BUCKHANNON — A public hearing on the expansion of the Route 33 West territory took place Thursday night at the courthouse. A lengthy discussion ensued among the City of Buckhannon, Upshur County Commission, developers and the public.
Kay Casto & Chaney PLLC’s Attorney Robert R. Rodecker of Charleston reiterated Upshur County Commission President Terry Cutright’s opening statements and emphasized the sake of the hearing, as many of the public were still bewildered concerning the hearing’s intentions. “This matter is not to decide who’s going to provide service in the area of the expanded Tennerton PSD, as between the Public Service District or the City of Buckhannon. Rather, it is to provide an opportunity for the Public Service District to provide service in that area, if in fact, the Public Service Commission determines that the Public Service District should be able to provide service. Again, it’s providing an alternative, not excluding anybody from providing service,” Rodecker explained.
City Attorney Tom O’Neill restated two key points for the record regarding Tennerton PSD’s extension proposal. “I think it’s inappropriate to place the financial burden of the very valuable property improvements that would come from the construction of these lines, especially the commercial properties on the backs of Tennerton’s existing customers,” O’Neill stated. For Tennerton to continue their projects of extending utility services, this means a rate increase of at least 25 percent, which is what is being admitted currently,” O’Neill mentioned. He added, “It is inequitable and unfair.”
In the very first statement of the resolution of the order proposing the expansion of the territory of the Tennerton Public Service District, which everyone who attended could receive a copy of, O’Neill said it is “flawed” as it states, “Whereas West Virginia Code 16-13A-2 provides that a County Commission may expand or reduce the territory of Public Service Districts in order to achieve efficiency of operations.” O’Neill asserted, “There is nothing about Tennerton’s plans to service these properties that can be called efficient.”
O’Neill said that the Public Service Commission had issued informal guidance about this topic, noting that Tennerton’s is flawed by that on the basis of which their plan was made. He continued to address what the PSC had acknowledged in their December 19, 2019 statement, having Tennerton to receive a state loan Infrastructure Jobs Development Council at one percent rate for 40 years. He also cited from PSC’s statement, saying that Tennerton would be required to take a loan at three percent for 20 years. “This means that there would be an even greater increase in rates to Tennerton’s existing customers if this plan goes forward with Tennerton serving these properties,” he stated.
“The city is ready, willing and able to serve these customers, and extend sewer service in commercial areas that desire service with respect to the north side of Corridor H along the Olde Weston Road,” O’Neill continued. The only thing left for the city to acquire is the appropriate permits and the procedure to do so is in progress. “The key point here, is that the city can and will extend service in these areas, without increasing any rates to its existing customers,” O’Neill emphasized.
Rodecker recognized the statute that provides the authority for the municipality to serve up to 20 miles outside the city limits, clarifying that the city can serve inside the PSD’s territory. “They [PSD] can’t serve within another municipality’s territory without permission. That doesn’t go the other way for the PSD [Tennerton]. In other words, the PSD isn’t in a position to give permission for you to serve. You’re entitled to serve in the PSD’s territory – they can’t serve in the city’s territory. They do it all the time, all over the state.” What you do by expanding the boundary doesn’t establish an exclusive territory. This gives them an opportunity to expand services. He said the city of Martinsburg and Jefferson County had the same issue. “The ending result was municipalities to have a preference to serve in an area, but if there’s a PSD that is serving, they can serve as long as it is not actually competing in their territory. It doesn’t make sense to have duplicate facilities to be constructed, so the PSC is not going to permit that to happen.”
Many of the public and the developers of the project had the chance to voice their positions on the matter. Most residents did not agree with the expansion of utility services, though, there are many other residents who have made contact with the city from surveys and specifically identify being in favor for extending services. In conclusion, Commissioner Sam Nolte made a motion to extend Tennerton’s boundaries and it was seconded by Commissioner Kristie Tenney.
O’Neill further mentioned after the hearing that the city has everything needed to move forward on the north side. “The point I was trying to make, on the south side project, we have rights of ways from those property owners.” He asserted the work on the south side will proceed as fast as property owners want it to.