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Planners reverse course on blasting request

December 08, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The Berkeley County Planning Commission on Monday reversed a decision it made in June and approved a company's request to build a private driveway on North Mountain's steep slopes to serve storage facilities for explosives, blasting agents and other inventory.

The request for a variance or exception to development rules for disturbance of slopes 30 percent or greater by Geological Technologies Inc. (GTI) of Falling Waters, W.Va., was approved by a 5-3 vote.

Planning Commissioner Eric Goff, who voted against the project in June, joined commissioners H. Daniel Gantt, John Jeans, Ted Bostic and Gary Phalen in support of the project.

Phalen was absent at the June meeting when the request was denied, 4-3, and Berkeley County Commission representative Ronald K. Collins, who was absent for the June decision also was absent Monday.

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Goff said a "confidential" memo that planning commissioners received from legal counsel Norwood Bentley III influenced his decision to support the variance request, but he declined to be more specific about what Bentley advised.

In a phone interview Monday evening, Bentley said the Planning Commission approved variances for similar projects involving steep slopes in the past. GTI wanted access to 126 acres it owns off Tuscarora Pike, a hilly and curvy narrow road. Monday's decision comes with the condition that the slopes disturbed are stabilized.

"All we were asking was to be treated like everybody else," GTI's attorney Richard G. Gay said after the commission's vote. "So they did that today. I'm glad they saw us in the same light."

Though the company's business in drilling, blasting and general excavation is down about 60 percent from about a year ago, GTI Vice President Benny Mitchell said after the meeting that the company plans to move forward with the project, which has been in the works since October 2006.

"It's been a long road," Mitchell said.

And the road to approval might continue on in circuit court, but project opponent and neighboring resident John R. Labovitz said Monday evening he wasn't prepared to say whether he would have his attorney, Braun A. Hamstead, file a challenge.

"This obviously is not the end of the story by any stretch of the imagination," Labovitz said.

Labovitz and other residents voiced concern about truck traffic on Tuscarora Pike, which they said posed a great concern for public safety. Company officials have said additional traffic on the narrow road would amount to several standard-size pickups, a couple larger trucks and the occasional tractor-trailer trip to and from the storage site.

Gay said the company planned to disturb less than 6.5 acres for the project.

Labovitz said he anticipates reviewing what the commission's findings are for approving the variance.

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