Forty concerned citizens braved Saturday’s wintry mix to meet at the Hillsboro Library to learn the latest news from Charleston regarding the proposal to commercially log Pocahontas County’s treasured Watoga State Park.
Angie Rosser, Executive Director of West Virginia Rivers, a statewide organization focused on water policy and protecting public lands headwaters, led the meeting.
Rosser began by describing the changing official justifications for the legislation. Senate Bill 270 was first introduced at the request of Governor Jim Justice. It was originally proposed as a way to address the estimated $50,000,000 maintenance backlog in West Virginia’s state parks. Matt Kearns of WV Rivers subsequently assembled 19 other funding ideas and presented these to WV Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher in a January meeting with Save Our State Parks, an ad hoc citizens group formed to oppose logging in West Virginia State Parks. Secretary Thrasher declined to address their proposals “until the logging legislation had passed.”
Shortly after this meeting, the legislation was being touted as a way to make our parks effectively more like wildlife management areas. Governor Justice publicly stated that without logging, animals in the parks would face a cruel death, and the parks would burn from wildfires.
“When this marketing tactic also failed to gain support, the official emphasis switched to using logging as a way to open up more areas of the parks. As a result of continuing public opposition, on February 12 an amended SB 270 was presented in the Senate Natural Resources Committee that would permit logging only in Watoga State Park as a “pilot program”.
Several of the meeting attendees reported hearing back from their State Senators on February 16 that the bill was “dead.” Rosser pointed out there had been no official announcement of a withdrawal of the bill from committee. Attendees heard that historically there have been cases of legislation deemed dead only to return from the dead and be passed before the end of the legislative session. Rosser stated that February 19 would be a critical day for the outcome of the current bill in the Natural Resources Committee, and urged attendees to contact their legislators and express their concerns. She also advised them to keep informed of future legislative proposals.
Attendees ended the meeting by handwriting letters to State Senator Karnes, who represents Pocahontas County, and Governor Justice opposing the logging initiative and discussing the personal importance of Watoga State Park and keeping it in a natural state.
Chad Cordell of Kanawha State Forest Coalition produced video postcards for meeting participants wishing to express themselves in this medium for social media. Doug Woods of WV Scenic Trails Association led a hike on Sunday to one of the old growth stands in Watoga State Park.
It has been roughly two years since a proposal was made to route a 42-inch Atlantic Coast Pipeline through Pocahontas County, WV. As things heat up, I will not stand for it. I am proud that my hometown of Marlinton is situated in “The Birthplace of Rivers,” the site of the headwaters for eight rivers flowing within our beautiful state. In addition, several small creeks join with the Greenbrier River in Pocahontas County before continuing on to the New River Gorge, and eventually entering into the Ohio River, allowing our precious mountain water to interconnect with other water routes across this vast country.
Construction of this pipeline could very well ruin the local ecosystems of Pocahontas County, and the economic outcome could be equally disastrous. Our state is well-known for its gorgeous landscapes built over karstic systems of underground streams and gorges. If by chance, after the pipeline is built, there is an underground explosion or a slow gas leak, the surrounding land and water will become contaminated. Many woodland animals could become sick or even die, and our underwater ecosystem could be destroyed. There are still quite a few people who acquire food by fishing and hunting in our county and the surrounding areas. A pipeline leak and/or explosion would be devastating to these families. Even worse, residents of Pocahontas County would not have any clean water. Not only would this negatively impact our local residents and wildlife, but this would definitely destroy our tourism, a major economic source for Pocahontas County.
My one question for you to consider is, “Why should we take the risk?”
There is no disaster plan or budget set for this project, probably because the energy companies either don’t know how to fix something that could be so catastrophic both ecologically and economically, or they don’t think anything wrong could happen, which is pure ignorance.
Our state is definitely in need of help in fueling our economy, and some think the construction of the pipeline will do just that. It may be so when locals are hired for clean-up. Until then, there aren’t a lot of local jobs going into this project. Most, if not all, workers are coming from out of state.
Instead of supporting the construction of this pipeline, I would like to propose bringing forestry jobs back to our area. Forestry has always been a big part of Pocahontas County until two years ago when there were major job cuts due to an economic downturn in our state’s forestry division. Bringing back the forestry jobs will bring in more tourism. Tourists travel from all over the world to visit our scenic views and camping grounds. We have so much to offer, so why keep it to ourselves? This is what our county really needs to make an economic comeback. It could even help our entire state.
Residents of Pocahontas County are not gaining anything from this pipeline. For the safety of our future, I ask that you reconsider what the pipeline will do for us. Don’t let our children’s children pay for what will happen. The only way to keep this from occurring is to stop the construction of the pipeline altogether.