By Stephen Smoot
The Pendleton County Commission took the unusual step of meeting in the courthouse last week to accommodate extra attendees and participants. Carl Hevener, county commission president, said at the start, “We’d like to value everyone here. It’s more than normal, which is good.”
Commissioners heard first from those representing the Franklin Volunteer Fire Department. “A lot of our equipment is very old,” they stated. They described how basic equipment has aged and what requires replacement. Hoses, which “are very expensive,” will need replaced soon. They come at $6.50 per foot and $4,000 would help the department to meet that need. Portable pumps that pull water from rivers and streams for use in fire suppression are “very old and hard to start.”
They also explained the high expense of fully equipping a firefighter. All the gear and training add up to $6,000 per person, per year. Supply chain issues, however, force departments to order early in expectation of receiving new equipment nine to 11 months hence. Also, a new portable pump costs $3,000.
Circleville Volunteer Fire Department also appeared to make a request. They seek to purchase a side-by-side vehicle for search and rescue operations. It would go beyond a typical recreational 4×4 in that it “has heating and air conditioning. It has everything we need,” including the capacity to carry equipment. “It offers us the capacity to go places that we can’t go with brush trucks.”
Representatives described a call last fall where a motorist had a rollover on a remote stretch of poorly maintained road. Debris and conditions made it difficult to reach the victim with conventional vehicles. In such situations, volunteer firefighters rely on use of personally owned side by sides, but retrieving them costs precious time that could mean the difference eventually between life and death.
They added that “we get numerous calls of people getting stuck” on Spruce Knob and other national forest areas in winter. Additionally, they help with mutual aid to remote sections of Grant and Pocahontas counties.
“We’re only as good as our equipment,” they said as they revealed the cost of the new vehicle to be $28,624.
Jimmie Bennett, county commissioner, asked “if we can’t cover it all, can you cover some?” Hevener said, “we could use some Title III funds, but not all.” Title III funds come from the federal government to compensate local emergency responders who cover rescues on federal lands. It was pointed out by the representatives that “most of the use will be in the national forest, search and rescue, fires, and MVAs.”
Next Scott Somerville, local farmer, was asked to give his scheduled presentation. He described how he and a neighbor had made a $150,000 deal to transform an old scenic family homeplace into a bed and breakfast inn, but said that he foresees a “problem I’m seeing on the horizon.”
He explained that he will not pull the trigger on the deal out of concern for what could happen to the property’s viewshed on Jack Mountain, then explained how in the past efforts had been made to erect a windmill farm on the ridge.
Somerville described how Gene McConnell, former county commission president, said that the county had no authority over how individuals chose to use their personal property. Absent zoning laws or a planning commission, Pendleton County lacks laws governing property use. Hevener agreed, saying “legally a landowner can do with their land what they see fit.”
Hevener also explained that the last proposal to pass zoning laws brought an overwhelmingly negative community response. Somerville responded that “a lot is changing,” and proposed that a foundational planning document combined with a planning commission could keep windmills away from areas of high scenic value while giving citizens a forum of discussion.
Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County emergency services coordinator, updated the commission on talks with National Radio Quiet Zone officials. He said he was “still not convinced that we are where we need to be.” A project at Green Bank funded out of Canada now poses a potential threat to Pendleton County’s desires to loosen restrictions on the Quiet Zone to allow for modern emergency communications in the northern end of the county.
Roger Dahmer, county commissioner, responded, saying that the commission had productive meetings with the representatives of Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Representative Carol Miller on the subject.
Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “I want to thank the commission for their help.” That assistance came in the form of $60,000 to help the office get started. She asked, “Is there any stipulation on how the CVB is to spend that?” She was told that “The CVB may use it as needed.”
The next county commission meeting shall take place on Tuesday, March 7.