Our water, our lives, our communities…help us meet the challenges
Earth Day Watershed Celebration a success!
The rain stopped and the skies cleared just in time for our Earth Day Watershed Celebration at Lost World Caverns on Saturday April 22nd. Our afternoon was filled with music, food, & education about our watershed. WVDEP Save Our Streams rep. Callie Sams hosted a macroinvertebrate table, and Kara Grosso with the WV Conservation Agency was present to talk about conservation issues as well.
Through a grant from the Mountain Resource Conservation Development, we hosted a rain barrel workshop. The grant sponsored a free rain barrel and connector kit to those who signed up. Later at 5:00 pm, 5 beautifully painted rain barrels were auctioned via Martha Hilton, auctioneer. Students from Rupert Elementary, Rainelle Elementary, Eastern Greenbrier Middle School and Western Greenbrier Middle School were involved in the painting and decorating. Board member, Autumn Crowe will be visiting the schools soon to talk about rain barrel use for water conservation and pollution control. Three schools kept a rain barrel for their own garden and a sponsorship plaque was likewise auctioned to be imprinted with the donors name.
The entire event began at 2:00 pm, filled with music, food, free cave tours, a fiddler inside the cave and we received lots of sponsorships and silent auction items from local businesses. 5 students from the WV school of Osteopathic medicine came to volunteer as part of their National Day of Service as well. We thank everyone for their contributions! Please visit our Facebook page to stay up to date with our events and volunteer opportunities.
Below: Jeff Myers, board member of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association explains how to connect your rain barrel at our recent Earth Day watershed event at Lost World Caverns.
Huge thanks to all our sponsors! We couldn’t do the work without you!
Make it Shine event cleans up!
As if we aren’t busy enough! On Sunday April 23rd, John Walkup, President, board members Elizabeth Clark, Laura Izzo, Roger Vannoy, Autumn Leah Crowe (with Ridge) and coordinator Louanne Fatora met at the Caldwell boat launch to continue the annual tradition of “Make It Shine”.
We were thrilled to meet up with many other community members who enthusiastically joined us! As you can see, we hauled up lots of tires, metal, cans, bottles, & plastic for disposal. As much as we love getting together and getting out, we wish for a better world where people understand the importance of keeping our watershed clean.
We do this annual clean up for the river, for our children, for the future, for you! If anyone at any time wants to organize a trash pick up event along the river, give us a call at 304-647-4792 and we will help get you supplies and arrange a pick up.
Lewisburg City Manager Misty Hill shared some exciting news to Lewisburg City Council this week about the ongoing water pipe relocation work along the Caldwell section of the Greenbrier River Trail. “The biggest news that I have tonight is to state that we still have some power things to put through, and some final items to address, but we are way ahead of schedule. We have had some phenomenal weather this year,” said Hill. “We are going to be able to open the trail in mid-summer. I think that’s some exciting news, we are way ahead of schedule.”
The original trail reopening date was estimated to be February 2024. Hill also announced that the City opened a parking area at Harper Road earlier this month with a new gravel parking lot for visitors. While no exact date was given for the earlier reopening date, the City will release further details as the project wraps up over the next few months.
Taste of our Town highlights
Greenbrier Watershed had a great time last Saturday at TOOT in Lewisburg! Board members contributed cookies and warm apple cider was served non-stop! We engaged in many conversations about the health of our watershed and recruited new volunteers! Kids enjoyed our water creature scratch art boards, learned about recycling and received some stickers. Hope to see you all again next year!
New Greenbrier River Signage
Through grant funding, the Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) has sponsored the fabrication of three informative signs about our watershed. The signs were created by Lens Creek Studios, with two recently installed.
The first sign was installed at the Ronceverte boat launch on River Road and explains the effects of algae in our river system. The GRWA advocated for upgrades to the Ronceverte water plant to reduce algae growth.
The second sign was installed at the Fort Spring boat launch, where a significant large spring flows into the Greenbrier river. When water falls on the surface, it flows through drains and our many sinkholes flowing out at Davis Spring.
The third sign explaining the benefits of wetlands will be installed at a later date in Marlinton. This wetland by the Greenbrier River Trail drains into Knapps creek, the drinking water source for the town of Marlinton.
Signage includes QR codes that link to our website with information on filamentous algae and the Clean Water Act and watersheds. Visit the page HERE
An unveiling of the two installed signs at Ronceverte and Fort Spring will occur on June 4th. Details will be posted in the next newsletter and on our Facebook page.
Remembering Leslee McCarty
Leslee McCarty, one of our founders and fiercest warriors, passed away on June 29, 2022. Her great love for the Greenbrier River and the trail spawned the Greenbrier River Watershed Association 30 years ago. She recently wrote that she would like to be remembered as a water protector and friend to animals. She was both of those and so much more.
Board members and friends pay tribute:
From Louanne Fatora
Coordinator of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association
29 years ago after moving away, my husband and I wanted to return to WV, to Pocahontas County and look for our own little place on the Greenbrier River. We brought our 4-year-old son and stayed at The Current, Leslee’s bed and breakfast on the river at Beard. When we arrived I noticed the cats! the dogs! milling about and she mentioned that she was fostering them for the animal shelter. Kindred spirits! We had a couple late night discussions over a glass of wine about real estate, the local economy, the school system, animal welfare and the newly formed Greenbrier River Watershed Association!
Over the years, we would contact each other on occasion about some animal welfare situations in Pocahontas or Greenbrier Counties. And then about fracking, and then about pipelines. We found our place on the river, and being a part timer, I would join in on any protests or events as I could, always taking my camera. I happened to be here when I got the invite to join a protest in White Sulphur Springs in 2015 when Dick Cheney was visiting the Greenbrier Resort for a business forum. What fun! We were given instructions that we had to walk with our signs the whole time – and could not stop! I wanted to get a good photo of Leslee at the entrance of The Greenbrier so we made a plan. She would walk slowly, and then more slowly as she approached the spot I wanted her in and then make a brief stop. As she came to a very hesitant stop – it just so happened an officer monitoring the event was right behind! He frowned and moved toward Leslee as I gave the signal to hurry up and move – with just enough time to keep from being kicked out!
