by James Fisher
ELKINS -- About a hundred residents from several counties in North Central West Virginia attended a public hearing Monday night in Elkins to voice their opinions about a proposal by the state Regional Jail Authority to build a 300-bed regional jail near Elkins.
Delegations mostly representing sites in Huttonsville and Belington spoke for several hours about why they believed the jail should not be built at the proposed Norton site but rather in one of the other locations.
A third delegation, representing Tucker County and led by commission President Sam Eichelberger, raised the issue of a third site in Tucker County that they claim was never even considered.
"We offered 30 acres of prime land for free. The site prep is minimal, compared to the two other sites," Eichelberger said. "Their own construction engineer looked at it and said he didn't need a bulldozer; he could grade it with a road grader. Out here (at the Norton site), you want to blast the heck out of the side of a mountain to try to put something up there.
"We've fought for this thing and we know it's rightfully ours, but we were thrown out before we got started and we feel it's wrong."
The amount of money for the land acquisition, estimated at $9,000 per acre for the Norton site, also was raised by numerous people in favor of the Huttonsville site.
"The state owns 2,000 acres down there, and that land is already out of the tax base," said state Sen. Mike Ross.
"Huttonsville has all that land. and a lot of it is not being used," Ross added. "There's no reason to duplicate services at a regional jail that already exists at the prison in Huttonsville."
After Ross spoke, about 40 people in the audience raised their hands when he asked who supported the Huttonsville site.
In response, about another 40 people indicated they supported Belington, and Eichelberger submitted a petition signed by 500 Tucker County residents.
Many of the speakers were county commissioners, state senators and delegates and municipal leaders.
Ross not only supported the Huttonsville site, he gave several reasons why he believed the Norton site is unsuitable for use by the Regional Jail Authority.
He said the construction may put a strain on the water supply in Norton, and the presence of a large amount of sandstone at the site would drive up the construction costs.
"That site should be utilized by private industry," he said. "No one has ever said a regional jail should be convenient for the occupants. They don't go there because they want to go there, they go there because they're sent there."
Many Belington and Barbour County residents said the Belington site was a very simple choice.
"When it comes to the Belington site, you've got water that's close, a sewer system that's right there, fiberoptics and fire protection close," said Lonnie Moore Sr. "What I want is to see some figures about the numbers comparison for Belington vs. Norton. The numbers I've seen, they seem to show that it would be cheaper to build at Norton."
The jail is expected to serve as a replacement for county jails in Barbour, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Taylor and Tucker counties.
The authority is considering the use of a site about 30 acres in size, bordered on the south and east by old Route 33, on the north by Corridor H and on the west by Route 151. The site, commonly known as the Norton Site, is located in the Leadsville District of Randolph County, near Elkins.
The authority will continue to accept written comments until 4 p.m. Sept. 5. Written comments can be sent to Steve Canterbury, executive director of the state Regional Jail Authority, at P.O. Box 50285, Charleston, WV, 25305-0285.
Canterbury said Monday he expects the state Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority Board to make a decision on a site at its September meeting.
Regional writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446.