Missing a Mentor

By George E. Beetham Jr.

Peter Schoenfeld was my first contact with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. It began with plans for a string of wind turbines stretching along the Allegheny Front from Stack Rocks less than a mile from Bear Rocks northward to beyond Route 42. Stack Rocks is a fairly popular hiking destination just outside the Bear Rocks Preserve of the Nature Conservancy.

I was alarmed. I had discovered the plan in the online edition of the Grant County Press. Besides the obvious viewshed issue, the Allegheny Front is a major flyway for migrating neotropical songbirds as well as raptors.  I knew the Highlands Conservancy had been involved in attempting to mitigate views of the installation on Backbone Mountain. So I made contact via the website and inquired if they were aware of the plan.

Peter, who served as webmaster at the time, replied quickly that they were not. I emailed him a copy of the story. Peter also chaired the Wind Committee and invited me to a meeting with the other members, then Conservancy President Frank Young, administrative assistant Dave Saville, Hugh Rogers, and Jonathan Jessop. There were a number of issues on the table including what became known as the Nedpower project.

About that time I decided to join the Conservancy.  Over time we studied maps. We had been advised that beyond five miles the turbines would be invisible. Using topographical maps to measure distances from the Backbone Mountain installation we found that claim untrue. Indeed, I photographed those turbines from 10 miles away and they were quite visible. I saw them from the vicinity of Deep Creek Lake in Maryland nearly 30 miles away.

As time progressed we became involved in suggesting changes to the West Virginia Public Service Commission regulations regarding the viewshed of turbines and presented our findings on the visibility of the Backbone turbines. Our goal was not to kill the project, but to limit its impact. The PSC visited Bear Rocks and viewed Stack Rocks from there. The result was elimination of about a mile of planned turbines from Stack Rocks northward. The viewshed regulation was stretched from the existing five-mile range and other regulations regarding visibility were adjusted.

Eventually I was appointed to the board of directors to fill an unexpired term. At the next election I was elected to a full term. I have served on the board since then except for one year when I stepped down. In all that time, Peter always supported me. We did not always agree, but Peter was unwavering in his support. Whenever I expressed doubts about my contributions to the Conservancy Peter was always quick to remind me that I was the person who tipped the board about the Nedpower plan.

I have missed Peter and his environmental stewardship since he stepped away from the board. I will continue to miss him, but will always cherish the memory of his support.