Over the years I stayed in touch and followed the Greenbrier River Watershed, wishing I was there to do more in person. I got my wish last year by moving back home full time and then becoming the coordinator for the watershed. After a couple board meetings last Fall, with Leslee able to be present, she left to go to Florida. I couldn’t fathom that our time was running out. Due to covid, the last couple of years have been tough on non-profits, and ours was no exception. I would text her or call her with questions, lots of them. Me – apologetic that I was having to ask questions and she – seemingly happy to answer them. I can still hear her say, “just don’t panic & run, ok ? And then she was gone. And I’m still here.
Sorting through the office there is evidence of long term commitment, deep passion, and a lot of integrity. The Greenbrier River Watershed will stand firm on this foundation and continue to build upon her legacy.
From Autumn Crowe
Program Director, WV Rivers Coalition
Greenbrier River Watershed Association Board Member, current Treasurer
I first met Leslee McCarty at her wedding. But I was just a little toddler then, so I don’t really remember her from those early days. I really met her upon moving back to WV in 2015. I was a returning environmentalist trying to re-establish myself where I grew up. She took me under her wind and we soon became long lost friends. The decades between our age didn’t matter. We connected over our love for the greenbrier river. She accepted me into the Watershed organization that she helped found and we got to work fighting the pipelines that were threatening our beloved river.
Leslee taught me who’s who in the state’s environmental movement. She introduced me to all the key players and I attribute landing a position with WV Rivers Coalition in part due to her. I learned so much from working alongside her a fellow water protectors during the past 7 years.
She had such grit and tenacity when it came to protecting our river. She didn’t hold back; she would tell it like it was. But she so with grace and humor. She was the whip cracker at the Watershed group. She was like a relentless pit bull and wouldn’t let up if she knew it was the right thing to do. Her perseverance paid off. In 2016 GRWA won “Watershed of the Year” for the conservation easement that she shepherded through the process for years. She helped set the stage for water protectors 30 years ago. Now we must all work to carry the torch that she lit for us.
From Mark Blumenstein
One of the co-founders of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association
In 1993 the organization Friends of the Lower Greenbrier river was looking for a way to protect and preserve the wonderful resource, our Greenbrier River from high in Pocahontas county, north of Bartow to the confluence with the New River at Hinton WV. Leslie McCarty was a co-founder of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association,
She, at that time lived almost on the banks of the river down from Hillsboro in a small community near Denmar, WV. Leslie was there for the environmental challenges that would come up in regards to the Greenbrier River. She was always ready to help and guide with issues and statements and she was the forever watchdog for the health and welfare of our water.
Leslee was a committed Activist. Her energy is needed in this time where the environmental clock is ticking in the red zone and our time to reverse the polluting past is waning.
Thanks Leslee for all that you did. We pray for others to be inspired and the pickup the mantle and carry it forward.
From Chris Chanlett One of the co-founders of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association and current Board Member
Thirty some years ago I attended a meeting in a Lewisburg living room in which Leslee McCarty was the animating force. The Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) was taking shape, a group dedicated to a river. I do not recall any role models for that formation, but Leslee probably knew some. GRWA certainly became a model for many more.
Other key characters at that founding included Mark Blumenstein, Josh Lipton, and Scott Miller. New groups attract attention early on and often recede unless there’s a current threat. Leslee was the one who persisted in organizing come hell or high water or the even more deleterious factors, repetitiveness and boredom.
She connected GRWA to the multiplicity of developments that affect a river. Her southern drawl and bemused commentary no doubt made her a effective environmental lobbyist for several years when she tried to enlighten the WV legislature. She could bore through the regulatory weeds and communicate across political differences. She was a consummate environmental warrior who certainly left our region healthier and more beautiful. Thank you, Leslee!
From Willow Kelly Greenbrier River Watershed Association Board Member, current Secretary
In the Fall of 2005, my pal Marcy (a GRWA Vista) started inviting me to events and board meetings. Marcy knew my background in environmental activism, and thought I’d appreciate participating with GRWA. It didn’t take long before Leslee roped the willing me into joining the board.
Leslee and I immediately bonded over our loves of Turquoise, Critters, and Protecting the Waters. Leslee soon became a role model ; a turning point for me, as I had become disillusioned with “the system” and had felt somewhat defeated in thinking that corporate greed was always going to win over environmental protection, and that the government always sided with corporations.
Leslee proved to me that this didn’t have to be true. She showed me what it takes to be an effective activist. Leslee knew who to call, what to write, what wheels to grease and what wheels to let remain squeaking. Leslee taught me about persistence, keeping a cool head, and the all-important skill of Networking. Most importantly, Leslee became my friend who restored my faith in that, together, we can make a difference.
Jen Baker Former Greenbrier River Watershed Association Coordinator. Currently serving on the New River Conservancy Board of Directors and Land Protection Committee
It was 2016, at a Greenbrier River Watershed Association board meeting when Leslee looked at me from across the table and said,” I want you to be our Coordinator”. Two seconds later I said yes! I never thought twice or regretted that decision. Leslee immediately started training me to run the organization. Through her I was afforded the opportunity to further my passion for clean water for my community and beyond. Leslee shared her knowledge, experiences and encouragement to help me rise to be the best I could be. Those 4 years are etched in my brain forever and the experience was life changing.
Someone once told me to Live, Love, Laugh and leave a legacy. Live in such a way that you make yourself proud and others proud of you. Love your human community and all living creatures. Laugh ’cause it’s good for the soul. Crying doesn’t do you any good. And lastly, leave a legacy. For Leslee, that legacy was being a clean water warrior. Fight for what is just and good. Leave the world a better place.
