There are more, and ongoing, questions about the research facility that the National Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) wants to build on 461 acres in Randolph and Pocahontas Counties near Mace.
The facility that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) wants to build could be used for studies and research on mine explosions, mine seals, mine rescue, ventilation, diesel exhaust, new health and safety technologies, ground control, and fire suppression. Plans call for the excavation of 362,000 tons of material for site preparation, and removing another 152,000 tons of sedimentary rock, including limestone, sandstone and slate, to carve out an underground test area 500 feet below the surface. In it, fire suppression experiments would be conducted, along with experiments designed to learn more about the nature of underground methane explosions.
It would replace a facility in Fairchance, Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considered sites in two other states and determined that the one near Mace would be most suitable to its needs
NIOSH has lost its lease in Pennsylvania so it can’t stay there.
Since the Voice reported on the proposal, (May, 2019, and February, 2020) there have been some developments. Notable is that the Pocahontas County Commission voiced its objections. Since Pocahontas County does not have county wide zoning, the County Commission does not have the authority to prohibit the facility. It can only state its opposition.
As part of its consideration of the matter, the Commission heard from Snowshoe resort. The resort opposed the facility. In its presentation to the Commission, its representative said that the proposed facility poses “a serious threat to drinking water and a negative effect on tourism.”
Area residents also have concerns. The facility may put the drinking water of Mingo, Mace, Dry Branch, and Elk Springs at risk. All residents rely on wells and springs that come from karst geologic formations and are connected by an underground water system flowing through cavities in the karst limestone. There is no public water available in any of these communities.
Blasting and excavation activity and continuous pumping to dewater the facility during construction and during long-term operation may alter the flow of groundwater, dewatering local wells and springs. Operation of the above-ground fire suppression facility and the underground facility on karst limestone threatens contamination of local drinking water. Without water, or with contaminated water, residents will neither be able to live there or sell their homes.
There is concern about the recreation economy. Those who live there or have a small business rely upon the success of the recreation economy in Pocahontas or Randolph County. For those who don’t live there, there is concern that the reasons they visit may be affected. If the facility ends up dewatering wells, it could dramatically impact the second home market in Pocahontas and Randolph counties. This facility borders expanding mountain bike areas and holds a great opportunity to connect bike communities through rail trail.
According to calculations based upon data in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, there will be at least one truck every three minutes traveling on Rt. 219 for four months. After the first four months, there will be an average of sixteen loads per day every day for almost four years. Rt. 219 is a main artery for guests to enter Pocahontas County and access Snowshoe from the north and east. It also connects commuters between Randolph and Pocahontas Counties.