By John McFerrin
The Board did the usual business, hearing largely unremarkable reports on our finances and membership. We also heard several updates on things we are involved in and made some decisions.
Frank Young reported the results of the process of the West Virginia Environmental Council’s legislative priority setting. It had solicited ideas both from groups and individuals. Tops on the list from both organizations and individuals was water quality protection, followed by (in no particular order) public lands protection (including no logging in state parks), renewable energy, pipeline issues, coal issues, and several other issues. The Environmental Council will consider the responses and prepare a list of priorities, weighing the preferences of survey respondents, the likelihood that issues will progress in the Legislature, etc. The Environmental Council is also constrained by the need to spend energy opposing detrimental legislation. It is requesting proposals for a lobbyist for the 2020 session.
Cindy Rank reported on coal matters. The same stuff that has been going on is still going on; most of it has been in the Voice. We are trying to finish up some of the litigation, particularly the settlements in the Fola Coal mines in Nicholas and Clay Counties. She also talked of the money that is often available as a result of the settlements. Companies who have been determined to be in violation of the Clean Water Act must clean up their act and pay penalties. Often these financial settlements have been directed to the West Virginia Land Trust and the Sustainable Law Clinic at West Virginia University. Of late, much of the settlement money has been going to Appalachian Headwaters Group which supports reclamation, preferably on previously mined lands in the watersheds affected by the pollution caused by the mines in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In matters of outreach, there was a round of applause and huzzahs all around for the excellent job that Marilyn and Jackie had done in planning this Fall Review. They are already thinking about a Fall Review for next year. They would like to do it at a state park that offers both lodge and camping accommodations. They are considering a theme of Maintaining Healthy Water; this would include water legislation, human health, and wildlife habitat.
Cindy Ellis reported that we have distributed Hiking Guides to 130 libraries. We also decided to donate a new edition of the Hiking Guide to each of the colleges in West Virginia.
In highways, Hugh presented the map which appeared in the September issue of The Highlands Voice. It shows a possible route which splits Davis and Thomas. There is substantial local sentiment for avoiding this route since many see splitting Davis from Thomas as undesirable. If the highway is built, Hugh favors a more northerly route which avoids splitting Davis and Thomas and protects Blackwater Canyon.
In renewable energy, Larry reported that there had been a Public Service Commission hearing on a wind facility in Mineral County, near Mount Storm. He watched the hearing on his computer; it appears that it will be approved.
Frank reported on the work of the Futures Committee. In April, 2018, we had a facilitated meeting to discuss future directions of the organization. This Committee was charged with developing some ideas on how the organization should proceed.
It was the strong feeling of the Committee that we did not want to become a grant making organization. It is working on a proposal to hire a staff person. While the title of such a person would be decided later, it was the sense of the committee that it should be a Board directed person performing such tasks as outings, outreach, brochures, recruiting, and legislative alerts. The Committee anticipates having a proposal to include funding for such a person in the 2020 budget.
On matters of public lands, Kent Karriker talked about projects on the Monongahela National Forest that are in various stages of development: the Panther Ridge Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project, the Big Rock Project, the Spruce Mountain Grouse Management Area, and the Greenbrier Southeast Project. We had previously filed objections to the Panther Ridge Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project and Big Rock Project. The Forest Service has not responded to our objections. More time has passed than would be necessary for a rote, thank you for your input, go away kind of response. From this we infer that the Forest Service is taking the objections seriously and preparing a serious response.
On the Spruce Mountain Grouse Management Area, the Forest Service has incorporated some of our suggestions into plans for the project but there has been no formal decision.
The Forest Service is now doing scoping for the Greenbrier Southeast Project. This means that it is deciding what issues to consider in planning the project and is seeking the public’s suggestions on what issues to consider. There is also a Beulah project and a Grassy Ridge project but there has not been much action.
Kent also noted that the Big Run Bog pump storage project is dormant. There are rumors that it may rear its ugly head but nothing concrete has happened.
The meeting was not, however, all about reports and updates. We also made some decisions.
Last year we had supported the Compliance Surveillance Initiative, a project of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance (West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is a member). The Compliance Surveillance Initiative provides extensive mapping tools, aerial surveys, and other support for the citizen monitors it trains. It focuses on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline with some activities on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Mountaineer Express.
After some discussion, we decided that we would continue to financially support the Compliance Surveillance Initiative again this year.
We also made a decision about a new committee, one on climate change. Although many of the issues we deal with either affect climate policy or are in reaction to climate change, we do not have a committee to address this issue. After substantial discussion it became clear that the sense of the Board was that we needed such a committee.
According to the Bylaws, the President has the authority to create Committees and appoint members. Thereupon, Larry waved the magic wand which has been passed down from President to President since time immemorial and a Climate Change committee was created. He also appointed Perry Bryant as its chair.