We must carry on the legacy that Leslee left us. Let us not forget her years of tireless commitment to the State of West Virginia and our Watershed. It’s up to us now.
From Lisa Stansell-Galitz Greenbrier River Watershed Association Newsletter Editor
Leslee was such a mentor and cheerleader to me and so many others throughout the past 20 years. In the midst of so many environmental fights, including and especially the last 6 years, she taught me not to give in to cynicism and despair. To continue to fight against injustice for a planet that cannot fight on its own. That letter writing to officials and representatives, protesting and educating others actually make a difference to this planet. That saving one starfish is a worthy endeavor. Her indefatigable energy, her wry comments about local and national politicians, and her full-throated laugh when she was tickled about anything have been such a wonderful part of my life. I so hope I can do her legacy justice and continue what she started. Sail on, Leslee, thank you for every single thing.
If you’d like to make a contribution to the Watershed in her memory, we will continue what she started ~ HERE
Watershed project earns local youth his Eagle Scout rank
Lewisburg resident Graham Clemons, member of Boy Scout Troop 70, was recently awarded the rank of Eagle Scout. His Eagle Scout project was the design, build, and installation of an informational kiosk and bench at the Anthony Creek trailhead, which provides access to the Big Draft Wilderness on Monongahela National Forest. In the top photo Matt Edwards of the Marlinton-White Sulphur Ranger District presents Graham with a certificate of appreciation for his work on the national forest.
The project included several trips to the site to take measurements and conduct site preparation, meetings with Forest Service staff to discuss project needs, procuring supplies and materials to build the kiosk, and leading his fellow scouts to install the new structure. The new kiosk provides visitors with general information about wilderness as well as a map of the area.
Photos courtesy of La Donna Lokant and Jeanne Clemons. Used by permission.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their warm welcome and support!
Speaking of warm.. it hasn’t been very warm here in our Greenbrier River Watershed recently, it’s been pretty cold with lots of ice on the river! So this presents a time to stay inside and do some planning for the coming year. We have lots of things in the works, so stay tuned to our newsletter for ongoing news and events.
We are thrilled to have recently received a mini-grant from the Pyles & Turner Foundation in Lewisburg to cover the cost of a new laptop computer.
We will be meeting soon at the White Sulphur Springs Fish Hatchery to draft a plan to restore some Green Floater Mussels in the Greenbrier River Watershed. More information will be coming soon.
We will have a booth at the Capitol on E-Day, January 20th.
West Virginia recently gained it’s first officially designated “Dark Sky Park” at Watoga State Park. The Greenbrier River lies adjacent to Watoga State Park and the whole area of the watershed lies in the darkest region in the Mid-Atlantic states.
We will continue to monitor the challenges the Mountain Valley pipeline presents to our watershed and will keep you informed.
We will continue to encourage dialogue with towns and local water treatment sources to ensure clean and continual water to homes.
Finally, thank you very much for the membership donations that have come in recently. We rely on these donations to do our work and sincerely appreciate it!
Louanne Fatora, Coordinator
Enjoy the Greenbrier River and Trail through the eyes of Mark Wykle:
“My family and I went to the Caldwell location today and walked up to where the river splits and I took my drone and captured some cool scenery around the River Trail. We had 3 flocks of Geese come in and I was able to video them in the river for a little while. What a great day to be out, who would have thought we would see 60+ in December!”
I Was In Line All Night, Here’s What Really Happened
It was an event of a lifetime—sitting in the courtroom of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hearing arguments in the U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River case on Monday, February 24—the case that will determine if a dirt path, known as the Appalachian Trail, is actually “land” or not. For me, the most uplifting part of the whole event was the people standing in line for hours outside the courthouse, in near-freezing temperatures, waiting to hear the case that will weigh heavily on the lives of thousands forever. Maury Johnson, pipeline fighter and farmer from Monroe County, West Virginia, was first in line arriving at 6:30 Sunday night. The determination and leadership of these folks inspire me and so many others. The true grit of these people and thousands more like them is the reason the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will never be built.
They Only Allow 50 People In
I was asleep in bed at a friend’s house in Arlington, Virginia. I received a group text at 10:30 p.m. from my friend Carolyn who was in line. She wrote that we had better come if we wanted to get in to hear the case. She was 36 in line. They only let 50 people in.
“I’m en route,” I texted back.
My friend Roni drove me to the Supreme Court building, and we arrived at 11 p.m. As soon as I saw the people in line, I knew I was not prepared for an all-nighter in the cold. They had chairs, sleeping bags, blankets, and tarps. I had the knee pad I use in the garden, an overcoat, my gloves, and a wool cap. Folks from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Friends of Buckingham, and the Sierra Club welcomed me with open arms. I immediately went to the end of the line, put my knee pad down on the sidewalk and declared to the group that this was my spot. Counting from the beginning of the line and if no one butted in, I would be the 45th person.
Some of the more prepared anti-pipeline fighters in line on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy R. Whitescarver.
“Equal Justice Under the Law.” Yeah, Right.
There were two kinds of people in line that frigid night: the pipeline fighters and the homeless folks of D.C. hired by a professional “line-standing” company to stand in line for the pro-pipeline people. Pro-pipeline people from Dominion Energy and their allies didn’t start arriving until the next morning at 5:30. They rolled in curbside in their high-dollar suits, freshly brushed teeth, clean-shaven faces, and pretty hair.
They coordinated with a woman who had a clipboard standing on the corner of First Street and East Capitol. She escorted them to the homeless people line-standing for them all through the frigid night. The corporate rich people handed money to the homeless people and then took their place in line. I looked up at the words on the Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under the Law,” and felt betrayed.
The lady in the white pants holds a clipboard. She is escorting pro-pipeline people that paid to have homeless folks “line-sit” for them. Photo courtesy R. Whitescarver.
People trickled in all through the night, and the line grew to well over 100 people. By my estimate, 60 percent of the people in line appeared to be homeless people hired by the line-standing company. Most of them reclined in their chair and covered their whole body with a tarp.
