Marlinton – An effort to place Camp Allegheny on the “Most Endangered Civil War Sites” list sparked a skirmish between Pocahontas County Commission president David Fleming and Camp Allegheny’s primary property owner, Ed Riley, last Tuesday when the commission met for its monthly evening session.
Fleming read his rationale for placing the battlefield in nomination for the most endangered designation, including its location on both sides of the old Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, an important transportation route from the Shenandoah Valley to the Ohio River in Civil War days. Fleming said the many unmarked graves, hand dug earthworks and stone remains of cabins made the site exist “in a natural environment virtually untouched by the 21st Century.”
Riley complained to the commission that he and his sister were not contacted about placing their 243 acres on such a list and that Fleming’s statement says the property suffers from “neglect.” Riley said his family had never neglected the property, but had worked to maintain the battlefield’s integrity.
“You’re taking our land for your purposes,” Riley said. “We’re not going to develop it. We want to keep it like it is.”
Once property is placed on a “list,” the property is no longer under the control of its owner, Riley said.
“Do you see any benefit (of the property being on the list)?” Fleming inquired.
“What benefit?” Riley shot back.
“For protection,” Fleming answered.
“I think we’ve done an excellent job of protecting it,” Riley said.
Riley said he believed the wind turbine issue is the underlying cause for Fleming’s concern about the property.
Highland New Wind Management has the go-ahead from Virginia to build nearly 20 wind turbines, some of which may be visible from Camp Allegheny on the West Virginia side of the nearby state line.
Riley’s family has owned the property for 50 years.
He got agreement from Fleming’s fellow commissioners, who both took up the banner of property rights.
“The future of the battlefield has to come from the Rileys,” said commissioner Martin Saffer.
While Riley does not want his property to be on a list, he did say that he and his family are interested in preserving the battlefield in some way and had been in discussion about it for the last year.
The commission took no action on Fleming’s request to place Camp Allegheny on the Endangered Civil War Sites list.
Commissioners decided to invest in an elevator for the courthouse as part of the ever-decreasing scope of the historic building’s improvement plan.
The elevator will cost $680,000 without a contingency fund.
WYK Associates’ James Swiger told commissioners the final plan has been reduced to the elevator only, with the handicapped entrance remaining on the south side of the courthouse. The plan does not include remodeling the basement bathrooms to be accessible; however, it does include some work to the grounds around the south entrance to the courthouse.
While the project has been reduced from an annex building to improving the existing courthouse’s accessibility and storage capacity to finally, just the elevator, Saffer has engaged in hand-wringing over the ever-increasing cost of each phase.
“I think people understand why we’re considering this; why we’re spending this kind of money,” Saffer said. “We have to be cautious.”
He has good reason to be wary. The county’s budget is $6.2 million, only slightly up from last year’s $5.8 million. Property tax revenues have remained nearly equal; however, hotel/motel tax revenues have improved and Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the federal government was fully funded.
Fleming has maintained that the elevator is necessary to make the public building comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The courthouse is now equipped with an unreliable lift chair mechanism that has caused tears, fears and outrage from people who have had to use it.
Only commissioner Jamie Walker said he’d ridden the lift, but had not used a wheelchair. Walker reminded Fleming and Saffer that other things in the courthouse, like the air conditioning, need repair.
Commissioners finally voted to fund the project, which has been budgeted.
The commission’s only other lively discussion of the evening was over an internal courthouse controversy prompted by an anonymous complaint about courthouse employees selling fundraising items for their children.
Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price even weighed in on the subject, telling commissioners the fact that the complaint was anonymous made it not only hard to defend, but to make sure the person offended by the sales was not approached to buy things like Girl Scout Cookies.
Price assured the commission that other courthouse employees think it is convenient to sell items there and do not pressure people to buy fundraising items.
“A simple ‘no thank you’ would suffice,” Price said.
“Is it bothersome? Does it interfere with normal workflow?” Saffer asked.
Price said no.
“Good programs and good causes in the community survive because of volunteerism,” she continued. The decision to allow sales in each office should be the decision of department heads, she said.
The commission’s executive assistant, Sue Helton, said the person who complained did so anonymously out of “fear of retaliation,” a comment that got some snickers from courthouse employees who attended the meeting.
Commissioners took no action.
In other business, commissioners:
•approved hiring attorney Jim Love as assistant prosecuting attorney. Love will work part-time in June and become full-time in July.
•approved a funding request for the North Central Community Action Fishing Derby. Price volunteered to fund half the request from her budget.
•agreed to be the fiscal agent for a governor’s community participation grant for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Museum.
•laid the levy for Pocahontas County for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The commission meets again in regular session May 3 at 8:30 a.m.
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