Forest Service Pours Cold Water on Big Run Pump Storage Project in Tucker County West Virginia

By Randy Kesling

FreedomWorkd LLC has submitted a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct a Pump Storage Hydro Project (Project) In Tucker county. The Project would cover over 2500 acres of land, including United States Forest Service (Forest Service) land subject to potential impacts to environmentally sensitive areas.  The Project will pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir located 1000 feet above in times of lesser electric demand and release water from the upper reservoir back down to the lower reservoir to generate electricity in times of peak electric demand.  As of this writing, the Forest Service has rejected a proposal from Freedom to perform feasibility studies for the Project on Forest Service land.

FERC had previously queried the Forest Service as to whether it would grant a Special Use Permit (SUP) to Freedom Works LLC (Freedom) to allow Freedom to perform feasibility studies on Forest Service Land. On March 4, 2019, the Forest Service notified Freedom that it had rejected Freedoms unsolicited proposal to perform feasibility studies for the Project on Monongalia National Forest System lands. The Forest Service returned Freedom’s Proposal to Freedom stating that the Proposal “shall not receive further evaluation and processing”.  The Forest Service‘s rejection of Freedom’s proposal obviates FERC’s original query.

The Forest Service’s rejection of Freedom’s proposal was based on a regulatory finding under 36CFR 251.54(e) that”the proposal is inconsistent, and cannot be made consistent, with applicable forest land and resource management plan standards and guidelines for management of the area”.  Proposed vegetation and earth disturbances in the highly environmentally sensitive Big Run Bog (Bog) area were deemed inconsistent with the Monongahela National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan.

On Mar 18 and 19, 2019 Freedom sent  letters to FERC regarding the Forest Service’s rejection and asked FERC to grant a preliminary permit which would allow Freedom to proceed with feasibility studies under it proposed Special Use Permit while Freedom seeks Forest Service reconsideration of its rejection.  In its’s letter to FERC, Freedom questions the regulatory appropriateness of the Forest Service’s rejection of its proposal and reinforced its position that changes to the project prompted by comments from the Highlands Conservancy have insured that even in an emergency situation, water would never be released into the Bog.  Freedom also asserts its previous understanding that the Forest Service would allow it to undertake feasibility studies and that it was Freedom’s understanding that the Forest Service, and the WV Department of Natural Resources had concluded that the BOG would not be affected by the Project.  Freedom also reinforces its position that the Special Use Permit feasibility studies are discreet and are only the first of a number of approvals that would be required to authorize the project.

Freedom recognizes only two potentially fatal issues that could terminate the project: the presence of unsuitable geology, and the presence of endangered species in the project area.  Freedom is relying on feasibility studies under the Special Use Permit to ascertain the extent to which either of these fatal conditions exist.

We note at least one other fatal issue that Freedom fails to recognize: the destruction of a Tier 3 trout stream, which is prohibited by state regulations.

Freedom is relying on feasibility studies under the SUP to ascertain if any of these fatal conditions exist.   Our position is that the feasibility studies should not be permitted due to the already known Tier 3 stream issue, which should kill the project without further studies.  We await FERC’s response to Freedom’s request as we continue the somber countdown of the remaining life span of the native trout in the Tier 3 waters of Mill Run as well as the Forest land  that this Project will obliterate.