By Hugh Rogers
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a cease-and-desist order to Kokosing Company, which is building a 7.5-mile section of Corridor H in Tucker County. More than half passes through the Monongahela National Forest.
It’s music to our ears: cease and desist! Stop tearing up the forest and dumping mud in the streams! You’ve treated your permit as a minor inconvenience, built settling ponds that leaked from the start, pushed ahead with the dozers before you did anything to deal with runoff. Wherever a Best Management Practice has been recommended, you have chosen Worse. And now you blame the weather.
Music to our ears – but we shall see how long this dance will last. The first note didn’t play for a year. As we reported in the February Voice, the Forest Service had been complaining about the company’s failures since last October. DEP’s order cites inspections since December.
December 20, 2017: no controls along access road; sediment basins too small and/or leaking; maintenance lacking, inlets eroded, silt fences damaged. January 23, 2018: failure to comply with storm water pollution prevention plan; more basins leaking, diversion pipes broken, sediment deposits “distinctly visible” in Haddix Run, its South Branch, and Baldlick Fork. And so it continued, in May, June (two inspections), August (two inspections), and September (three inspections). Fill slopes were left unprotected, clearing and grubbing went on the same way, no reseeding was attempted after the first round failed to germinate. After each inspection, notices of violation were issued.
On September 28, in a 123-page order, Kokosing was barred from “any further land development activity” until the Department determined that it was in compliance with its permit and “all pertinent laws and rules.” More than 150 photos documented a forest becoming a mudhole.
What’s interesting to some of us still paying attention to Corridor H after so many years is the difference between this job and the last completed section. That was along Beaver Creek, northeast of Davis. Even on relatively level terrain, the contractor silted up that tributary of the Blackwater River. Every month, violations were noted, consent orders were drawn up, and fines were levied. After two years, it was clear that the fines were just a cost of doing business: cheaper to pay than to obey the law.
This time around, the DEP also secured repeated promises to do better. But it charged no fines. Instead, after nine months it called a halt. We can imagine a lesson was learned from the last go-round. Or that the Division of Water and Waste Management and its environmental enforcement office were finally exasperated by how badly the job was being done. We don’t know. It remains to be seen whether Kokosing cando better.
Meanwhile, the streams get a break from the mud. Scott Weaner, who lives beside South Haddix Run, told the Gazette-Mail, “The sediment’s been awful. As soon as they started cutting on this side of the watershed, the stream got so silty. It’s twice as muddy.” Scott told me he didn’t know how long the stream could take such punishment: “Eventually, it will be dead.” Two weeks after the order, with no construction taking place, South Haddix ran clear for the first time in months. That doesn’t mean it will survive, but it’s something.