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Mt. Zion Board Attempts To Keep
Water Project Moving Forward
by Robin Gordon

Updated on Wednesday*:

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Mt. Zion Public Service District met at 6 p.m. last Friday at West Fork Park, Arnoldsburg, with focus on the Sandridge/Rt. 16 water extension project.

Four executive sessions took up 140 minutes of the three-hour meeting.

Board members and attorney Thomas Whittier began the meeting by entering into an executive session to discuss an engineering contract and its addendum.

Forty-five minutes later, the board returned with “no decision or vote under the advice of attorney,” according to chairperson Sharon Postalwait.

A second executive session, lasting 55 minutes, involved the recommendations of project engineer James B. Hildreth in regard to the best way to bring the water project to construction.

A third executive session of 20 minutes was held on the advice of Whittier in regard to the water project bid.

After reconvening the meeting, Postalwait asked if anyone was present from USDA Rural Development. No one from USDA was in attendance.

 A motion to approve the addendum to the engineering contract was approved by the board.

Board members also approved an agreement with bond counsel, Goodwin and Goodwin, of Charleston, and an agreement with local counsel.

The motion to approve Contract 1 was approved by the board, but member Shirley Mace said, “I really don’t want to do this, but I am thinking about the people who really need this water.”

Contract 2 with Mid-Atlantic for water trucks was also approved.

Pam Breese of Millstone asked where all the money for the project, including lawyer fees and Hildreth’s raise, came from.

Attorney Whittier said, “4.6 million comes from within the project’s budget, money that comes from grants or loans from the USDA Rural Development service. Some of the money comes from the borrower. The majority of the money comes from the USDA. Water users are paying somewhere between 10-15% of the cost. $600,000 is a loan, which will be paid through existing grants. $4,600,000 is by grants from ARC or USDA or other sources. Most of this project is funded through grants or loans.”

Breese asked, “We don’t understand when one contractor under bids another contractor, why do we have to go with the higher priced bid?”

Whittier said, “That is the purpose of the bidding process. The district found that Mr. Lane was the lowest bidder. The engineer found that the lowest responsible bidder was Bruce Allen. Thereafter, time had passed and things were not approved by the USDA, so the bids have to be properly extended. The opinion received by the board was that Bruce Allen’s contract was properly extended and Mr. Lane’s was not. I believe that is the basis of the board’s decision.”

“I feel like this job was stolen from me,” said Ron Lane. “We are not done. My attorney thinks there are things going on with this bidding process that are criminal, and it will be tested in a real court of law.

Ron Lane addresses board members at Friday’s meeting.

“I’ve sat here for the last three or four months and I’ve heard Mr. Hildreth tear our company down and give recommendations. It’s pretty hard to take. I think the board and the public needs to know.

“I think Mr. Hildreth has controlled this PSD board for years, and I think you need to know that several times in the past that Mr. Hildreth has made contractors use certain sub-contractors and the evidence is coming. Congratulations, Mr. Hildreth, you have done a great job at stealing pipeline jobs, and you give yourself a fine raise in the process.”

After listening to other members of the community voice their opinions, the board entered into an emergency executive personnel meeting.

When the board reconvened after 20 minutes, a motion to place Wilma Mace, secretary/treasurer of Mt. Zion PSD, on administrative leave due to illness was accepted.

Saundra Ballengee was hired as a temporary replacement.

After the meeting adjourned at 9 p.m., Hildreth was asked if he had any rebuttal to Ron Lane’s remarks. He replied, “No comment.”

The next Mt. Zion PSD meeting will be held Saturday Nov. 28, 6 p.m., at West Fork Park, Arnoldsburg.

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