Corridor H: Must a Bad Project Be Badly Done?

By Hugh Rogers

One day last September, I drove over to the Cherry Fork end of South Haddix Trail in northern Randolph County. Our friend Barbara Weaner, who lives at the other end of the trail, had told me that Corridor H construction had begun near Monongahela National Forest land. South Haddix is the closest trail to my home. For a couple of years, there had been a sign at the trailhead, informing hikers of its imminent closure; and long before that, maps had shown how the highway would carve up the trail. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the mess.

Neither was the Forest Service. In October, on a field visit to see how the Department of Highways Erosion and Sediment (E&S) Control Manual was being implemented on private land, their soil scientist found mud everywhere; bare soil eroding into streams; useless silt fences blocking culverts and run-over filter socks lying in ditches; lack of water bars, seeding or mulching on skid trails and haul roads; sediment basins too small to contain the sediment load; logging continuing on saturated soils; two-foot-deep ruts . . . the list went on and on.

Forest Service staff, I was told, were concerned.  Meetings were arranged with the highway department, which was equally disappointed. There would be no further clearing and construction until the controls were in place, they said. Regular field reviews were scheduled with the government agencies, Michael Baker Engineering (the “third party” environmental monitor), and Kokosing, the general contractor.

The contractor’s Erosion and Sediment Control supervisor seemed to misunderstand basic water quality protection under the Clean Water Act. He had assumed that only “sensitive” streams required more than a bare minimum. He admitted that this was his first Erosion and Sediment project.

Subsequent visits have found haphazard compliance. Water bars have been spread too far apart, or badly sloped, or run over with heavy equipment; mulch has been sparsely applied; silt fences buried under soil; sediment basins failed; soil pushed down slopes into tributaries. The concept of controlling water as far upslope as possible, to reduce erosion and keep sediment from leaving the watershed, hasn’t gotten through. Already, the Forest Service has spent far more time on this Special Use Permit than they had anticipated, and it’s clear that close monitoring, teaching, and cajoling must continue.

How did this happen?

For two years, we reported on how J.F. Allen Company silted up Beaver Creek (see “Corridor H: Pollution as Usual,” Highlands Voice September 2015). The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cited monthly violations, compiled them into consent orders, levied small fines, and let the process continue. And that stretch of the Corridor, from Davis to Mt. Storm, was the easy part. We dreaded what J.F. Allen might do on the complex terrain between Kerens and Parsons.

Fortunately, we thought, the contract for the current section was awarded to Kokosing, an Ohio company with a good reputation. Kyle Weaner, Barbara’s son, observed that the subcontractor who carried out core drilling for the final design had done everything necessary to protect streams and slopes. So it has been shocking to see the damage, in the first months and miles of a multi-year, seven-mile contract.

According to Troy Waskey, District Ranger for Cheat-Potomac, the Forest Service and the DEP are working closely together to “raise awareness” and enforce Erosion and Sediment standards. They welcome citizen participation. Photographs of areas of concern should include time, date, and GPS coordinates.

The situation does make us wonder. We have said from the beginning that this was the wrong project in the wrong place, and we worried as it entered particularly sensitive territory. Until now, we hadn’t imagined it carried a curse.