This behavior—of beating the system any way possible, buying people off, and flaunting their power and money in the faces of the common people, whom they walk over and whose dreams they steal—is why people are standing up to them, resisting, and fighting. This is why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will never be built.
Upbeat and Positive
The anti-pipeline people were in clusters of three to four scattered through the line. They were cold yet upbeat, positive, talkative, and very helpful. There are no bathrooms on the premises. Union Station is about five blocks away, but we learned they lock their toilets until 5 a.m. There is a 7-Eleven five blocks away that stays open all night. Oh, thank heaven.
We all guarded each other’s place in line as some left for the 7-Eleven or simply walked around to keep warm. I walked around a lot. I’ll never forget the image of Maury Johnson sitting in his chair at position number one. He’s a big guy. He was in his farmer clothes, and the only coat he had was a lightweight Carhartt jacket. He wore a red plastic poncho over his body and chair.
I’ll also never forget the kindness of my line-mate Julie Reynolds-Engle. She gave me a couple of hand warmers that I put in my boots to keep my feet from getting numb.
The Golden Tickets
The police started walking the sidewalk around us at about 7:00 in the morning. Our line tightened up, and I watched for people butting in line. A policeman started handing out the coveted golden tickets with your number on it. I braced for disappointment. He finally arrived and handed me a ticket—49. Four people had butted in line.
The lucky 50 moved to the next level, closer to the building. A young lady I met during the night, Laura LaFleur (ticket 36), asked me if I would switch with her so she could be with her friend, Julie (48). I agreed and we switched tickets. We took some pictures then moved to the entrance to the left of the tall columns. There we received our first lecture and then proceeded into the building and through the first security checkpoint.
Once through security, we put our personal items in lockers and waited in the cafeteria for instructions to proceed upstairs. At about 9:10 we were instructed to line up against a wall outside the cafeteria in numerical order. After about a half-hour, we proceeded up the stairs to the courtroom level. There we received another lecture and then proceeded into the foyer through another security checkpoint.
“The Trail Is Not Land”
We were escorted into the courtroom and seated. “Oyez, oyez, oyez,” the marshal of the court called out, and the proceeding began. It was an hour long event. Each justice was engaged and asked questions, with the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas who didn’t say a single word. I didn’t think there was a clear winner or loser but the strangest claim was the Forest Service lawyer’s argument that the dirt path of the Appalachian Trail was not land. “The trail is not land,” he said over and over.
“Nobody makes that distinction in real life,” Justice Elena Kagan stated.
I did not know until after the argument that my friends Julie (48) and Laura (49) did not get in. For some reason, the court stopped letting people in after 47. My heart sank. They stood in the cold the whole night to no avail.
“Equal Justice Under the Law?” I don’t think so.
Maury Johnson and Laura LaFleur with their golden tickets. Laura switched
with me to be with her friend Julie. Laura and Julie never made it in.
Photo courtesy Maury Johnson.
Contact your legislators and demand that they stop the exchange of money for line-standing at the Supreme Court. Buying your way into court is not right.
And that’s not the only thing wrong with the system. People should have designated places in line so there is no guesswork, restroom facilities should be provided, smoking should not be permitted in line, and police should patrol the sidewalk. Why only 50 people? Why not televise it?
The Fate of the ACP
As for the fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, there are seven other permits that have been vacated or withdrawn for the un-needed, over-budget, an ill-planned pipeline. In addition, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people joining the ranks of pipeline fighters.
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments over whether a 605-mile natural gas pipeline can be constructed under parts of the Appalachian Trail.
Under consideration by the court is whether the U.S. Forest Service, which supports the pipeline, or the National Parks Service, opposing the construction, has the right to decide whether it should be built along its present route.
The review follows a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decision that ruled the Forest Service did not properly consider other routes, that federal law barred energy development on the trail, and that the National Parks Service was the proper agency to make any decision.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is proposed to run through three states, bringing natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to the North Carolina coast. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a brief opposing its construction, while West Virginia, along with 17 other states, argued in support of the pipeline. North Carolina did not join or file its own brief.
The justices must decide whether the $7.5 billion pipeline, proposed by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, is necessary to meet the country’s energy needs or whether the trail is off limits to such as development.
Under consideration are the Mineral Leasing Act and National Trails System Act. The NPS manages the trail while the Forest Service is responsible for the adjoining federal lands.
In their brief, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and the 17 other AGs argued that the Fourth Circuit decision turns the Mineral Leasing Act on its head.
The act was “designed to facilitate crucial energy infrastructure development” but the court took a “narrow exception for ‘lands in the National Park System’ and used it to transform the roughly 1,000 miles of federal land along the Appalachian Trail (if not the entire Trail) into a near impenetrable barrier to energy development.”
In summary, the states wrote that they “have strong interests in preserving the Mineral Leasing Act’s balance between robust energy development and responsible management of public lands.”
In Virginia’s brief, Herring noted that 301 miles of the proposed pipeline will run through the state, giving it a strong interest in its construction.
“Conserving natural resources and historical sites is critically important to Virginians and is enshrined in the state Constitution,” the brief states.
“But for Virginia’s natural resources to be adequately protected, federal agencies charged with administering federal lands within its borders must fulfill their statutory obligations,” Herring’s office wrote. “The Forest Service did not do so here, to the detriment of Virginians and others who enjoy the natural treasures in the pipeline’s path.”
The brief noted that it would run through the George Washington National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail.
Virginia argues that the claim it is necessary to address demand in Virginia and North Carolina does not withstand scrutiny as “recent analyses indicate that the demand for natural gas will remain flat or decrease for the foreseeable future and can be met with existing infrastructure.”
This Pipeline Case Could Gut 100 Years of Safeguards for Federal Parks
The Supreme Court is poised to allow a gas pipeline to pass underneath the Appalachian Trail. Experts can’t believe the case has gotten this far.
