Archive for the ‘The Appalachian Voice’ Category

Who Profits from the Pipelines?

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Utility giants such as Dominion Energy and Duke Energy explain their interest in building new pipelines by pointing to their need for more natural gas to replace retiring coal plants.

But one doesn’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find another explanation.

“The way the regulatory system is set up at the moment,” says Lorne Stockman, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, “companies are incentivized to build new infrastructure and create over-capacity.”

Oil Change International is a research and communications group that advocates for the switch to renewables while highlighting the true costs of fossil fuels. The group has produced several recent reports that help put the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines in context.

“It comes down to what makes the most money for the companies involved, and the regulatory system is not set up to reward Dominion and Duke for efficiency savings,” says Stockman. In other parts of the country, such as Massachusetts, incentives are more climate-friendly. “[The regulatory system there] doesn’t reward them for load growth or increasing generation, but they are rewarded for improving efficiency.”

While the corporations stand to benefit from tax breaks and are assured a profit, the environmental and safety risks of the pipelines will be absorbed by the communities they pass through and by everyone affected by the rapidly changing climate.

“Everyone’s vying to get their project in because they know the industry is overbuilding. And everyone wants their pipeline committed as soon as possible.”

Are these projects needed?

Even if more natural gas is needed to replace retiring coal-fired plants, as many industry experts argue, does that mean that we need more pipeline construction?

It’s hard to make that case when so much capacity in existing pipelines is going unused.

Pipeline developers must demonstrate to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that they have customers for the gas and thereby show a need for the natural gas being shipped. For both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, the vast majority of the gas will be sold to subsidiaries of the parent companies building the pipelines.
“In situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline,” according to a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Won’t the pipelines create jobs?

For some, the promise of new jobs is a major selling point of the pipeline projects. But any large-scale employment during construction is short-lived, and these jobs may or may not go to local residents who need them.

Projected long-term employment numbers for operating the pipelines and compressor stations are significantly lower than during the construction phase.

Compare this with jobs in the solar sector: employment in Virginia is strong, North Carolina is booming and West Virginia has a lot of room for growth.

Why the rush to build the pipelines?

The companies building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines stand to profit from these infrastructure projects. When granting permits, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guarantees the companies building the pipelines a profit by authorizing them to adjust their rates on transporting gas. At the same time, the partnerships financing the pipelines — such as Dominion Midstream Partners, which has indirect ownership of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and EQT Midstream Partners, a lead partner in the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, are not required to pay federal taxes.

According to the New York Times, Duke has paid no total income tax between 2008 and 2015. Guaranteed profits and low tax rates are just two of the benefits the tax codes grant companies in the energy sector.

How would pipelines affect the climate?

Under the previous administration, the United States worked with other nations to set a path toward limiting the severity of climate change, first in Copenhagen and later in Paris.

The United States proposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the coming two decades. Toward that end, the Obama administration issued standards that would have cut methane emissions nearly in half.

Over a 20-year timeframe, methane is nearly 86 times more powerful as a warming agent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. One of the major sources of methane emissions is the production of natural gas.

A recent study by Oil Change International indicates that if current projections hold true, the United States would exceed its entire greenhouse gas targets just through its dependence on natural gas, and particularly from the boom in production from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. This ominous forecast included the Obama administration’s reduction in methane emissions — which Congress and President Trump have since overturned. That means that methane emissions from gas production are projected to exceed the country’s entire allotment for greenhouse gases even sooner.

Energy needs can be met with existing pipelines coming out of the Appalachian Basin. But as companies rush to extract more natural gas, the overall capacity could soon be reached. According to the study, “If no new takeaway capacity is built, production of around 116 trillion cubic feet of potential gas production from now through 2050 would be avoided.”

natural gas ghg

Following the White Blaze

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Nearly 70 years after the first thru-hike, more hikers than ever are traveling the Appalachian Trail

By Lorelei Goff

Sunset over Great Smokeys

A stunning sunset over the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Photo by Jonathan Riley, courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The year was 1948. Earl Shaffer, a young WWII veteran from Pennsylvania, put on his worn boots, packed his U.S. Army issue rucksack, and set off alone for a roughly 2,000 mile journey from Georgia to Maine, hoping to walk off the depression that had dogged him after the war.

It’s been 69 years since Shaffer made that first documented thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The news that he completed the trek earned him the nickname of “The Crazy One” and raised public awareness of the trail. He later thru-hiked it two more times, first in 1965 and again in 1998, on the 50th anniversary of his first hike.

In the years since Shaffer’s hike, the number of people attempting thru-hikes has increased. After the release of the movies “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods” in 2015, the number of registered thru-hikers rose dramatically from 1,968 in 2015 to 3,133 in 2016. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that protects and maintains the trail, estimates the total number of visitors to the trail at 3 million annually.

hiking trail

Traversing the Smoky Mountains on a thru-hike. Photo by Kaiha Bertollini

Benton MacKaye, a forester, author and conservationist who envisioned a footpath through the length of the Appalachian Mountain Range, first proposed the Appalachian Trail in 1921. Construction began soon after and was completed in 1937. The trail meanders through woodlands, meadows and windswept balds, over a course that covers roughly 2,189 miles through 14 states with nearly 500,000 feet of elevation gains and losses. It received the National Trails System Act’s first National Scenic Trail designation in 1968.

