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Lawmakers convene in Jefferson County

October 11, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Rather than meeting in Charleston, W.Va., state lawmakers convened in Jefferson County on Sunday, and local officials took the opportunity to meet with legislators to deal with issues important to them.

Issues such as local water supplies, land planning concerns and other topics were discussed in afternoon legislative meetings at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center north of Shepherdstown.

The issues were discussed in interim meetings, which are monthly meetings held between regular sessions of the Legislature, said Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson.

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The interim meetings give lawmakers a chance to discuss issues that are likely to be dealt with in the regular session, which begins in February.

The meetings are typically held in Charleston, but are periodically held in other parts of the state.

Interim legislative meetings have been held in the Eastern Panhandle several times in recent years.

Manuel said it is an advantage to have a session of interim meetings in the Eastern Panhandle because lawmakers in other parts of the state get to see firsthand the growth that is occurring in the area.

"It gives them a direct contact to the people back here," Manuel said.

Today and Tuesday, lawmakers will be holding their interim meetings at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Shepherdstown. Besides meeting at the hotel, lawmakers will be visiting sites such as Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail headquarters in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and the Community and Technical College of Shepherd in Martinsburg as part of their work.

On Sunday, lawmakers discussed the need to determine how much well water is present in the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of the state.

The issue of groundwater availability in the Eastern Panhandle has been a growing issue, particularly in relation to water shortage troubles that cropped up in areas such as Frederick, Md., during a drought two years ago.

Local officials already have started to study the amount of groundwater in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, but it is important to address the issue on a statewide basis rather than having separate efforts going on in every county, said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

One of the areas of focus will be determining where are the shortages of well water, said Paul F. Ziemkiewicz and Tony B. Szwilski, who are working on the water inventory project.

Ziemkiewicz is director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute and the National Mine Land Reclamation Center at West Virginia University and Szwilski is professor and director of the Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Science at Marshall University.

It is important to know where water shortages are so officials can determine whether certain areas are appropriate for development, Ziemkiewicz and Szwilski said.

Local officials and lawmakers also discussed a controversial new state law that affects land development.

Jefferson County officials have complained that the law, which was considered as Senate bill 454 in the last session of the Legislature, was confusing and depending on how it was read, seemed to suggest that public hearings can be eliminated when the county considers major housing subdivisions for approval.

Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan said Sunday that the law speeds up the review process for developments and puts stress on county government.

After a meeting with Jefferson County officials Sunday, Sen. Brooks McCabe Jr. said he believes lawmakers will be able to develop some amendments to the new law to address the local concerns.

McCabe, D-Kanawha, told local officials during the meeting that he wants to understand the needs of the area.

"You all are very unique with the situation you are facing," McCabe said.

There has been significant growth in residential construction in the Eastern Panhandle, and last year, the value of residential construction starts in the region was $357 million, which accounted for half of the state total.

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