KEYSER, W.Va. — A Wiley Ford man got his chance Tuesday morning to confront the Mineral County Commission about concerns regarding dilapidated properties near his home that he said the county has ducked for years.
Jay Michels, owner of kayaking business Clyde’s River Guides & Outfitters, spoke about the frustration he’s experienced as he tried to connect with county officials about three blighted properties he said represent a nuisance and hazard for himself and his son, his neighbors and the community as a whole. Michels resides on Burkhart Road off Route 28 near the North Branch of the Potomac River.
Michels said he’s concerned about trash that accumulates on the properties, as well as their general disrepair and potential to attract trespassers. There has been “a lack of response, or even acknowledgement” from county officials, Michels said, as he produced a stack of correspondence, including emails sent to former County Coordinator Drew Brubaker, who was fired from his post last year, that Michels said went unanswered.
Michels said he filed a formal complaint in January 2020, but nothing was done. He asserted that other county and regional government officials have failed to respond to his concerns or told him they’re unable to do anything.
“I pulled out over 30 contractor bags worth of trash from these properties that have been blowing down the streets,” Michels said. “And no one wants to do a thing about it.”
Michels questioned why the county’s dilapidated properties ordinance, which the commissioners voted to update in November, has not been utilized.
“If this was happening on your street, or your street, or your street,” Michels said to the three commissioners, “how would you feel at this point, in faith that the county is actually going to acknowledge this and try to help some people out that are trying to get some business in this place?”
“Well, just to answer you, it is happening on my street,” Commissioner Roger Leatherman replied, noting his own efforts to get help have been unsuccessful. “And I have went above and beyond trying to contact people. ... I’d love to show you two places that I’ve been trying to get cleaned up. It’s a disaster.”
“You have an ordinance that’s supposed to allow you to do it. Why is this so hard?” Michels said.
“We can’t get nobody to do it. That’s the bottom line,” Leatherman said.
Commission President Richard “Doc” Lechliter said county officials are in the process of identifying the right people to comprise a committee to review complaints about dilapidated properties. Per the terms of the ordinance, the committee is to contain qualified members, including county employees and officials and two members-at-large, among others.
Michels provided the commission with pictures of the three properties in question, as well as research he had done to determine who owned the properties.
Once the committee is formed, Lechliter said, he’d provide the members with everything necessary for investigating the complaints, and they would proceed from there. Since he, Leatherman and Commissioner Jerry Whisner have been on the board, Lechliter said, there has been no working committee for the ordinance’s enforcement. The ordinance has been in place for more than a decade.
Michels was frustrated with the commission’s inaction, and relative lack of a solution offered.
“I’m here a year and two months after I filed my complaint to ask about it,” Michels said. “And now the answer is you’re gonna send a letter.”
“It doesn’t sound great, but that’s all we can start with,” Lechliter said.
“I’m sorry if I sound a little frustrated,” Michels said. “But if you can imagine at this point, the lack of response from anyone in this room or any of the departments that you say are supposed to be responsible for any of that stuff is a laughing matter. And if anyone needs to be told who’s responsible for the way the county looks, it’s you guys. You’re in charge. You can’t pass the buck any further.”