies and municipalities. Region VII would prepare the grant applications on behalf of the Tucker County entities and communities once an agreement is met to move forward with the study. It is unknown at this time what the match funds would be, though Whitehair anticipates a 20% local match with a worst case scenario at 50%. He added there is no deadline for the grant, however due to the pandemic at hand; it’s unsure how long the process may take for approval. “We’re here to help, obviously I think this is something that needs to be done, it needs to be looked at, so we’re just here as a resource for you guys to utilize to help you with any kind of particular funding that needs to be done or obtained to do these types of studies or any kind of implementation project,” he said.
Leyh spoke next on behalf of the Development Authority mentioning the ownership of a significant amount of land along the Corridor H. Until the sewage issue is studied, it will be unknown if a large portion of that land can be utilized or developed if proper services are not accessible. “Every time we’ve looked at this, whether we use the properties for businesses development, commercial development, or housing, it looks like it all comes back to whether or not it has sufficient wastewater capabilities,” Leyh said. “That combined with the needs of the landfill seems to make this issue kind of be a top priority for economic development on this side of the county,” he added.
Holstine followed Leyh, speaking on behalf of the Tucker County Landfill. “One of the driving problems financially for that facility is the transportation and treatment of leachate,” he began. Recently the cost to do so has exceeded $600,000 on an annual basis. Even though the landfill is working to reduce the production of leachate, their financial situation is setting limitations in those attempts. “If we have to currently keep trucking and treating leachate, even with the best management and engineering designs and practices, I can’t see that cost for the landfill itself going below $400,000 a year even in a best case scenario.” “The need for a sanitary treatment facility compared with the environmental protection and liabilities for the landfill with on road trucking is huge,” he added. “The need just seems to be right for this type of study to see if there’s some way we can come up with a solution that benefits everybody and leads to some economic development which I think that area is prime for,” he concluded.
County Planner Filler then asked Whitehair if a study like this would be required for any entity wishing to file for grant funds for individual projects. He confirmed that documentation would be needed to justify the project. “So we’re going to have to make an investment somewhere within the county to do any kind of improvements to either, both, or any alternative solution that may present itself, so the time is now to get the study done because the problem is now,” said Filler. Besides serving as County Planner, Filler sits on several boards and any time economic development is considered, the same issue of handling the waste products arises. “So I think this is a collective problem that we have as a county and if we work as a county to solve the problem, I think it should yield the most cost effective solution for everyone concerned,” he concluded.
Martin spoke on behalf of Davis, beginning saying, “Shane (Whitehair) knows very well that all small towns in West Virginia, just like Davis, has problems. A lot of our storm drains are still tied into the sewer and that’s where we run into problems here in Davis.” According to Martin, when the weather is dry there are few to no issues, however when it is wet and excessive rainfall occurs, problems grow. “Does Davis need a feasible study done, yes they do, I agree with you 100%,” Martin said, but the item needs to be on the town meeting agenda and be open for a vote.
Moore ensured that the goal for this teleconference was to ensure everyone was open to the idea of this study. He understands that when in person meetings can continue the councils must be made aware of the proposal and have an opportunity to voice their opinions and cast a vote.
Quattro said, “There’s no question, Thomas has the same problems everybody has and eventually we’re going to have to try to solve them.” He continued, “If we can get everybody together and try to solve the problems and get it all funded under one big umbrella, we’ll all be ahead.” Quattro admitted that Thomas is going to have to address this issue on their own regardless, so doing it collectively is beneficial to their city. He too will be discussing the option of the study with his council.
Moore quoted OEM Director Kevin White saying, “We need to work as a team and everybody in this needs to be a player in it and that’s what we’re asking tonight is see if everybody will go back to their council meetings and see if its agreed to have the study done.” “I think we all agree it needs to be done, it’s a benefit to everybody but for it to actually happen everybody has to agree to have it done and then were going to have to abide by what the study turns out to be,” he concluded before opening it up to questions.
Davis Councilman Felton began with asking where those who are hoped to occupy the future affordable housing would work. Moore stated that Blackwater, Canaan Valley, and Cortland Acres came immediately to mind who has expressed a need for their employees to have in county housing to reduce those needing to commute long distances to work. “That is just part of the issue,” Moore continued, but it goes beyond that with a need for this study to determine ways to better meet the needs of the communities. “Don’t get me wrong, I agree with this study” responded Felton, but he questions where everyone will come from. “You’re going to have to have the basic infrastructure in place to put your communities in position to be able to sell to market your communities for this type of development whether it’s economic development, whether it’s housing, or whatever if you don’t have that basic infrastructure in place they’re definitely not going to come,” responded Whitehair. “If you don’t have your water services at top notch and there’s not sewer service available, there’s definitely not anybody wanting to locate to your area or your communities unless that service is available,” he added. This is similar to broadband services which can also deter industry from coming to areas.
