Thoughts from our president

Proposed Big Run Pump Storage Project in Tucker County, West Virginia

Kent Karriker’s article in the December Highlands Voice,page 4, provides a great explanation of the application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit filed by FreedomWorks, LLC (Applicant) proposing to study the feasibility of a proposed Big Run Pump Storage Hydro Project to be located near Parsons in Tucker County, West Virginia.

Announcement of the proposed project caused serious concerns among WVHC board members as well as the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest, the State of West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section and other environmental groups. You can view the documents providing comments and others which have been filed in the Federal Energy Regulataory Commission (FERC) Elibrary (  Click “general search,” set the date range to “all,” and enter docket number P-14889.

The Department of the Interior filed comments on the preliminary permit application, first addressing the applicant’s public interest statement and concluding “However, the Applicant’s statement that the Project will be constructed without damage to the environment is inaccurate.” It then went on to provide comments and recommendations pursuant to the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (48 Stat. 401, as amended; 16 U.S.C. 661 et seq.).

The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest provided comments by section of the application, addressing the processes and studies required to study the feasibility of the proposed project on the Monongahela National Forest. Later they provided another comment letter that outlined several of the project’s inconsistencies with the Forest Plan. They concluded that letter by stating that the Forest Service likely would not grant a Special Use permit for the project.  Without that permit, the project cannot be built.

The State of West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section (WRS) provided comments stating that the Wildlife Resources Section has grave concerns about the proposed project as presented in the preliminary project application and further rejects the belief by the applicant that this project will not result in significant impacts to waters of the US, upland habitat, and both warm water and cold-water fisheries within the surrounding areas. There comments conclude that WRS cannot support such development as proposed in the preliminary project application and requests that FERC deny the permit.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Public Lands Committee reviewed the application, prepared comments to be filed and submitted the comments to the Executive Committee with a recommendation that they be filed with FERC along with a Motion to Intervene in the case. Both were approved and filed. The WVHC comments started with the definitive statement that “WVHC opposes the proposed project due to unacceptable environmental impacts, and we urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny the preliminary permit.” and focused on:

  • Impacts to Protected Species
  • Impacts to Scenic Resources
  • Impacts to Restored Mine Lands
  • Impacts to the Big Run Bog National Natural Landmark
  • Impacts of the Proposed Power Line

The Charleston Gazette published an article about this proposed project on December 29, 2018.  The article outlined various concerns that were raised by WVHC, Friends of Blackwater, and various government agencies.  Chief among these concerns are the impacts to the Big Run Bog National Natural Landmark.  In answering the concerns about Big Run Bog, Tim Williamson, CEO of FreedomWorks, is quoted as saying that he doesn’t plan to touch Big Run Bog.  It is important that WVHC members and the general public understand that this statement is not accurate.  The Big Run Bog National Natural Landmark includes not only the bog itself, but the entire area draining into the bog.  The maps submitted in FreedomWorks’ application, as well as maps submitted by the Department of Interior in their comments, clearly show that the penstocks and spillways for the upper reservoir would be constructed within the designated area of the Big Run Bog National Natural Landmark, and that the footprint of the penstocks would encroach on the head of the Bog itself.  Although the design drawings in the permit application are rudimentary, it appears that the spillways would drain into the bog, which could alter the bog’s hydrology.

The Tucker County Commission will hold an open public meeting to discuss the project with FreedomWorks, LLC on January 9, 2019 in the Tucker County Courthouse Court Room.  The format is still being discussed at this time. Several WVHC board members plan to attend. We encourage WVHC members to attend also. At this time we are hearing that anyone who intends to speak at the meeting must register ahead of time. As of press time, the procedure for registering is not clear. We will post the information on the WVHC Facebook when we receive it.


Another Invasive Headed for West Virginia

Since the first spotted lanternfly was identified in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014, populations have been established in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. With strict quarantines in place, the spread of the bug has been relatively slow. But the probability of the bug reaching West Virginia is a question of “when,” not “if” as the potential. It is most likely very foolish to think it won’t come to West Virginia.

When the spotted lanternfly reaches West Virginia, trees on our public and private could be among the biggest losers.

Why the alarm? Simple. It can devastate crops such as grapes, peaches, plums, cherries and hops along with our hardwood forests that will be at particular risk once the spotted lanternfly arrives. Most of the state’s deciduous forests are made up of hardwoods, which are popular for making furniture and cabinets.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is the lead agency monitoring the movement of spotted lanternflies in West Virginia, but the Forest Service stays abreast of potential threats to our state’s forests. Because the pest is an intensive and indiscriminate feeder with at least 70 known hosts, it is believed to pose a real threat to the health of trees, profitability of the state’s timber industry, profitability for land owners and severance tax revenue for the state of West Virginia.

There’s a significant danger to commerce because the insect is such a good hitchhiker. It hops onto anything. Complicating the situation is that while the timber is harvested in West Virginia, it is then shipped within and without the state. This in-and-out movement of timber could be diminished if the spotted lanternfly arrives and a quarantine is put in place.

Controlling the pest will not be easy, either. The spotted lanternfly is also a leafhopper species, which have thwarted forest managers in the past, and because of its feeding style — which includes piercing the plant to extract nutrients — it is likely to pass diseases freely, like a “dirty needle,” between the many trees it feeds on.

Before the spotted lanternfly can get a foothold in West Virginia, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture must educate business owners as well as landowners on how to identify it and its egg masses. Formal classesmust be developed emphasizing the importance of stopping the spotted lanternfly, as well as its life cycle and habits, how to find and destroy the creatures, and best practices.

What has been learned so far is the bug is highly attracted to Red Maples — a popular tree in urban landscapes — and the non-native Ailanthus, also known as tree-of-heaven. Tree-of-heaven originates from China, where the spotted lanternfly is also native. The tree was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental plant in the 1780s and is ubiquitous on many properties, which wasn’t a problem until now.

Pennsylvania officials, to help stem the spread of the much-feared spotted lanternfly are encouraging businesses that transport anything in and out of its 13 quarantined counties to get free online training concerning the pest, and a resulting permit for company vehicles.

In Maryland, with the impending arrival of the spotted lanternfly, tree experts are working with landowners to remove 90 percent of the Ailanthus on their land. The remaining 10 percent are left and treated with insecticides, to act as “trap trees,” that kill any eventual hosts.

Experts must regularly inspect properties for spotted lanternfly egg masses. The eggs are laid in gray sheets and look like dried mud. The eggs can be laid on any surface, including patio furniture, trailers and wood piles — which makes unintentional transport of the species to new areas even more likely.

With the spotted lanternfly now in states bordering West Virginia, it is even more important to educate the public about the pest.

Be vigilant. The more people looking for the spotted lanternfly and scouting for it, hopefully the spotted lanternfly could be less impactful in West Virginia.

For additional information, see separate article in this issue of the “Highlands Voice”.


I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2019!