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State GOP leaders gather in Shepherdstown

By Staff | Jul 25, 2011

The West Virginia Republican Party met at the Clarion in Shepherdstown Friday, July 22 to discuss general issues around the state, including Chesapeake Bay watershed compliance and redistricting.

Between discussions about Marcellus Shale and rallying party members around Bill Maloney’s campaign for governor, Curtis Keller spoke about the Chesapeake Bay watershed compliance issue affecting the Eastern Panhandle and other surrounding counties.

Keller, manager of the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District, explained to the party that these Environmental Protection Agency standards for the Chesapeake Bay affect eight counties in the eastern part of the state.

To meet these standards, these counties must upgrade their various wastewater treatment plants to remove excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous. To comply with EPA standards, Kellet said the 13 facilities in the eight counties are spending an upward of $200 million.

“It’s an issue across the country. Different areas have been looking at nutrient removal,” Keller said. “It’s very costly.”

Keller said, however, upgrading plants to implement new technologies is not the only component to compliance. The other has to do with stormwater management.

Keller said there also was a cap on how much the plants can serve, and he worries about serving businesses that want to come into the area decades in the future.

“Our responsibility is to serve the customers as they come on,” he said.

The state Legislature passed a bill this past session which would pay for 40 percent of the costs of meeting Chesapeake Bay standards, but ratepayers still need to pay the rest.

Berkeley County resident and tea party activist Rainer Kissel asked how much he can expect his and other residents’ bills to increase.

Keller said on average ratepayers pay about $47 a month for approximately 4,500 gallons of water. He said customers can see anywhere from $65 to $70 a month; some, he said, could see a 150 percent increase in their bills depending where they live.

Before the party broke to take a bus tour around Jefferson County, Delegates Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, and Gary Howell, R-Mineral, explained to party members the redistricting process just days after many legislators submitted their drafts of what the new districts should represent.

Duke, who explained to attendees the fundamentals of the redistricting process, served on the redistricting committee, which he said would gather for one-hour sessions in Charleston once a month one top of holding 11 public hearings around the state.

Duke said the Eastern Panhandle alone gained 43,000, a 48 percent growth, allowing for two new delegate districts.

The conversation turned to the topic of single-member districts, the idea of one legislative member designated to each electoral district. This concept, Duke said, is something the state House of Delegates leadership does not favor.

“Whatever (the Democrats) want and submit will probably happen,” he said.

Howell said he believes multi-member districts can “dilute a minority vote.”

Many party members in attendance voiced their opinions that single-member districts would benefit the Republican Party. Mike Stuart, state WVGOP chairman, even cited a Charleston Gazette editorial advocating against the districts, asking “cool heads” to prevail, “not selfish interests.”

Jim Mullins, WVGOP executive committee member from Beckley, said, “I think that there’s living proof right around us in this area, single-member districts are not an absolute guarantee of electing republicans to office. So this idea that we’re seeking single-member districts because we know that suddenly the House is going to turn upside down overnight’s not a guarantee.”

Stuart said he believed single-member districts were something that could affect both parties.

“I don’t believe this is a partisan issue,” he said.

Stuart added, “I’m still hopeful we get single-member districts.”

The meeting reconvened the following day at the Bavarian Inn.