By John McFerrin
The January 2024 Board meeting featured a new Board member, an expanded role for our Membership and Operations secretary, and reports on what our various committees are doing.
The new Board member is Cindy Slater, the new representative of the Brooks Bird Club. Welcome aboard!
We also heard about the expanded duties and activities of Crys Bauer, our Membership and Operations Director. She had been working 20 hours per week, keeping track of our membership and fulfilling orders from our online store. Now, she will work 30 hours per week on such things as tabling at events while still keeping up her membership and order duties.
We looked back at our finances for 2023. Our expenses were greater than our revenue, although we had planned for that. The deficit was less than we had budgeted. We have enough savings to cover the deficit. We also approved a budget for 2024. It, too, anticipates a deficit. We are running deficits in the short run, mostly because we are investing more in staff. In the long term, we expect the investments will result in a larger organization that can support a larger budget.
Membership and Operations Director Crys Bauer presented a report on the membership, donations, and sales from our online store. Long-term trends are upward in all categories, although there are periodic fluctuations. She also discussed plans for event tabling and encouraged us to suggest stories for the West Virginia Public News Service.
Olivia Miller made her Program Director report. Along with Crys, she conducted a Giving Tuesday campaign as well as a membership campaign. This resulted in several donations and new members. She and Crys have also spiffed up our tabling materials with a new banner, new tablecloths, and a one-page handout telling about us and what we do. She collected a summary of committee activities from all committee chairs and included the summaries in The Highlands Voice. She has been working to update the website, which now includes an option for getting involved. She thinks our website could use an update in the long run and has been exploring how much that would cost.
We are exploring becoming the publisher of a book—The Nature and Scenery of the West Virginia Highlands: A Motorist’s Guide—by Jim Van Gundy, former West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Board member and longtime friend of the Highlands Conservancy. The first printing has sold out, and he would like to turn it over to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy to publish a second printing. We would pay for another printing, take over the distribution, etc. The details of what would be involved are still unsettled. Several Board members had used the book and recommended it highly.
The Department of Highways is doing a new draft Environmental Impact Statement for Corridor H. Part of its charge is to include the northern alternative route that we have supported. The question always remains whether this will be a true consideration of that route or a token consideration, allowing the Department to say that it had studied that route but still liked what it had favored all along. The next big chore will be submitting comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, a chore for which we will be prepared.
Susan Rosenblum presented the report of the Rivers Committee. It has made comments on the plan by the Department of Highways to do core drilling within the Monongahela National Forest in connection with consideration of potential routes for Corridor H. The committee is also gathering more information about the possible pumped storage facility on Cabin Run and considering what might be possible about the 24 new industrial chicken houses proposed for Tucker County. The citizen water monitoring program is going great.
The Dolly Sods Stewards are doing the same stuff and more. Trail maintenance and crosscut sawyer training will be in March and April. The Stewards hope to expand into backcountry areas and are planning to provide training for backcountry stewards. Fall solitude monitoring was completed by the end of October; there will be another round in May and June. In 2023, the Trailhead Stewards logged more hours at trailheads than ever before. They plan a training for new Stewards in May, along with a picnic.
Rick Webb reported on the activities of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and announced new litigation over the Forest Service allowing use of a Forest Service Road as a coal haul road by South Fork Coal Company. Read the full story.
Luanne McGovern reported on matters legislative. The 2024 Legislative session is just starting. We, along with the West Virginia Environmental Council, decided upon our legislative priorities at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Environmental Council in November. They are:
- Preserving net metering for solar power producers
- Community solar
- Orphaned gas well responsibility – bonds to be set for plugging before drilling begins
- State of West Virginia Scenic Rivers designation
- Continuation of ORV restrictions on public lands
- Any changes to above ground storage tank rules
- Expansion of nuclear power
- New developments with the proposed hydrogen hub and carbon sequestration
- Working towards introducing a PFAS ban
Luanne also reported on the work of the Grants Committee. Three grants totaling over $11,000 have been received. The grants are to help support a coloring book featuring highlands creatures and The Highlands Voice as well as provide support for the organization generally. There were some other potential grants for which our application was unsuccessful.
We are going to make comments to the Public Service Commission supporting the preservation of the present system of crediting homeowners who have solar power for the power they produce. Read the full story.