Council gets new coordinator
Ritz takes over reins at eight-county resource conservation and development agency
February 3, 2011 - By John McVey, Journal staff writer
MARTINSBURG - This is Steve Ritz's first week as the new coordinator of the Potomac Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Council.
He comes to the PHRC&D after 21 years as the district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Romney, where he provided technical assistance to Hampshire County farmers in natural resource management.
Originally from Marshall County in the Northern Panhandle, Ritz has worked for the USDA for more than 27 years, including about three and a half years as a conservationist in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in the early 1980s.
"As coordinator, I assist the RC&D Council to plan and implement projects," he said Wednesday. "I provide guidance and technical assistance to the board."
Writing grants and securing funds for the council's projects also are part of Ritz' duties, he said.
Formed in 1969, PHRC&D was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1985.
The Potomac Headwaters RC&D territory includes the greater eight-county Eastern Panhandle. It was created through the sponsorship of the eight county governments of the Panhandle, the Potomac Valley and Eastern Panhandle Conservation districts and the USDA.
The council is led by a board of directors from each county and is supported with a combination of federal, state and local funds.
Ritz actually is employed by the NRCS, which administers the RC&D program.
"For every dollar a county contributes, it gets back $17 dollars in services," Ritz pointed out.
PHRC&D is not a government agency, but it partners with government agencies as well as other nonprofits to complete its tasks.
Conservation of natural resources and economic development that focuses on natural resources are core to the PHRC&D mission - in order to "enhance the social, economic and environmental conditions of the region," he said.
If jobs follow, that is all the better, added Gary Heichel, president of the PHRC&D Council.
A major project just getting under way is the Farm to School program that Potomac Headwaters RC&D has undertaken in cooperation with the Wes-Mon-Ty RC&D, which includes 12 counties in northeast West Virginia, Heichel said Wednesday.
Late last year, the two RC&Ds won a $160,000 grant through the USDA Risk Management Agency to help resource-limited farmers learn how to sell their produce to local schools, he explained.
With the grant, a horticultural specialist has been hired to work with small-scale food producers to understand the risks and opportunities associated with accessing the school-food service market, he said.
"They can learn what is acceptable to local schools," Heichel said. "They learn what to grow and in what manner that is acceptable. It's an economic development opportunity for the region."
Some past projects have included a dry-hydrant installation program funded through a state grant and stabilizing the Dupont soccer complex green parking lot, said Olga Adams, council administrator, on Wednesday.
PHRC&D has close to 30 projects ongoing throughout the eight-county region, from wetland restoration to parks and trails development, historical and cultural programs to the annual Growing Communities on Karst Conference at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown.
PHRC&D's offices are at 151 Aikens Center, Suite 6, off Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg.
Ritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-263-7547, ext. 114.
"If the public has a need that the RC&D can meet, they should contact a board member and they will bring it to the council for consideration," Ritz added.
- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or email@example.com