When is a hiking trail not the same as the land it sits on?
That’s a question before the Supreme Court, which last week heard oral arguments concerning the siting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5.1 billion project that, if completed, would transport over a billion cubic feet of gas each day from West Virginia to North Carolina. The arguments were the latest in five years of legal snags for the project that has pitted two federal agencies against each other in a battle over jurisdiction and administrative oversight of federal lands.
As proposed, the 3-foot diameter Atlantic Coast Pipeline, co-owned by Dominion and Duke Energies, would span approximately 600 miles, 21 miles of which would cross the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests. This route would also require the pipeline to cross the 2,100-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which bisects much of the George Washington Forest. Under the proposal approved by the U.S. Forest Service, the pipeline would cross the trail by way of a half-mile-long tunnel 600 feet below the trail.
Oral arguments on February 24 asked the court whether the Forest Service had the authority to grant this right-of-way access for the pipeline. At issue is the federal Mineral Leasing Act. Passed by Congress in 1920 as a response to the Teapot Dome scandal, the Mineral Leasing Act was intended to protect federal lands from private interests and to ensure fair use of the natural resources those lands contain. The act also stipulates that lands administered by the National Park Service are exempt from uses such as mineral exploration, drilling and the locating of pipelines.
Environmental groups fear that a ruling in favor of the energy companies behind the project could ultimately open up millions of acres of federal land—national monuments and historic places, wild and scenic rivers and other wilderness areas—to uses ranging from energy exploration and timber harvesting to highway construction and mining. Doing so, they say, would upend over a century of what was once considered inviolable protection.
The Appalachian Trail is administered by the National Park Service. Sixty percent of the trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine crosses state and private land, mostly by way of easement agreements. In many cases, those easements allow for shared uses, including the siting of pipelines (there are currently approximately 50 pipelines that cross the Appalachian Trail). But the remaining 40 percent of the trail is on federal land—like the national forests. And where those sections of the trail are concerned, the Mineral Leasing Act is clear, says Vermont School of Law professor Hillary Hoffmann.
“By design, the Appalachian Trail—like all National Park Service land—is granted the most protected status for federal lands,” Hoffmann says. “It’s hard to see this case as anything other than one federal agency trying to steamroll another one.”
That was the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the case in December 2018. It determined that the Appalachian National Scenic Trail was clearly a unit of the Park Service and therefore excluded from natural resource considerations afforded to other federal lands such as national forests. Any other interpretation, “would give the Forest Service more authority than the NPS on National Park [Service] land,” insisted the panel of three judges. Doing so, they concluded, “defies logic.”
But some of the Supreme Court justices weren’t so sure. They questioned whether the Forest Service land might also be considered a kind of easement. And they entertained the petitioner’s question of what constitutes land at all: whether it is just the footpath itself, or merely the idea of the footpath, or the footpath and all of the land below it, down to the center of the earth.
“When I think of a trail, I think of something that is on top of the earth. And when I think of a pipeline that is 600 feet below the surface, that doesn’t seem like a trail,” Justice Samuel Alito said. “So instead of having to draw this distinction between the trail and the land, why can’t we just say that the trail is on the surface and something that happens 600 feet below the surface is not on the trail?”
The answer to that question matters quite a lot, Hoffmann says. “What this ultimately does is open up the idea that subsurface areas can be considered mineral estate.”
This, she says, would reclassify protected federal lands in a way similar to private property in states like Texas and Oklahoma, where property ownership often does not include access to minerals found below the ground. There, a resident might own a home, but access to the oil or natural gas below it could belong to an energy company or private investor who, in turn, also maintains the ability to mine or drill for those minerals at will.
Were the court to decide in favor of the Forest Service, Hoffmann adds, the Supreme Court would be allowing the federal government to remove the protective legal framework limiting extractive uses of parks and wilderness. These areas, she says, could then be considered fair game for the kind of “multi-use” scenarios like timber harvesting and mining seen today on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. That, in turn, would allow the BLM and USFS to grant drilling and pipeline rights to dozens—if not hundreds—of similarly protected National Park Service parcels, including previously protected places like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, the already reduced Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, or national parks, like Grand Teton, that are abutted on multiple sides by Forest Service land.
“Imagine bridges, pipelines, or water projects bisecting the Grand Canyon, its walls, or the Colorado River,” Hoffmann says. “It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten that public lands belong to the entire public, and not just to the Department of Agriculture and whomever happens to be secretary at the time,” Hoffmann says.
The Mineral Leasing Act, she says, is supposed to prevent that from happening. And that has left Hoffmann and other legal scholars—including at least one of the Supreme Court justices—wondering why the court agreed to hear the case at all.
Just moments into the oral arguments, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned whether the entire argument might not be moot when it comes to the completion of Atlantic Coast Pipeline. She noted that the 4th Circuit Court of Appealsvacated the Forest Service’s approval of the project based not just on the problematic Appalachian Trail crossing, but also on multiple environmental and procedural missteps along the way.
This question was not an integral part of last week’s arguments, but environmental law scholars say it should have been.
Unlike national parks, which are preserved as “unimpaired” resources, national forests have always been managed with multiple uses in mind, including timber harvesting and mineral exploration. However, these uses are restricted by multiple federal laws, including the National Forest Management Act, which mandates that forests be governed by conservation plans that promote ecological diversity and health, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires all federal agencies to prepare a formal environmental impact statement prior to altering the land those agencies manage for any so-called special use (such as routing a pipeline through the forest). This impact statement must demonstrate that any special use will not harm any sensitive species found within the forest.
When Dominion Energy first announced plans for the pipeline in 2015, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required the company to complete an environmental impact statement that included a full account of possible water issues, along with an understanding of potential damage to threatened and endangered species, such as the candy darter—a rainbow colored fish recently added to the endangered species list. Because the pipeline would cross through mountainous and unstable terrain, the Forest Service also required Atlantic to produce proof of concept designs demonstrating the stability and safety of its pipeline in 10 high hazard areas along the proposed corridor.
