KEYSER, W.Va. – Weeks after the Mineral County Commission voted to send the county comprehensive plan draft back to the drawing board to avoid a lawsuit, the commissioners put their intentions in writing.
In its Tuesday meeting the commission finalized the wording of a letter that directs the Mineral County Planning Commission to take steps to “address any issues of compliance” with the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act. That includes holding a second public hearing to collect comments on the plan, and also formally adopting rules governing the way the public is notified of meetings and agendas.
“Basically the planning commission wanted the county commission to put in writing their directions, the action they took in reference to the comprehensive plan,” said County Coordinator Mike Bland. “It (the letter) basically tells the planning commission … the fact that it was referred back due to the legal question.”
The comprehensive plan was approved by the planning commission on July 27 and passed on to the county commission for review.
On Aug. 24 the county commission, faced with the threat of a lawsuit from attorney Jack Barr, declined to consider the plan and instead voted 2-1 in favor of sending it back to the planning commission for another round of public comment and possible changes. Commissioners Janice LaRue and Cindy Pyles both spoke strongly in favor of returning the plan, while commission President Wayne Spiggle argued against the move.
In the county commission’s Aug. 10 meeting, U.S. Wind Force executive Jim Cookman and Wind Force attorney Barr objected to aspects of the planning process. Wind Force is the developer of the Pinnacle wind power project, a 23-turbine facility planned for atop Green Mountain near Keyser.
Wind Force had attempted to submit written comments and a full markup of the plan to the planning commission approximately one month after a public meeting held in June to collect comment on the document. The planning commission refused to consider the Wind Force input, stating that the comment period had closed. Instead, it forwarded the Wind Force documents to the county commission for consideration along with the comprehensive plan.
Cookman told the county commission that the planning commission’s public comment period was closed without proper notice.
Barr said that the comprehensive plan could be declared invalid because both the planning commission and county commission had failed to adopt rules and regulations governing the way they notify the public of meetings and agendas, as required under the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act. He warned the county commission that unless it returned the comprehensive plan to the planning commission, he would go to court to seek an injunction.
On Aug. 24 the county commission, heeding Barr’s warning, formally adopted rules in compliance with the Act. It also requested an advisory opinion from the West Virginia Ethics Commission’s Committee on Open Governmental Meetings on its newly adopted rules, to ensure they conform to the letter of the law.
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