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Building plans pulled in wake of bribery charges

December 22, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Seven proposed residential subdivisions in Berkeley County have been pulled from the Planning Commission's approval process after officials determined a health department sanitarian charged with bribery and extortion earlier this month had inspected the sites.

A total of 53 residential lots in the developments up for preliminary plat approval were affected by the Berkeley County Board of Health's decision on Monday to have Berkeley County Health (Department) Officer Diana Gaviria and Jim Barnhart review the work of Steven J. Alenskis, according to records.

Alenskis, 44, of Charles Town, W.Va., was arrested earlier this month on charges of bribery in official and political matters and extortion, and since has been dismissed from his job for violating agency policies, not the alleged criminal action.

In a Dec. 19 memo to county commissioners, Gaviria said the health department would advise the Planning Commission of their recommendation regarding further action or re-evaluation of the pending applications.

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The projects affected, according to a list provided by Berkeley County Planning Director Stefanie Allemong, were:

- Lands of Tim Shaw, off W.Va. 45 and Arden onto Delmar Orchard Road (Boyd Orchard Road), about half of a mile on left in the Arden tax district

- Donegan & Morningstar Subdivision, on Ted Kessecker Road, about one-quarter of a mile from the intersection with Baxter Road in the Hedgesville, W.Va., district

- Back Creek Acres, on Douty Drive about 400 feet east of Back Creek Valley Road in the Gerrardstown, W.Va., district

- Stone Mill, at the intersection of Swan Pond Road and Rocky Marsh Run in the Arden district

- River Hills, Phase IV, next to U.S. 11 in the Falling Waters, W.Va., district

- Norma Jean Utima Tyson, near the intersection of Sam Mason Road and Tory Town Road and southwest of Bunker Hill, W.Va.

- Baker's Field (Needy Farm), along Quincy Lane, approximately one-third of a mile from Winebrenner Road and Persimmon Lane

"We've done our part," Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said Thursday, explaining that concerned residents need to understand that the county's health department is part of state government and does not fall under county leaders' oversight.

A few hours after learning of the Health Department's decision on Monday, planning commissioners tabled reviews of preliminary plats on the panel's agenda for Back Creek Acres and Stone Mill, the largest subdivision project that Alenskis had handled before he was arrested Dec. 1 at his office.

Approval of the plats essentially allows a project to move forward in the development process.

Alenskis allegedly charged a contractor $20 per perk hole - a pre-septic system installation test to measure absorption of water in soil at building sites - for a guarantee of passing the necessary inspections.

In October, deputies provided a contractor with $300 in cash to give to Alenskis, who was to inspect 15 perk holes at a subdivision off Buck Hill Road near Gerrardstown, according to a police complaint. It wasn't immediately clear whether that project was one of the seven pulled for review.

"After receiving the money, Alenskis commented that the money would buy his family some food," police had said.

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