Board Highlights

By John McFerrin

The Board meeting itself was mundane—some business stuff along with some reports on ongoing controversies.  The more significant part was in the previous day’s discussion on the future of the organization.  While we didn’t make any decisions, either in the Board meeting or on the day before, it gave us a chance to think seriously about where we are headed as an organization.

The previous day’s discussion is mentioned briefly below. Larry talked some more about in his column on p. 2.

In the President’s report, President Thomas mentioned a few items of interest.  Larry described his practice of endorsing efforts of other groups on behalf of the Highlands Conservancy.  He is routinely solicited by other organizations to sign on to letters that they intend to send supporting a position.  He reviews them and determines whether they are consistent with our purposes and previous positions he signs.  He estimates he has signed on to five such letters in recent months. He will continue this practice and will start circulating to the Board notice that he has signed a letter of support.

We reflected briefly on the discussions of the day before, when we had a long discussion on the future of the organization, possible hiring decisions, etc.  Larry appointed a committee to consider issues raised by the discussion, particularly policy on hiring decisions.  It will consider how many people (one person with multiple duties, several part timers, contracting out some functions, etc.), job descriptions, and finances. Committee members: Marilyn Shoenfeld, Larry Thomas, Frank Young, John McFerrin, Beth Little, Jackie Burns (reluctant member with possibly limited participation) and Hugh Rogers (resource person because he supervised our most recent hiring decision when we hired Beth).

Hugh Rogers presented a slide show on the hiking guide.  There were slides of the front cover and samples of maps that will be included.  Hugh has contracted with a map making wizard who has a mapping computer program.  Because of this, the maps will be vastly improved from the ones in previous editions.

When Hugh began he didn’t know what he was getting into and almost bit off more than he could chew.  He is now, however, chomping away with gusto and hopes to have the new edition ready to print in a couple of months.  We gave him a round of applause in appreciation of his efforts.

There was no webmaster report but we are aware from past discussions that there are some complications with the website, particularly with the store and with PayPal.  The website committee (Cindy Rank, Jim VanGundy, Frank Young, Beth Little, Cindy Ellis, Jackie Burns, Dan Radmacher, and Larry Thomas) will address these.

We had some money matters to attend to.  We considered the financial statement for 2017, the budget for 2018, and the financial statement for the first quarter of 2018.  It was, as financial matters are, moderately boring—money coming in, money going out as it usually does.

Larry reported on the endowment.  It is invested in certificates of deposit, mutual funds, and stocks.  Larry has also established an account where we can deposit cash that we don’t intend to spend right away.  It is all invested in certificates of deposit.

Frank reported on matters legislative.  We are limited in our ability to take affirmative steps because we cannot find sponsors for any of the legislation that we would like to suggest being introduced.  The result was the we spent the session defending against proposals.  The most prominent was the proposal to timber in the West Virginia State Parks.  There was such an uproar from the public that the matter was dropped.  A resolution to study the matter over the summer and fall for possible action next year was introduced but did not pass so that, at least for now, the matter is closed.

There are still the grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the West Virginia Department of Commerce for a study of the timber within West Virginia’s forests. The results of any study may be a justification for getting the question of timbering in State Parks back before the Legislature next year.

In matters of outreach, we discussed the possibility of a fall review.  A committee of Larry Thomas, Jim VanGundy, Cindy Rank (limited enthusiasm and participation), and Marilyn Shoenfeld will look into having a review along with our fall meeting.  A review would include outings, evening discussion/panel, etc.

In renewable energy, Larry discussed the rules for siting of electrical wholesale generators, including industrial scale wind facilities/projects.  We have been advocating for several years to have the Legislature require the Public Service Commission to reexamine its siting rules.  Since we have never made any progress at the Legislature, the Renewable Energy Committee is going to make a formal request to the Public Service Commission to amend its rules to better reevaluate the siting electrical wholesale generators, including industrial scale wind facilities/projects.  It is likely that the Public Service Commission will refuse the request.  A refusal would provide an argument that the Legislature should address this problem.

Rick Webb described the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI).  This is an initiative of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance designed to support citizen efforts to ensure strict application of environmental laws and regulations in the event the pipeline goes forward.  It is mostly carried out by volunteers who watch construction activities.  If they see any water related violations, they can report them to CSI Central.  It will have experts that review the information and make complaints to regulatory agencies, and then follow up on the complaints and agency action.  They will also add the complaint to a map of the route.  Most of the work will be done by volunteers although CSI intends to pay an attorney and a mapping specialist.

As a demonstration of the possibilities of monitoring, the presentation was little short of spectacular.  We had slides of CSI’s aerial photography and illustrations of CSI’s capacities to pinpoint problem areas down to five-foot contours and compare actual construction/destruction activities with submitted plans, and legal and regulatory requirements.

Given the difficulty of the terrain, Rick does not believe that Dominion can build the pipeline without routinely violating water quality laws.  He views the CSI as a tool to document this and see that those laws are enforced.  He also sees it as building a model that could be used for other pipelines as well. He would like the Highlands Conservancy to consider supporting the effort financially.

In extractive industries, Cindy Rank reported on continuing disputes.  On the Fola Coal dispute, she reported that the company had moved to dismiss our legal action against it; the Court recently denied this motion, so the case can go ahead.  In the Leer Mine dispute, water monitoring is showing water quality impacts downstream of the big impoundment. Together with Save the Tygart group we continue to document stream conditions, monitor WVDEP’s response to the deteriorating conditions, and evaluate the potential for possible legal action in the future.”

On highways, Hugh Rogers noted that construction on the Kerens to Parsons section continues. Construction has not reached the areas where there are still disputes.

On public lands, Larry reported that we had received three specific proposals for projects that we might undertake that concern public lands.  Right now we are in the midst of discussions on the future of the organization, staffing needs, etc.  How those discussions turn out will have a big impact on how we would respond to the proposals.  Because of this, we took no action and expressed an intention to consider them later.