Atlantic eventually produced two designs for demonstration purposes only. The Forest Service found both suspect and renewed its request for 10 actual site designs. The Forest Service also rejected stability studies provided by Atlantic after noting they had not been conducted by properly certified professionals. Although Atlantic did not submit its requisite environmental impact study, initial reports submitted by Dominion acknowledged construction of the pipeline would most likely “displace certain sensitive species.” Simultaneous internal analysis at the Forest Service both corroborated and strengthened this conclusion and determined that construction of the pipeline would have long-lasting negative effects not only on threatened and endangered species, but also on the ecosystem as a whole.
Forest Service policy also mandates that environmental impact studies must prove that the proposed special use “cannot reasonably be accommodated on non-National Forest Service lands.” The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Atlantic did not provide the requisite analysis demonstrating that routing the pipeline through national forests was the only viable alternative. The Forest Service requested a “National Forest Avoidance Alternative” for the routing of the pipeline. The court found that Atlantic also failed to provide that document.
In January2016, the Forest Service rejected the proposed route for the pipeline. The two regional heads responsible for making this determination—Kathleen Atkinson, regional forester for the Eastern Region, and Tony Tooke, for the Southern region, cited multiple “inconsistencies with Forest Plan direction,” particularly as they related to ecosystem restoration projects and the protection of three sensitive species: Cheat Mountain salamanders, Cow Knob salamanders and West Virginia northern flying squirrels.
Clyde Thompson was National Forest supervisor for Monongahela at the time. In a phone interview last week, he acknowledged that Atlantic’s failures to complete multiple aspects of the environmental impact and stability studies were major roadblocks to the approval of the pipeline, but he says they weren’t insurmountable.
“The Forest Service was never anti-pipeline,” Thompson says. “We were always just trying to minimize adverse impacts and ensure that worst-case scenarios had been vetted.”
That process was halted shortly after the 2016 election.
According to Thompson and others familiar with the project, in late 2016, a high-ranking Forest Service official, issued a memo informing regional forestry staff that the pipeline would be approved as prescribed by Atlantic and on that company’s timeline.
“The Forest Service changed its mind because of a change in political winds,” says Kent Karriker, who served as the ecosystems group leader for the Monongahela National Forest. “It was made very clear that we were now going to toe the line for Dominion.”
Karriker says he and others working on the impact study were told they were no longer allowed to correspond with Dominion or include their findings on the official Federal Energy Regulatory Commission docket, the document hub for the approval process.
In May 2017, the Forest Service announced Atlantic was exempt from completing the 10 stabilization designs, which would have also included requisite analysis of landslide risks and erosion mitigation. It also exempted Atlantic from National Forest avoidance route alternatives, a statutory requirement demanding that companies demonstrate the only viable path for their pipeline is through federal land, and 13 environmental standards related to water quality, endangered species and outdoor recreation. A few months later, the Forest Service reversed its findings regarding the long-term ecological impact of the pipeline.
“We were basically shut down,” says Karriker, who had authored the impact study. “The project was taken away from people at the forest level and was handled at the regional and Washington level who would go along with whatever Dominion wanted to do, up to and including changing the fact determinations I had written for several sensitive species that showed the project would impact them in a way that was not allowed by the regulations.”
Atkinson and Tooke signed the pipeline approval in November 2017. Soon after, Tooke was promoted to Forest Service chief. (He later resigned after sexual harassment allegations were made against him.) Atkinson retired last year. Neither responded to interview requests. However, in aUSFS news releaseannouncing the approval, Atkinson was quoted as saying the approval “supports Forest Service efforts to provide for multiple uses, minimize impacts to natural resources, and to implement federal polices that encourage energy infrastructure, jobs, and economic growth.”
A group of conservation organizations, led by the Cowpasture River Preservation Association and argued by the Southern Environmental Law Center, challenged this approval in the 4th Circuit of Appeals. Arguments were heard in September 2018; the judges released their unanimous findings in December of that year.
It’s not clear to what extent the circuit court was aware of the internal machinations at work in the Forest Service that led to the eventual approval of the pipeline. But the justices there were decisive in finding that the Forest Service’s multiple “reversals” and the agency’s eventual decision to approve the pipeline were both “arbitrary and capricious.” In their ruling, the judges listed myriad deficiencies and errors in the studies conducted by both Atlantic and the Forest Service. They concluded the Forest Service “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources,” calling the agency’s disregard for deleterious effects associated with the pipeline “nothing short of remarkable.”
Neither the Forest Service nor the Atlantic Coast Pipeline appealed the circuit court’s findings of violations to the National Forest Management Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. As a result, those violations will continue to halt the pipeline, regardless of how the Supreme Court decides (no doubt why Ginsburg raised the issue so early in the oral arguments).
Given the number of outstanding violations found by the 4th Circuit Court and the clear specificity of the Mineral Leasing Act, the Supreme Court could determine it erred in agreeing to hear the case at all, Georgetown University Law professor Hope Babcock says.
“It’s hard to understand how the court could find ambiguity in the plain language of the Mineral Leasing Act,” Babcock says. Should a member of the Supreme Court decide that they erred in agreeing to hear the case, now that oral arguments have been made, the justices can caucus and determine to send the case back to the circuit court—an unlikely event, given past Supreme Court practice, she says, but one that is technically possible.
Should the Supreme Court uphold the circuit court’s decision, other pipelines in development may also be in jeopardy. Of particular concern to energy watchers is the beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline, which was also granted access by the Forest Service to cross the Appalachian Trail over federal forest lands.
And it’s important to note that, even if the Supreme Court issues a ruling in favor of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline with regards to the Appalachian Trail crossing, Atlantic and the Forest Service will still need to rectify those permitting violations.
