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Development official steamed over e-mail

July 15, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A widely distributed e-mail sent by Jefferson County Commissioner James Surkamp about the sale of the on-site water system at the Burr Industrial Park to a private utility drew charges Thursday from the executive director of the Jefferson Development Authority, who called it "intentionally misleading."

Jane Peters, the authority's executive director, in a two-page statement read to the county commissioners, said everything in Surkamp's e-mail is "either blatantly false or a total misrepresentation of the facts. It is inexcusable for a public official to send out something that is so totally and intentionally misleading and wrong."

In his e-mail, sent July 2, Surkamp said Peters is "trying to push through the sale. They want to sell it even though businesses are lining up to be in the park. They want to sell it to the lowest bidder, not the highest ... to pay off a debt..."

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Surkamp provided The Herald-Mail with a copy of the e-mail.

Commission President Rusty Morgan stopped Surkamp from rebutting Peters after she spoke at Thursday's commission meeting.

"There was no sense in having a fist fight over it at the meeting," Morgan said.

"There is no way to control what a county commissioner puts out on the Internet," he said. "He (Surkamp) has a huge e-mail list. I told him at lunch that, to some extent, he went over the line."

Surkamp, during a break in Thursday's meeting, was asked for a comment on Peters' remarks.

"Everything I said was in their file," he said.

At issue is the development authority's plan to sell the system that supplies water to industrial park tenants to Jefferson Utilities Inc.

The contract was signed in April 1999 between Jefferson Utilities, the authority and the Jefferson County Building Commission, according to Peters. The e-mail said Commissioners Greg Corliss and Morgan side with Surkamp on the issue. He wants the commission to meet with all parties in the matter before the sale is completed. The county commission appoints members to the authority but has no authority over its decisions, Morgan and Corliss said.

Both said the commissioners have no say on the sale of the water system.

Morgan said he is "philosophically opposed to selling the water system to a private utility. We would lose local control," he said.

Corliss said he opposes it because "water is a scarce resource. We need it for ourselves. Why put it in jeopardy?"

The selling price agreed to in 1999 was $340,000.

Corliss said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funded the system, insisted on a higher appraisal of $466,000 three years ago. He said the city of Charles Town had offered to buy the system for $740,000.

Price was not the prime consideration in selling the system, Peters said in her statement.

Jefferson Utilities could sell water to a 1,500-plus-unit housing development proposed near the industrial site.

Commissioner Jane Tabb said the industrial park system has enough capacity to do so. Occupancy at the park is 60 percent and those occupants use about 20 percent of the system's capacity, Tabb said.

A related matter is the money the authority earns leasing space atop a water tower in the industrial park for cell phone towers - about $40,000 a year.

Commissioners said they want the leases protected for the county and the authority's benefit.

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