Felton also asked if anyone has ever asked those who live in these communities as permanent residents what they desire for the towns and cities. He expressed concerns of city people coming to the area and trying to bring the big city ways to these small towns which he feels is against what most residents of our county desire. Moore responded, “Even if we don’t build affordable housing, and nobody else comes in, we have an existing problem with what we’ve got without any further development and that’s not what I think we need to address.”
Wilson with the Woodlands Group assisted with this question stating that according to a county housing need assessment conducted in 2014, several main employers admitted to having issues with maintaining good employees due to their commute. “That year that we interviewed them, the Board of Education said that they lost four teachers because the teachers got so tired of commuting from Elkins and Garrett County and other places,” she said. “So there’s a huge need for housing that people can afford with current incomes which we know are pretty low in this county for our permanent residents,” Wilson concluded.
Felton asked with the government owning such a large percentage of the county where the placement of industry would be. Moore stated that the point of the meeting at this time was to obtain agreement between all involved to move forward with this feasibility study. Martin came back on the phone saying, “One thing you said that I disagree with, when you said whatever the feasible study comes up with we got to abide by it, yea that is overstepping a little bit, we don’t have to abide by nothing.” “Right now, Davis citizens are took care of by what they got, is it feasible, does it work, it works now,” he stated, “It always had worked.” “Maybe I did overstep that,” said Moore, “but if we agree on a study, that doesn’t make it law,” cut in Martin. “When they do a feasible study they’re going to come up with several different plans, and they may come up with the best plan, but there’s going to be other plans beside that one.” Moore asked Whitehair if he wanted to assist in addressing Martin’s concern. He responded, “The whole purpose in doing a feasibility is to how best serve the areas that are in question.” “The best technical and financial way to serve the areas that need service, that’s the whole point of the study,” he said. “Now, in looking ahead, if the city of Thomas or the town of Davis in the future, near or far, plans to do anything to their existing systems whether any type of upgrades, improvements, expansions, whatever, and they need state funds to do that, they’re going to have to go through a process through the Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council to get review and recommendation for them to pursue funding,” he explained. This study would take care of that requirement for them to move forward with that type of project. He reiterated Moore’s comment that all parties have to be in favor of this project to move forward with a desire to do so sooner rather than later so the opportunity doesn’t pass by. “You guys (Tucker County) obviously have issues, both communities have issues, the landfill and the industrial park, everybody needs improvements so we need to figure out how we can make this work or we can leave it as is, that’s totally up to you guys on how you want to pursue it.”
“I tell you where it got to me,” said Martin. “When the Planning Commissions all got together in Charleston, somehow Davis got brought up and their infrastructure as far as wastewater was in trouble. I even got a call from an engineer, he wanted to know if he could get his foot in the door, engineer the job to put the wastewater from Davis to Thomas.” Martin asked the engineer what he was talking about, and he said it was brought up in Charleston. “I’m not getting tarred and feathered and run out of Davis, I can tell you that right now I live here, and if that’s what the feasible study consists of, just wastewater from Davis to Thomas, then we got a problem,” Martin insisted. “I’m up for anything, but just like I said when I started, our storm drains are still tied in to our wastewater, that is our biggest problem here in Davis.”
Whitehair noted he appreciates Martin’s concerns, but asked, “In looking at the existing situation that is up there with the landfill, the Industrial Park, can you give us an idea of how maybe we could fix that issue that’s up there right now?” “No, I can’t,” replied Martin, “That’s why the feasible study’s got to be done.” “If you don’t have any idea, or anybody else doesn’t have any idea, and the study will kind of clear the path for us to follow, if you don’t like what comes out of that plan where do we stand and how do we pursue to fix the problem?” Felton answered, “Right now we don’t have a problem.”
Martin continued saying he was asked how many citizens he expects to reside in the town of Davis in 10 to 12 years, though he replied he couldn’t give an accurate answer, but felt an estimate of approximately 300 additional people bringing the total population to around 1,000. “Today, I made a phone call to somebody I thought that should be on this call to begin with, is the president of the Homeowners of Tuscan Ridge,” he suggested. Discussion between him and Martin commenced relating to an escrow account, purchase of land with the intentions of constructing a plant, and the desires of the future of the development. “If they got 80 sites up there, plus they want to build 117 more homes, they need to be on board just like we are, everybody here that’s on this line,” Martin suggested since Tuscan Ridge was annexed into the town limits.