“The case would still be far from over for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” says D.J. Gerken, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which argued the case.
But the real issue, agrees Gerken, Hoffmann and Babcock, will be what that ruling means for the rest of the public lands administered by the National Park Service.
“We would be putting in jeopardy many of our really pristine wilderness areas, along with historical places and monuments protected by a buffer of forest,” Hoffmann says. “Basically, it would be giving the Forest Service permission to trump National Park Service management mandates. There’s no way Congress intended this to be the effect of the Mineral Leasing Act.”
The attached Panther Ridge Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Project includes a timber project north of Blue Bend near Auto with many tributary streams on the project area that flow into the Greenbrier River. The project is approximately 7 miles east of Falling Springs on County Route 11 with the following project boundaries: Greenbrier River to the west, Little Creek to the east, Hopkins Knob to the south, and Spice Run
THANK YOU TO ALL OUR VOLUNTEERS FOR MAKING THE GREENBRIER RIVER SHINE!
Our volunteers worked hard to help clean up the Fort Spring Boat Launch and Anvil Rock swimming area on Sunday, April 14.
If you would like to make another area shine in our watershed, give us a call at 304-647-4792 to let us know location and arrange pick up of bags and gloves.
Action Alert: Tell WVDEP to Hold the MountainValleyPipeline Accountable for Water Quality Violations – WV Rivers Coalition
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), is a 303-mile project that extends across 11 counties in West Virginia – Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and MonroeCounties. MVP was recently fined approximately $266,000 by the WVDEP for repeated water quality violations. The proposedagreementfor the fine is now open for public comment.
The fine accounts for 26 of the 28 violations WVDEP has issued the company to date. The water quality violations are the result of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s failure to implement and maintain sediment controls, which allowed muddy water to impact 33 streams and wetlands.Learn morehereandhere.
ContactWVDEP today, tell them to hold MVP accountable for their water quality violations. Request the penalty be increased to account for the severity of impacts and MVP’s repeated negligence and disregard of environmental laws.
Congratulations to all our Racers for The 33rd Great Greenbrier River Race on April 27, 2019
The 33rd annual Great Greenbrier River Race was held the last Saturday in April each year in Marlinton, WV. With great prizes, live music and good food,the event attracts a loyal following of racers and fans.
Originally a team event with four members, canoeists, bicyclist and runner, the race has now attracted many people who do it solo. But there is still room for the whole family or the family dog on a team! Kayaks and canoes are both encouraged and the many categories encourage prizes for many racers.
Over the past week, the teacher work stoppage has consumed the attention of the legislature while cross-over day came and went. Cross-over day is the deadline for a bill to pass out of its originating legislative chamber and head to the opposite chamber. That means the bills we were tracking that never made it out of committee will not be considered for passage by the full legislature this year – they are called “dead”. Even in the midst of a historic labor strike, WV Rivers is at the Capitol ensuring that water policy remains a priority!
SB270/HB4182:Died in committee. The state parks logging bill.
SB410: Died in committee. SB410 would have establish a new position, the Industry Advocate, within the WV Department of Environmental Protection.
HB2909: Died in committee. HB2909 would have abolish the office of the environmental advocate within WVDEP.
SB438: This bill would authorize the issuance of bonds to fund improvements at state parks. It has passed the Senate, and is now in the House Finance Committee.
SB626:Amendments were made to the bill restoring public notifications for surface mine permit applications. The bill has passed the Senate, was amended by the House Energy and is now in the House Judiciary Committee.
SB290:This bill makes changes to water quality standards and pollution limits. The original bill was replaced by a substitute and has passed the Senate and is now in the House Judiciary Committee. See our analysis on SB290 in a previous edition of Policy Newshere.
HB4154: The “2018 Regulatory Reform Act” expedites the approval of certain industrial projects in a way that leaves the public out of the process. It passed out of the House and has been referred to the Senate Government Organization Committee.
March 6, 2018 E -day! at the Capitol – Charleston, WV
Double Crossed Gatherings in Pocahontas & Summers Counties
On Saturday, September 16th, residents from all counties of the Greenbrier River Watershed and beyond met to express their concerns about the two 42-inch pipelines proposed by shale gas developers for the Greenbrier River and tributaries. Two events, called “Double-Crossed,” were held. Gathering at Clover Lick, in Pocahontas County and at Pence Springs, in Summers County at the places proposed for pipeline crossings of the main stem of the river, participants came face to face with what may have only been lines on a map before.
Double Crossed gathering in Clover Lick in Pocahontas County, WV.
Most of the assembled citizens had commented to federal and state regulators expressing their concern for lost property rights, questioning the need for two big pipelines (and many more}, impacts to fisheries, unstable soils, impacts on fragile karst terrain, loss of water supplies and more, but felt they had not been heard.
Indeed, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection had just rescinded their approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline the week before, due to concerns about the inadequacy of the company’s environmental review. This was done due to citizens suing in federal court. A group of North Carolina residents also won a similar court case against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, challenging North Carolina’s permitting. However, in a recent ruling FERC, Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, the quasi-federal agency which approves pipelines, ruled that New York state’s regulators could not challenge its approval of a pipeline there.
Double Crossed gathering in Pence Springs in Summers County, WV
So, while participants were encouraged by legal appeals, their fear and concerns about the future of their property and the rivers and streams and the landscape they love were not allayed. Ashby Berkeley, whose family’s riverside property in Pence Springs will be crossed by the MVP if it is built, said. “It is not just because they want to come through my family property, I would oppose it for many reasons anyway. It is not the right solution for our country’s energy needs to keep relying on fossil fuels, and the impacts are too great on communities. Plus, where are these gas supplies going? Lots of this gas will be exported overseas, and we here will not see anything but negative impacts. Where is the upside for us?”
