Snake Eyes sewer plant strongly opposed
Three members of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Water and Waste Water Management division heard overwhelming opposition to a planned sewer plant project in southern Morgan County.
The application by Sovereign Homes of Winchester, Va. seeks approval to construct a wastewater treatment plant to process sewage from upwards of 1,900 people in 400 homes across two proposed developments near Snake Eyes Lane.
The sewer plant would discharge 157,300 gallons of treated water per day into Sleepy Creek.
The public hearing was held on Tuesday, March 27 at Warm Springs Middle School in Berkeley Springs.
Representatives from the DEP’s Water and Waste Water Management division included Tom Aluise, Dave Phillips and Renee Clevenger.
Sixty county residents attended the public hearing. Aluise opened the meeting by inviting people to speak.
Residents speak out
Twenty residents of the south end of the county stood up in front of the crowd and spoke about the sewer permit application.
Only one of those 20 speakers spoke in favor of the sewer plant. Tim Seims, who sold the property to the developer, supported the sewer permit.
Siems said he sold the land to the developer several years ago for $500,000.
“My vision of Morgan County in the future is that it will have clusters of dense population with individualistic houses and open space in between,” Seims said.
He pointed out that zoning was defeated in this county by a 3-1 margin and that the current standard of two acres per lot was economically unsound in this economy.
Bert Lustig set the tone for the opposition voiced during the evening meeting. “Once again, one of our precious waterways is under assault. Remember that Sleepy Creek is our creek. It does not belong to
the West Virginia Department of Environ-mental Protection and it most certainly does not belong to the developers who wish to use its waters to wash away their waste,” Lustig said Sleepy Creek is an impaired stream and active steps have been taken to remediate the pollution in the stream and a full recovery is expected, he said.
Lustig referred to an effort by the Morgan County Health Department and Sleepy Creek Watershed Association to replace or repair failing septic systems along Sleepy Creek that were polluting the stream.
Several dozen septic systems have been repaired or replaced in the last several years under this initiative, which received $487,486 from a federal conservation grant and matching state funds.
“Yet, according to this draft permit, the EPA will allow Sovereign Homes’ facility to spew nearly 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrogen and over seven tons of ‘suspended solids’ into our creek each year,” Lustig said.
“I have personally spent many hours with several of you in the room protecting Sleepy Creek, volunteering on the weekends. It’s a nice little creek. There is no way it should be allowed to receive any kind of contaminant,” said local builder Mike McKechnie.
Charles Biggs, representing both himself and the Sleepy Creek Watershed board, said the board filed an objection to the proposed development in November.
The group suggested that, based on the level of discharge from the sewer plant; the development should be reduced to 100 homes.
Biggs said the application for the permit is “flawed.” He cited statistical errors in the application regarding the number of homes, amount of discharge and even the distance to the Potomac River.
Jennifer Carpenter Peak said the proposed development is too big for a rural area.
“You can’t dump in upwards of 150,000 gallons into a creek that only goes up to my ankles. That’s ridiculous. This is not a good design for anyone,” Peak said.
Barbara Tutor said, “We have got to stop treating the world like we have a spare tire in the trunk. It is not a spare part, it is our environment and what we do to it affects all of us.”
Plant operation questioned
“I think the permit should be, if not dismissed, revised drastically,” said John McCracken. He questioned Chesapeake Bay offset requirements in the application.
McCracken pointed out that the sewer plant would be run remotely and questioned who would be the monitoring body. What would be the response time if a failure occurred, he asked.
He said a catastrophic failure would overwhelm the creek.
Robert Raynor said there is no specification where the resulting sludge from the sewer plant would be taken. He also said the difference between the temperature of the water in the creek and the water coming from the sewer plant would harm the creek.
“A scenic creek that becomes a swamp only attracts flies,” he said.
Dennis Nord said the extra water needed to process the sewage will have to come from a large well and wondered what impact that would have on water in the surrounding area.
Development too big?
Several members of the audience opposed the development in general, not just the proposed sewer plant permit.
Tim Newton said the planned 400-home community would amount to the second largest city in Morgan County. He pointed out that the people living there would work, shop and buy their gas in Virginia.
“This is not a Morgan County development, this is a suburb of Winchester,” Newton said.
Joe Mogus said the people wouldn’t object to a “smaller, more reasonable development.” He suggested a development of 40-60 homes.
Jeanne Mozier said “It’s very unfortunate that the lack of regulation in this county and the lack of regulation in the state of West Virginia would allow such an inappropriate scale development to even get this far.” She went on to say it is a “totally crazy idea.”
Joe Michael wondered what 400 additional homes would do to the existing water supply. He said 400 homes were “unreasonable” in an area that has a lot of wetlands.
Sandy Kaye pointed out that there are already plenty of homes for sale in the county for people to live in.
Pressure on schools, taxes
Colin Williams said bringing 400 low-cost houses into the community would place many new children into local schools. The added students could raise everyone’s property taxes even higher, said Williams.
Addressing his remarks to a Sovereign Homes representative in the audience, Williams said, “You won’t be bringing jobs to the community, I know this for a fact. And you certainly won’t be bringing anything other than burden to an already overburdened community.”
Bob Wurster also wondered about the school situation, noting there was not a school in southern Morgan County. “I don’t see where the county gains anything from this,” he said.
Former property owner Tim Siems said the 400 homes would not all be built at once.
“It won’t matter to any of us, we will all be dead,” Siems said. The comment wasn’t received well by the rest of the audience.
Patti Miller followed by saying, “Tim’s my friend and we don’t agree on everything, but I can’t believe you said what you just said.”
Miller said she was there to advocate for the environment, not only for this generation, but also for future generations.
Kim Robinson said the community has to be good stewards of Sleepy Creek. “You cannot say you love West Virginia if you don’t take care of the land.”
Decision in 30 days
With the exception of Siems, all speakers spoke against the sewer permit and their comments were met with a loud round of applause.
The three DEP officials did not take questions or debate the issues voiced. The representative from Sovereign Homes did not speak.
Aluise said the state agency’s job was to collect and summarize comments and present the summary to their director. He suspected a decision on the permit would be made in 30 days.