Moore asked Martin if he thought this study would help answer the questions and issues within the systems of Davis as well as addresses the needs of Tuscan Ridge. “What I’m waiting on somebody is tell us why Davis the topic down there in Charleston,” replied Martin. “I did not talk to that guy down there,” assured Moore. “He stopped by our office Doug I think after he was up there at your office. He’s an engineering firm looking to get his foot in the door, you’re right on that, and I think that’s what his interest in it was.” “But rest assured, that wasn’t discussed down there with me,” Moore added. Whitehair suggested any time conferences are held in Charleston, engineering firms have auditors and representatives that attend with a goal to market their company. “That happens all the time, not to justify the conversation but that type of stuff goes on a lot,” he said. Martin claims this engineer had specific details and felt that it had to come from a conversation that happened in Charleston. “He didn’t have that conversation with me,” replied Moore.
Martin continued, “I’m glad everybody is worried about Davis but Davis. I mean do we need a feasible study done for this, for anything to grow up here even an Industrial Park, get businesses in, absolutely; I’ll be the first one to admit that. If we don’t grow with it we’re going to be left behind.” Moore responded, “And that’s what we’re trying to do so everybody can grow together, Doug.”
Councilwoman Cousin with the town of Davis asked Moore if he was asking for them to make a decision tonight on moving forward with the study and he confirmed no, it needs to be taken back to the council meetings for discussion for proper approval. Whitehair confirmed that was the intention of the phone conference. “The community should be involved because I think we’re worrying a lot about infrastructure and not worrying about our present community and our people that are here already and have lived here because things are starting to not look so good in this area,” Cousin stated. “Businesses close, people try to open them and they close, and it’s been that way for years, so I think Davis’s biggest thing is community, the town council tries to do for the town as much as we can, I just don’t want to lose sight of that either,” she added. Martin agreed and added transparency is important and a key component with Moore agreeing and saying everyone in their positions should practice that. “We will take it to council and we will bring it up about the feasible study which I agree with you, we need it for infrastructure, you’ve got to have infrastructure in place or we’re just going to be left behind, everybody is,” Martin said. “Then we may have to have another meeting eventually face to face so we can get everybody involved and see what they say. I was elected by the people, the citizens of this town, they should have a say in it just like I do and six other council people,” he added. “We understand that,” responded Moore, “We had to start somewhere.” “We’re not trying to hurt nobody we’re just trying to help each one and make our county better,” he added.
Mayor Martin agreed saying anytime Thomas needed help, his town was happy to do so and thanked Thomas for the times they have assisted Davis. “That I appreciated dearly,” he stated. Commissioner Bush spoke briefly stating he relocated to Tucker County 31 years ago with a business that was strongly driven by tourism along with another business driven by residential. “I want to address this real thing about Davis and Thomas because this is what we’re talking about,” he began. “Infrastructure, when I came here 31 years ago, everything was about tourism and guess what, everything is still about tourism because we have no infrastructure, we have no vision for business.” Two of his children who love the area he believes would never relocate nearer their family due to the lack of opportunities and services in the area. Bush feels several things need to happen simultaneously to address the issues they are discussing. “We have to have a place to build businesses, we have to have ways and allocations to handle that, and we got people who want to come here and we have young people coming out of school with engineering degrees and other degrees who would love to live here but they can’t.” Bush continued, “I want to see our schools filled back up again, some of that’s going to be from people that come from outside of here, families with children because we’ve all came from somewhere and some of that is going to be from the young people that are growing up in this area now and have no place to go.” He feels there is land available to make all of this happen with a majority of it being between Thomas and Davis. “This is the elephant in the room that needs to be talked about, the rest of this stuff can be worked out, that’s the whole reason for this study in my mind, is to benefit Davis, to benefit Thomas, to take care of their existing residents and give those residents and families a place to go and some new people.” Bush feels that most people move here because of what Tucker County has to offer, but it has to be able to sustain them. “We have to get people, not people visiting, that’s nice, I want tourism don’t get me wrong, tourism is important, but that egg in that basket isn’t enough,” Bush added. “We need real jobs, real families who can actually support businesses, year around, not just six months a year.”
Moore reiterated this is proposed to help everyone involved and requested all councils take the idea back to their council to hopefully agree to move forward with the study. This topic will be listed on future agendas for consideration amongst the different entities involved to come to an agreement on how to proceed.