Clover Lick resident Maryann Tomasik showed the assembled group the exact location of the spillway for the proposed crossing along the Greenbrier River Trail of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Local resident Nikki Alikakos, who returned to her family home two years ago with her husband and young children expressed dismay that they had thought they would be returning to the bucolic landscapes and country life she missed in larger cities. She decried the intrusion of two large projects on one small river in Appalachia as she and her family walked up the trail to see the proposed crossing. ”It is so disheartening to come home to being part of an energy sacrifice zone,” she lamented.
Organizers of the event, The Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) and West Virginia Rivers Coalition expressed the hope that the event would help raise peoples’ awareness of the impacts of the proposed pipelines on what are considered relatively unspoiled areas of the state. Leslee McCarty, board member of the GRWA said, “We thought the name double -crossed conveyed not only the fact that the river will be crossed twice if the companies get their way, but also of the sense of betrayal felt by many community members”
Reports are that the repairs to the lower portion of the trail have allowed the trail to reopen from North Caldwell to Cass. Portions of the damaged lower section still need some TLC, but reports are that it is definitely bikeable! Everyone should be aware that there may be Preview Changessome hazards. We are so happy the trail is “whole” again! Thank you to everyone who helped make this a reality! Stay tuned for more updates.
Washington DC – Today the Trump Administration put the sources of drinking water for more than half of West Virginians at greater risk, along with the streams and wetlands that filter pollution and provide habitat for wildlife, by starting the process to repeal the Clean Water Rule.
The rule was in place to clarify protections for West Virginia’s vulnerable headwater streams under the Clean Water Act. Over half (54%) of West Virginians get their drinking water from sources that rely on small streams that were protected under this rule.
“This is a troubling day for water drinkers, river users, and wildlife in West Virginia,” said West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser. “Our state’s headwater streams supply the drinking water sources for millions of people; this rule was important for the health of our communities and everyone downstream.”
Rosser said that for more than a decade, many of our streams have been stuck in a legal limbo caused by two divided Supreme Court decisions, actions of the previous administration and inaction by Congress. The rule clarified that 8,390 miles of streams that feed into West Virginia’s drinking water sources were protected. Now those streams are put back at risk.
The Clean Water Act rule repeal announced today by the Trump Administration had been the subject of more than a million public comments, with 87 percent of those responding—including over 2,000 West Virginians, supporting the rule. Learn more.
Clean up begins on Greenbrier River waterways Austin Davis
GREENBRIER COUNTY (WVVA) –
When looking at the rivers and creeks in Greenbrier County it’s easy to spot trash and other debris left behind by last summer’s floods. However, crews are working to clean it up to help prevent future flooding.
Trash piles filled with tires and debris, all from the Rupert/Rainelle area. The Human Resources Development Foundation is taking care of the fallen trees that play a big role in flooding issues.
“We had to cut the trees off in order for the water to flow the way it’s supposed to because with the trees blocking, it’s causing the water to build up which is going to cause a flood again,” said Audie Sloan, Crew Leader for HRDF Greenbrier County. See video HERE
The Great Greenbrier River Race is in the books! Congratulations to everyone!
For more information about the Greenbrier River Race please email email@example.com
2017 was the 31st annual Great Greenbrier River Race. The race is held the last Saturday in April each year. With great prizes, live music and good food,the event attracts a loyal following of racers and fans.
Originally a team event with four members, canoeists, bicyclist and runner, the race has now attracted many people who do it solo. But there is still room for the whole family or the family dog on a team! Kayaks and canoes are both encouraged and the many categories encourage prizes for many racers.
Check out the Watershed Group Videos, including ours, HERE
Currents is a celebration of the dozens of watershed groups that help protect, preserve and restore West Virginia’s waterways, told in their own words. It premiered at the WV Rivers Film Festival in Morgantown on October 22, 2015. Currents is a production of the WVDEP, and was produced and directed by Michael Huff.
Final EPA Report: Fracking Threatens Drinking Water December 13, 2016
After years of researching the environmental effects of horizontal gas drilling, including the controversial practice called “fracking”, the Environmental Protection Agency released afinal reportthat highlights threats, but is still largely inconclusive.
Drilling practices that capture gas trapped in shale rock deep underground can contaminate drinking water – but federal regulators aren’t sure how risky it is. That’s the final takeaway from a $30 million report that took six years to finish. Continue
WV Supreme Court: No Pipeline Surveys for Private Gain
West Virginia property owners won an important case at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday when that Court sided with Appalachian Mountain Advocates attorneys, ruling that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot survey for its proposed natural gas pipeline without landowner permission. The Court held that such a survey would constitute an illegal “private taking for private use,” because the proposed pipeline would not benefit West Virginians. Full story click here
The Greenbrier River Watershed Association, founded in 1990, is one of the oldest watershed associations in the state. With this website, we hope to give the Greenbrier River Watershed residents and visitors the tools they need to take responsible care of the land that is home to the waters. Most importantly we hope that the people of these beautiful mountains get outdoors and enjoy wild and wonderful West Virginia. Come out and join us!
GRWA-Report-2015 NEWS: Greenbrier River Watershed Association joins with Pipeline Update to provide the most up to date meeting information and news on proposed pipelines in our watershed. If you want the most recent news and information, go tohttp://pipelineupdate.org/and see what is happening lots of folks are coming out to meetings all over West Virginia and Virginia!
From the wilds of Blister Swamp high in the Allegheny Mountains until it flows into the New River Gorge National River near Hinton, the Greenbrier River has carved its way almost two hundred miles through some of the most beautiful and unspoiled terrain on the East Coast. It is the longest free flowing river in the East, and boasts two of our newest wilderness areas, Spice Run and Big Draft.
One of the nation’s oldest rail to trail conversions, the scenic Greenbrier River Trail parallels the river for almost eighty miles in Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties, affording access to the river and some of the surrounding state parks and forest and the Monongahela National Forest.
The river and its tributaries provide drinking water for communities, water for agriculture and recreation, and home for abundant wildlife, including bald eagles, lynx, black bear, river otters and myriad of birds and mammals.