By Stephen Smoot
Last week, both the Pendleton County Building Commission and the County Commission held meetings on Tuesday morning.
The building commission, represented by Jeff Bowers and James Brown, met “to give the public the opportunity to ask questions and make comments” about the proposed courthouse annex.
Hearing no questions, comments, or objections, Bowers explained that “you see the need for space here.” He then shared that “this has been a project ongoing for years and years.” Currently, the West Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals must approve the plans, but personnel issues in their office have created delays.
“It’s a hurry up and wait situation,” Bowers noted.
With no public issue, the building commission adjourned. Before the county commission meeting commenced Laura Brown, in attendance as executive director of Seneca Rocks regional Development Authority, said, “Thank you for the both of you. You’re an asset to the community.”
Commissioner Roger Dahmer opened the meeting with a prayer, asking that “You lift up Bruce Minor and his family” and be with them as he healed.
First, the commission approved repairs for the courthouse and Pendleton County Library. Commissioners next decided to wait until after the snows of winter receded to revisit a request to pressure wash the Riverton Community Building.
Diane Mitchell, director of Pendleton County 911, stated that “all is well. We hosted the 911 council meeting last Friday. A lot of those who came to the meeting came to visit our center.” Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County Emergency Services coordinator, shared that one individual has applied for a full-time position. He asked the commission “to look at the budget to see if we can support it or not” and explained that the 12-hour shift is based on the need for at least eight on staff, which is the current number of telecommunicators.
Carl Hevener, Pendleton County Commission president, responded, “I say go ahead.” The commission agreed with Hevener that 911 should interview the applicant.
Gillespie then shared the good news out of Charleston that the state legislature passed a bill to provide added financial support for emergency services. He said that $123,581.40 of the nearly $144,000 grant would go to support “salary enhancement” of emergency workers, including the stipends of volunteer first responders.
The remainder “must be spent on crisis response services,” Gillespie said, adding that this may be “a one time pot of money” with no guarantees after this year.
He then shared that he had met with Mike Alt of Pendleton County Emergency Rescue and that PCER wanted to meet with the commission “to hammer out the details” about using the funds to train a crisis response unit of 10 emergency medical personnel. Dahmer suggested that “I’d rather see the group include law enforcement, fire, and EMS.”
Hevener added, “Being a smaller county, I think it would be wise to get all three involved.”
Next, all commissioners signed a letter to Governor Jim Justice. After the near fatal truck accident in the U.S. 33 Allegheny Mountain construction zone, Gillespie and other officials contacted the governor’s office requesting $17 million in substantial improvements to the road. The letter adds the county commissioners’ names to the growing list.
The letter specifically mentioned the danger to tour and school buses from runaway trucks and stated, “The time to act before such a tragedy is now, while the state has a reserve of surplus funds needed to construct worthwhile remedies.”
Just a few days before, Justice was present at a ceremony in Kanawha County dedicating an $11 million bridge constructed to reduce congestion at a South Charleston shopping center.
Next Scott Somerville, representing the Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, rose to speak. In recent months he has come often to discuss his ideas for a planning commission for the county.
Somerville indicated that unnamed people had been pressuring him “to do something” about rumors of companies planning to erect wind turbines in the county. Hevener leaned forward and publicly invited those to whom Somerville had been referring to come before the commission and share their ideas, then added that “there has been nothing done along those lines.”
Somerville then said, “I am amazed at how much good work you all do.” Then he explained further that his planning commission idea could look at revising an old comprehensive strategic plan for the county and also field public comment on specific matters, such as wind turbines, more so than the county commission.
Laura Brown then explained that the Seneca Rocks Rural Development Authority had just started the process of comprehensive planning, expecting to obtain help from the West Virginia University Law School, who often assists with such projects. She made the case that “it is redundant to do an RDA strategic plan and a county plan.”
“This strategic plan will be a benefit to the whole region and not address just one single thing,” she noted.
Somerville then described the county without a planning commission and its ability to plan and regulate as “helpless . . . against a billionaire who will bribe some poor hillbilly.”
April Mallow, Pendleton County Prosecuting Attorney, interjected, saying, “Frankly, I find that an insult.”
Somerville said “I take that back,” and explained both that his birth county of Boone was taken advantage of by outside corporations and that the term “hillbilly” was not seen as pejorative there.
Mallow responded by saying, “We are not Boone County.”
Somerville then stated that if the county did not allow for a planning commission, that he would raise substantial monies to fund a candidate against the next commissioner up for election. That would be Roger Dahmer, who has also shared reservations about wind turbines as a source of energy.
Dahmer declined to respond, but Hevener stated, “If my term were up, I’d take that as a threat. We’re here to represent the majority, not the minority. We do for the best interest of the majority of the county.”
With that, the discussion ceased.
Next, the commission approved $500 to assist the Fraternal Order of Police for their Christmas toy drive.
Finally, Chad Bowers, Pendleton County Sheriff, handed the commission a letter and said, “As of Dec. 3, I plan to take my retirement.”
“Do we have to accept this?” Hevener asked, then said, “Chad, we really appreciate your service.”
Bowers responded with “it’s been an honor serving the county.”
Dahmer added, “You will be missed.”