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Fayette County, W.Va., Commission votes to dissolve Arbuckle PSD

By Jessica Farrish

The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va.

 

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — After hearing impassioned objections and technical and financial arguments presented by ratepayers of Arbuckle Public Service District during a one-hour hearing Friday morning, Fayette County Commission voted to dissolve Arbuckle PSD.

Under plans approved by the commission and the City of Oak Hill, the embattled Arbuckle PSD will be managed by the city of Oak Hill.

Three pump stations will be built to pump the waste of Minden residents uphill to the Oak Hill sewer plant. Total cost of the project upgrades by Thrasher Engineering is nearly $24 million.

Minden residents oppose construction of the project with lines set to run near Shaffer’s Equipment Company, a site contaminated by the industrial chemical PCBs. Recent testing by the United States Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) in Minden shows PCB contamination at a handful of properties, and Minden residents are fearful that the Oak Hill project will disrupt contaminated sites and release more pollution into their community.

Fayette Commission President Matt Wender noted that Oak Hill had agreed to take on Arbuckle PSD to prevent the State of West Virginia from overseeing Arbuckle, which has a history of problems.

Wender said Arbuckle has defaulted on bonds to the United States Department of Agriculture and has violated West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection orders for discharging sewage into Arbuckle Creek. Work to correct filtration and pump issues would be cost-prohibitive.

“This has not been a fun 17 years, dealing with Arbuckle,” Wender said.

Arbuckle has been investigated for loss and misappropriation of funds. Residents pointed out that county and state officials did not prosecute those responsible, including a suspect accused of embezzlement.

In 2012, Oak Hill had applied to the State Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) for a loan to fix its own failing wastewater system. The state denied the application but in 2014 offered the loan to Oak Hill in return for annexing Minden and taking over Arbuckle PSD, Wender said.

Arbuckle rate payers opposed the plan during the meeting.

“There probably aren’t going to be enough people down there (in Minden) to even help you pay for it,” Susie Worley, a Minden resident and member of Headwaters Defense, a local environmental group which opposes the project, told the commissioners. “I don’t look for them to be able to pay for it, after the PCBs and all the contamination down there.

“This is all about getting land and stuff for ACE and the development. I know this. The people there know this. I hope you all can do this, and you all sleep good at night, because what you’re doing is wrong.”

ACE Resort is the only major business in Minden, and Minden residents have stated at open meetings that ACE is not perceived as a positive corporate presence by the community.

Arbuckle will also become a pump station, and the project will fix storm water infiltration issues in Oak Hill. Worley said run-off from Oak Hill sewer floods Minden and leaves raw sewage in Minden and is largely responsible for a high fecal coliform count in Arbuckle Creek.

City officials cited the pollution in the creek as a reason for the upgrade of the sewer system.

Minden residents now pay $12 for the first 2,000 gallons. Under the change, the change will increase to $13.80. The next 38,000 gallons will increase from $9.40 to $10.80 per 1,000 gallons, and $7.90 to $9.10 per 1,000 gallons over 40,000 gallons of use.

Arbuckle customers will also see a flat surcharge fee of $5 per customer plus $2.50 per 1,000 gallons used for 10 years. Wender said Oak Hill residents will pay the same rate hikes as Minden residents, except for the surcharge.

“I’m going to eat tomorrow even if I have to pay this stuff,” Worley said. “There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t going to.

“These little old 80 and 90 year old ladies that’s on fixed incomes and stuff, does anybody give a crap about whether or not they eat tomorrow?”

Worley reported that some children in Minden don’t get enough food and that some residents don’t have enough to pay for their medicine.

Wender and Fayette Commissioner John Breneman approved the dissolution. Commissioner Denise Scalph was absent.

Wender and Breneman listened as Minden residents presented arguments against dissolution of Arbuckle PSD. At some points, Wender questioned residents.

Shelby Johnson, an Arbuckle rate payer, asked commissioners to investigate prior to voting. She said a 4-C Economic Development Authority report showed that authorities knew of embezzlement and mismanagement of funds at Arbuckle PSD and that state and local officials did not investigate. Fayette officials did not prosecute those responsible for $100,000 in embezzled funds, she said.

Fayette prosecuting attorney Larry Harrah said he would look into whether there had a been a prosecution.

Johnson reported that Arbuckle PSD office staff did not know how to pull customers’ names and addresses from West Virginia-American Whitewater to bill them for sewer, which is related to water usage. Some customers never got bills for service, she said. Wender noted that many of the bills were delinquent.

Jerry Lewis, an Arbuckle rate payer who had helped build the Arbuckle system, said a series of PSD operators who neglected maintenance and upkeep, coupled with theft of brass bolts and other parts of the sewer system, led to the degradation of Arbuckle PSD.

Complicating matters, they said, was a blatant refusal by state and local officials to investigate citizens’ complaints that sewage from Oak Hill was being washed into Minden and that local contractors bused lechate from Cunard and dumped it into a manhole at Arbucke PSD for at least several months, illegally burdening Arbuckle PSD.

Wender noted that he had seen a photograph of one of the dumping incidents on Oct. 27. He directed county administrator Debbie Berry to contact Bill Hannabass to look into the incident.

Darrell Thomas, a ratepayer and Minden resident, pointed out that under the current plan, Minden residents are responsible for paying $9 million of the project. He said an upgrade to make the Arbuckle plant functional would be more financially feasible for both Minden and Oak Hill residents.

“I’d rather have $500,000 to pay back than to get shoved with $9 million bill nobody can afford to pay, period,” Thomas said. “Why don’t you get good, honest people in there, shove half a million dollars on the plant, get it up and running again and call it a day?

“You’re going to shove $9 million on us, and 10 years down the road, half the population’s going to be dead because they’re so old or dying of cancer.

“That fee’s going to come right back on Oak Hill,” he said. “Oak Hill’s going to have to raise theirs to pay for it. That’s $9 million, and you don’t even know if it’s going to work.”

Wender said the state had made several attempts in the past to help Arbuckle, including paying for equipment that was not installed and asking Charleston officials to forgive fines.

Prior to the hearing, Wender had expressed concerns to Harrah and to county administrator Debbie Berry that an order to close Arbuckle PSD had been signed already and that he had reservations about holding a hearing after the decision to close it had been made.

Harrah and Berry told him that he had signed an order to set the hearing date but had not signed a closure order.

Read more in at http://www.register-herald.com

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