After six years of unresolved negotiations between two public entities over the operation of a public indoor pool, a settlement amount was agreed upon at the Tuesday night county commission meeting.
Greenbrier County Commission President Woody Hanna stated that the county’s offer of $50,000 to New River Community and Technical College to settle the $1 million swimming pool litigation suit had been rejected as of that evening. “It’s my feeling,” he said, “to accept the college’s counter offer of $75,000.” Hanna, a former teacher, said he would rather give the money to the college than to lawyers, and it was high time the county and the college begin again to “work together.”
Commissioner Lowell Rose expressed agreement, stating he’d also like to work with the board of education and the college, but without good faith shared between the two entities, there would be little chance for communal development.
“I want everybody on the same page, he said. “I don’t want to fight anymore.”
The subject of this conflict is an unused and unneeded indoor pool, located in what is now called the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts & Sciences Building on the college’s Lewisburg campus. Six years ago, the pool building was gifted to the county and a project was proposed to have the county commission contribute $1.3 million in hotel-motel bed tax funds toward repairs and renovations to be made by the college, and then “the aquatic center” would be overseen and run by the county as a public pool. But the project was halted when a judge ruled the expenditure of bed taxes for the project was illegal. The college eventually returned the entire amount by court order.
“This issue was created by prior commissioners,” Rose said, and in his opinion, “The college continued development of the project, and shouldn’t have.”
New River spent thousands of dollars on planning, design and infrastructure work on the entire building and the now-abandoned pool, and contended that the county should reimburse it initially to the tune of $450,000. That amount was later reduced, and an agreed upon figure was further disputed by both parties.
Rose said, “It has cost too much in money and aggravation.” The county has already expended $86,000 in legal fees, and should the college prevail at a trial held in Raleigh County, the county could end up paying out much more in what, he said, was, essentially, a pro-college-centered community.
Commissioner Mike McClung, for his part, was against the pool from the beginning as “a bad idea.” In his view, the college broke the terms of the contract, suing the county for breach of payment. McClung contended that the county had a lease agreement contract with New River with a clause that declared all funds from the county must be secured before the college incur any costs to rehab the pool. A written notice was required, he said, but, “that never happened.” Furthermore, McClung bristled that the college had held one million dollars due to the county for 18 months “as ransom” in exchange for the $450,000 the college claimed was their due until the court ordered them to give it back.
McClung said he was not prepared to consider New River’s counter offer and moved to table the issue. But Hanna, opposed to tabling, stated this was the last opportunity they had to settle an issue that has “drug on for six years.” In noting McClung’s point, Hanna added an amendment to the vote, stating, “The county is admitting no fault as a result of the settlement.” The amendment was approved unanimously and the motion carried with a vote of 2/1 with McClung opposing.
All that remains to close this contentious chapter is approval of the settlement by Raleigh Circuit Court Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick III, who is presiding over the pending suit.
In other business:
- The commissioners unanimously agreed to sign up for the WV state auditor’s transparency website (wvCheckbook.gov). The cost to the county will be $3,000 for the first year and $1,800 thereafter. The full purchase cost, as presented by WV State Auditor McCuskey, was $250,000.
County Clerk Robin Loudermilk presented the election results for publication and the commission, having completed the canvas, approved certification of the election results.
- A right to farm ordinance, which Hanna said he’s been working on for several years, was a consideration he hoped to present at a later date, but which came up as a result of reading about an abundance of nuisance lawsuits against farmers that were putting them out of business. Hanna cited an article he’d found in a Farm & Dairy periodical, in which, he read, a $473.5 million was awarded by a jury to six neighbors of a North Carolina hog farm for excess noise, offensive odors and effulgence.
Hanna said he knows pastoral farm vistas draw appreciative visitors to agricultural areas, but those visitors are not likely to know what life is actually like on a farm. “Animals are noisy and odoriferous. No farmer in Greenbrier County can withstand a $473.5 million fine,” he said.
The ordinance is still under research and will be presented for consideration at a later date, he said.