In a split decision vote Tuesday evening, the Greenbrier County Commission failed to agree on a counter offer to settle the pending swimming pool dispute between the county and New River Community and Technical College Foundation. As a result, the issue will likely be settled by a jury trial in Raleigh County.
At the previous commission meeting, the county proposed a settlement offer of $150,000. That offer was rebuffed by New River President L. Marshall Washington, who then countered with $200,000, a drop of $10,000 from the $210,000 demanded at the mediation meeting in January.
Commissioner Lowell Rose stated he believed the former administration of commissioners had made a mistake with saddling the county with a pool when the agreement was made. Rose said if the issue goes to trial and the judge rules in favor of the college, the county will have to pay $450,000, the figure the college had originally demanded.
“We don’t want to go to trial,” Rose said. “We don’t have the funds to pay the county jail bill.” To insure a settlement, he recommended offering the college $190,000.
Opposed to the pool project from the outset, Commission President Michael McClung was adamant in his oft-stated position that the county does not owe the college any settlement expenses, adding that without having given written notification to begin work on the project, New River “proceeded at their own peril” by going forward with refurbishing the Arts & Aquatic building, now known as the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts and Science Building. “Those costs were incurred by New River,” he said.
“The citizens of Greenbrier County do not owe that college one damn dime! I cannot vote to extending them money that does not belong to them,” he said.
His views were echoed in part by Commissioner Woody Hanna, who said the $150,000 the commission offered was three times more than what he thought was justified. “I am not willing to go further,” he declared.
The agenda item concluded with a defeat of Rose’s motion, 1-2, with McClung and Hanna opposed, which left no other alternative than to anticipate the trial.
In other business:
• “A trail head is needed to complete the project,” said Doug Hylton. Serving as the Greenbrier County representative for the bi-county Meadow River Trail project, he reported that a meeting with CSX official Matt Coffing resulted in a favorable decision by CSX to abandon the 6.2 mile section of railway clearing the way to create a trail head in Rainelle.
As it is now, Hylton said, “We have a trail that leads nowhere.”
The 6.2 mile section will require an appraisal at a cost of $5,000. Coffing said CSX would cover half of the appraisal fees. The remaining $2,500 would be split between Greenbrier and Nicholas counties. Hylton said, in addition, the 6.2 mile rail section cannot be funded with the $2.35 million designated for the remaining 16.7 miles of trailway. It may take CSX a year to finalize the agreement to abandon the railway, Hylton said. The commission approved the appraisal fees, which will be drawn from the arts and rec account.
• In considering contracts and agreements for a new recreation facility, Greenbrier County Arts and Recreation Director Roy Grimes reported the county has invited a Virginia Tech design team to conduct a feasibility study for a sports complex to be developed on a piece of property owned by members of the Boone family. The property is situated to the north of Lewisburg near the Greenbrier River. Of a total of 580 acres, the owners have agreed to donate 40 acres. That’s enough for ball fields, Grimes said. If the feasibility study shows the property is useful for the projected plans, then the county will negotiate for another 60 acres at an approximate cost of $1,610 per acre. Grimes said the study will be free of charge. The county will pay for travel expenses and meals, amounting to $20,864. Grimes said he has conferred with other communities whose parks were designed by VA Tech and received favorable reviews.
Former Commissioner Steve Malcomb, who was in the audience and is running for county commissioner against McClung, had several observations to make on the topic, beginning with his outright remark, “This is the wrong property. Its way out on a narrow road,” he said.
Malcomb also asked why the county hadn’t sought a West Virginia design team for the feasibility study. He suggested the commission look at properties closer to local schools, and urged the commission to speak with business leaders in the community and hear their evaluations of the Boone property.
“It’s good business practice to get a contract signed first,” Hanna stated. He asked how the commission could spend arts and rec funds for the study without first owning the property. “This seems to be very similar to the appraisal fees Hylton had asked for,”with the 6.2 mile rail section mentioned above. He suggested securing the contract with the owners before approving the feasibility study.
Hylton agreed to the similarities, but said that even if the property is not be feasible, it still must be appraised before a purchase. He also affirmed that two West Virginia schools had been approached, however, they were not available to conduct a study project.
Rose brought the discussion to a close, stating, that Virginia Tech has scheduled this project for completion during the spring semester, and now “already 20 days in the semester,” Rose said, they may not have enough time to complete the study. With that said, the vote passed 2-1 to go ahead with the feasibility study. Hanna cast the dissenting vote.
• The local Greenbrier East High School officers of the Future Fanners of America were on hand at the meeting for the signing of a proclamation for National FFA Week slated for Feb. 20 through 27. It was announced that the Ham, Bacon and Egg Sale is set for Mar. 24 to be held at the West Virginia Fairgrounds and will include a 6:30 a.m. breakfast. A fund-raising farm equipment auction is set for Apr. 23.