By John McFerrin
This quarter’s meeting of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy featured another transition while at the same time planning for the future.
The transition was a new treasurer. After over 20 years on the job, Bob Marshall is hanging up his green eye shade. We appreciate his service and wish him well. We will have plenty of opportunities to wish him well in person since he is staying on the Board. George Hack will step into his treasurer’s shoes.
Looking to the future, we took a step to help make us more financially sustainable. Thanks to some bequests from members and supporters, we now have more money than we have had in a long time. The money was left to us so that we could do great things. At the same time, we don’t want to spend recklessly. We have a budget deficit so far this year and can’t continue that indefinitely. To address this, we are going to place a restriction on our savings and dramatically curb spending that goes below that limit. This will impose some fiscal discipline upon the Board.
Hugh Rogers reported on the work of the Highways Committee. Most of what he had to say has already been reported in the September 2023 issue of The Highlands Voice. Members of the Committee have met with representatives of the West Virginia Department of Highways and the Federal Highway Administration. The result of that meeting and other discussions was that the Department of Highways will have to do a renewed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of this section of the highway.
It will have to include the Go North route (going north of Thomas) as one of the alternatives to be considered. There is some concern that the Department of Highways is so committed to what has been, up to now, its preferred alternative that it will only make a token effort to study the northern route or design a northern route in such a way that it is designed to fail. Through comments during the process, we will see that that does not happen.
We have given out about 2,750 copies of the booklet MAKING A DIFFERENCE, Practical Actions That Individuals Can Take to Reduce Their Impact on Climate. We have about 1,500 left. Perry Bryant took the lead on preparing the booklet, and we appreciate it.
Along with our partners from the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Friends of the Cheat, the Rivers Committee are training and organizing testers to establish background water quality conditions along the Corridor H route. They are testing either bi-weekly or monthly at the test sites. They also had a picnic for the testers. The Committee hopes to expand testing to include streams that would be impacted by the northern route.
No matter which route is chosen, there will be threats to streams. The Committee hopes to be able to help mitigate damage to those streams.
The Committee is also looking at Best Management Practices (BMPs) required by West Virginia. In this context, “Best Management Practices” are the on-the-ground measures that those doing such things as road building have to take to prevent water pollution. They include such things as reseeding disturbed areas, diverting water, etc. Casual observation indicates that other states have BMPs that are more effective than those in West Virginia.
The Committee plans to look at BMPs in surrounding states, see how they differ from the ones West Virginia uses, and advocate for ones that are more effective. Patty Gundrum will work on this.
The Public Lands Committee is still reviewing Forest Service projects proposed for the Monongahela National Forest. They are reviewing the proposed Cranberry Springs Creek and the Deer Creek projects. The Forest Service still hasn’t made final decisions on three projects for which they completed the analysis a long time ago (Upper Elk, Upper Cheat, and Brushy Mountain).
The Dolly Sods Stewards program is continuing in all its activities (trailhead stewards, crosscut sawyer team, trail maintenance team, and solitude monitoring). For fiscal year 2023 (ending September 30, 2023), they reported 2,229 volunteer hours. Trailhead Stewards reported the most hours.
The Trailhead Stewards nearly doubled from the previous year and are now staffing about 35% of potential trailheads on weekends. They are giving out lots of maps. They are also providing training for Stewards so that they will know more about Dolly Sods and be able to provide better information.
Solitude monitoring continues. They are using more sophisticated sampling, with volunteers hiking specifically chosen trails on specifically chosen days and times. This makes the results more accurate and useful. The crosscut sawyer team has done one project in Otter Creek. The trail maintenance team has been slowed by a Forest Service determination that, even though the trails are already there, a maintenance project would require some environmental study before it can begin.
In Extractive Industries, we are cooperating with several groups to oppose the South Fork Coal Company mine, particularly the haul road that goes through the National Forest. The Forest Service has allowed the haul road to go ahead with no NEPA review. The immediate goal is to require a proper NEPA review.
So far, the legislative interim committee meetings have been uneventful. For the regular session, we (along with the Environmental Council) will focus on community solar, PFAS, orphaned and abandoned gas wells, and anything having to do with public lands. We will also be defending against any bills that are adverse to our interests.
On January 9, 2024, there is an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Elk River chemical spill that poisoned drinking water in Charleston. We have scheduled the winter Board meeting on January 10 so that Board members who wish to go to the event will only have to make one trip.
E-Day at the Legislature is scheduled for February 13, 2024.
Olivia Miller presented a report. She prefaced it by saying that she has a great job and is glad to have it. She has been working on helping plan the Fall Review, Corridor H, and spiffing up the website. On the website, she is working on pages of Ways to Get Involved, Media Inquiries, Biographies of Board and Staff, Our Impact, and a Giving Page. We continue to have a robust presence of social media.
Lame Duck Treasurer Bob Marshall presented the financial report. He reported that our income has been good and that the deficit will probably be less than we had projected.
A Thank You to Bob Marshall
After 20 years on the job, Bob Marshall has retired from his position as treasurer of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. The November 2002 issue of the Voice announced that Bob agreed to serve as treasurer, noting that he planned to remain until the 2003 Annual Meeting when the Conservancy could elect somebody permanently. Twenty some years later and the joke’s on him.
We are most grateful for Bob and his commitment to the Conservancy. Fortunately for us, Bob will remain on the board as a Director-At-Large. George Hack has graciously agreed to take over Bob’s position on the board as treasurer.