By John McFerrin
A lot of the July meeting of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Board meeting was the same old, same old: we still have members; membership secretary Beth Little told us how many; we still have money; treasurer Bob Marshall told us how much. Nothing much has changed.
The most significant thing we did was agree to financially support the work of the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI). It is a project of the Appalachian Blue Ridge Alliance; we already belong to that. The money will be spent on, among other things, a field agent for West Virginia, the expenses of the monitoring air force, travel, and equipment such as cameras.
CXI is 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.
Right now most of its activities are in Virginia; there is not much coverage in West Virginia. There need to be citizen monitors because West Virginia only has three inspectors to cover the entire state. This effort does not just helps compensate for the lack of inspectors ; it is based on experience with pipelines on steep slopes, which has demonstrated that they cannotbe built safely and in compliance with legal requirements. Some of the results of CSI’s efforts so far are on pages 12-13 of this issue.
In addition to taking this action, the Board also heard about various things that we are involved in or may be on the horizon. President Thomas reported on some of his activities. Nationally there is a rule (known as the “roadless rule”) that designates areas of National Forest as roadless areas. There is currently an effort in Alaska to eliminate the rule as it applies to some area. This would facilitate logging. There is some concern that the effort in Alaska in just the beginning; if it works there then there will be efforts to open roadless areas elsewhere, including West Virginia. Larry has been cooperating with The Wilderness Society and is spokesperson for the effort in West Virginia.
Larry also talked about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is a federal program which provides funding for parks, natural areas, etc. It is set to expire on September 30 and requires legislative action to extend it. Senators Manchin and Capito both support some sort of extension. The effort now is to get it made permanent so that it does not have to be extended every few months or years. See the story about it on p. 8.
The problem with the Spruce Knob Observation Tower keeps growing. Once upon a time the tower was above the trees so that visitors had a panoramic view. Now the trees have grown so that now visitors see nothing but trees. What to do, what to do? It would be problematic to cut the trees, not just because cutting trees is always problematic but also because the endangered Cheat Mountain Salamander lives there. Making the tower taller is one solution. Larry is keeping an eye on this.
We currently have one at-large Board seat open. We also have two at-large Board members who have had difficulty making it to the meetings. They have indicated a willingness to resign when there are suitable candidate to take their places.
Two candidates have recently come to our attention as possible at-large Board members: It was the sense of the Board that Larry should appoint one immediately and that the Nominating Committee should recommend the other for election at the annual meeting in October.
Adam talked about Experience Learning, the new name for what used to be called the Mountain Institute. It has lots of programs for young people, including such things as day long or week long camps for things such as environmental education. He had been having conversations with its director. The director had suggested that some cooperation between Experience Learning and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy would be beneficial. We are considering its beautiful site on Spruce Mountain for a future review.
Frank reported on matters legislative. The Environmental Council is taking advantage of the time between sessions of the Legislature to plan for next year. There are not many interim sessions scheduled. The Environmental Council has a coordinator (Karan Ireland) who is working on developing the legislative agenda and meeting with groups to rally support.
In matters of outreach, we discussed the possibility of a fall review. A committee of Larry Thomas, Jim VanGundy, Cindy Rank, and Marilyn Shoenfeld will continue to consider the possibility. 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. The Renewable Energy Committee is working on 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.
In extractive industries, Cindy Rank reported on continuing disputes. At Blair Mountain, parts of what was the original battlefield have been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Listing is not, however, the end of the story. We are still working with the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure it designates those areas as unsuitable for mining.
Cindy Ellis updated us on the Mountaineer XPress [MXP] pipeline, the Appalachian Gas Working Group, the TriState Water Defense group and the continuing meetings of ally groups with the WVDEP regarding pipelines and streams. She also spoke of recent meetings of the Citizens for Clean Elections.
Larry noted the ongoing study of timber in West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Commerce has received a grant to inventory timber resources in West Virginia. It is possible that this study will be used as justification for another attempt to authorize logging in state parks.
The door prize (brought by Cindy Ellis) was a bag of No Pipeline Wild Rice from South Dakota. Buff won.