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Berkeley County planners deny blasting company's request

June 10, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Planning Commission in a 4-3 vote narrowly denied a company's request to build a private driveway on the steep slopes of North Mountain to serve storage facilities for explosives, blasting agents and other inventory.

The outcome against Geological Technologies Inc. (GTI) of Falling Waters, W.Va., prompted a threatening outburst by one man in the audience at the County Commission chambers who said "we'll see you boys later," before leaving the room.

"Any threats will be dealt with," Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said in response.

"So don't make threats toward these commissioners."

Two Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputies appeared a few minutes later, but Bentley said the commission did not intend to file a complaint.

Commissioners H. Daniel Gantt, John Jeans and Ted Bostic voted for the variance or exception to rules that stipulate that "slopes 30 percent or greater shall remain in their natural state, meaning no clearing, grading, cutting, filling or other substantial changes in the natural conditions."

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Voting against the variance were Richard Rauch, Thomas Conlan, Eric Goff and Gary Matthews, according to county regulations.

County Commission representative Ronald K. Collins was attending a state insurance conference and Planning Commissioner Gary Phalen told Planning Department staff that he was traveling from Fairfax, Va., and unable to attend the meeting.

Planning Commission president Donald Fox read a prepared statement indicating that Phalen, a former Jefferson County Commissioner, mistakenly met with company officials about their variance request after the request had been tabled in May.

Fox said Phalen, as a relatively new planning commission member, did not understand that he could not "go out on his own and conduct business on behalf of the Planning Commission..."

GTI vice president Benny Mitchell said he spent a lot of money to try to get county approval of the variance, which would have allowed for access to 126 acres off Tuscarora Pike, a hilly and curvy narrow road.

"Legally, we're going to pursue every avenue we have ... We're not going to stop with that decision," Mitchell added.

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