Volunteers developed and, to a large degree, continue to maintain the trail. Managing a trail the size of the AT requires a network of over 30 Appalachian Trail Clubs and half a dozen Appalachian Trail Crews in a cooperative management system that includes the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, government agencies in 14 states and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.


Even with all those folks pitching in to help, maintaining a trail with that much traffic is a challenge and the growing pains are evident. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the negative impacts of overcrowding include exceeding the capacity of outhouses and shelters, trash issues, and damage to springs, streams and vegetation.

Jo Swanson and her trail partner Bart Houck, known by their trail names of “Someday” and “Hillbilly Bart,” made the first thru-hike of the much younger, partially completed Great Eastern Trail in 2013. Swanson had previously section-hiked the AT from north to south in 2009 and 2010. She says the AT is “over-loved” and that practicing Leave No Trace principles — such as not leaving trash behind, minimizing campfire impacts and staying on the trail — and good hiker behavior can lessen the impact of high traffic on the trail. Swanson is particularly concerned about hikers going off trail to avoid the long zig-zags up a mountain.

Participants in a Leave No Trace Master Educator Course learn to care for healthy landscapes while making as little impact as possible. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Participants in a Leave No Trace Master Educator Course learn to care for healthy landscapes while making as little impact as possible. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

“People were cutting switchbacks and going straight up the mountain and creating these pathways for erosion,” says Swanson. “They think, well, it’s just me so it doesn’t matter if I just walk up the mountain. But with thousands of people out on a trail, it makes a huge difference.”

Good Times & Good Will

Not all of the impacts from increasing traffic on the trail are damaging. One mutually beneficial change is the impact the growing number of hikers and the communities along the trail have on each other.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Appalachian Trail Communities program promotes sustainable economic growth in towns and counties along the AT. The program also aims to benefit the growing hiking community while protecting the trail as a natural and cultural resource. There are currently over 40 Trail Communities along the AT.


Daniel “Spot” Codispoti, a five-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, smiles in front of a hostel in Erwin, Tenn. Photo courtesy of Daniel Codispoti

Franklin, N.C., became the first Appalachian Trail Community in 2010. Bill Van Horn is a member and former chairperson of the Franklin Appalachian Trail Community Committee. He says the trail and the town’s designation as a Trail Community bolsters the local economy.

“From about the middle of March until about the third week in April, if you were to stand outside of Franklin where the AT crosses Highway 64, you’d have 50 thru-hikers a day walking across Highway 64,” Van Horn says. “Having 50 extra folks in town in bedrooms, eating at restaurants and hitting the supply stores is a good thing.”

The committee worked with the local Macon County Transit to develop a twice-daily shuttle during peak thru-hiking season that transports hikers 11 miles from the Highway 64 crossing to the town center.

Another popular Trail Community is Damascus, Va., nicknamed “Trail Town USA” and famous for its Trail Days festival. Now in its 31st year, Trail Days brings nearly 10,000 visitors to Damascus, population 800. In turn, the town spends $11,000 per day to put on the event and brings in 50 Port-a-Johns to accommodate the crowd. This year’s festival will be held May 19-21.

“It’s just an amazing event,” says Tim Williams, chairman of the Appalachian Trail Days Committee and vice mayor of the town. “It’s like a family reunion or a homecoming.”

Daniel “Spot” Codispoti has thru-hiked the AT five times. Although he forgoes the shelters for the solitude of camping in his tent alone, he says he’s noticed that the trail and shelters have been crowded in recent years, detracting from the wilderness experience.

Conservation Leadership Corps

The inaugural Conservation Leadership Corps crew learned how to protect the AT and surrounding resources. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Trail Conservancy

He plans to thru-hike it again in 2017, and this time he’ll use a flip-flop strategy recommended by the trail conservancy to avoid crowds and reduce pressure on the trail. He’ll start his thru-hike in his home state of Pennsylvania and go north to Mount Katahdin, Maine, the northern terminus of the AT. Then he’ll take a bus back to Pennsylvania and go south to Springer Mountain, Ga., the southern terminus.

Besides flip-flop itineraries, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking hikers who are starting from Springer Mountain to avoid leaving on the most popular departure dates: April 1, March 1, March 15, and the Spring Equinox. The organization also offers a voluntary registration program that allows hikers to plan their hike to avoid the crowds.

As the trail has become more popular over the decades, there have been some positive impacts that only come with time and growth. Besides the increased number of shelters and outhouses, trail maintenance has increased, including the visibility of the AT’s famous white blaze.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even the late ‘90s, I would get lost sometimes because there were just no white marks in certain places,” says Codispoti. “Now, there are white marks everywhere. It’s easy to follow.”

“A lot of the bogs or small creeks never had bridges,” he adds. “You could almost guarantee getting wet feet almost every day. Today, that hardly ever happens.”

young hiker

A young hiker enjoys a day out on the Max Patch Loop Trail near Asheville, N.C. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

One thing that hasn’t increased much over the years is the crime rate on the trail. Jordan Bowman, public relations media specialist with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says the number of reported incidents are relatively low in comparison to a city of the same population as the AT.

A greater safety concern is illness. According to the trail conservancy’s website, there is a higher likelihood of being exposed to norovirus in an overcrowded shelter area or contracting Lyme Disease from ticks on the trail than being a victim of crime.

Codispote says what bothers him most isn’t crime.

“I guess I first noticed it in ‘11,” he says. “The amount of smartphones on the trail and the people using the technology to hike the trail, it changes the trail in a bad way for me.”

“A lot of times in the past, if I came up to a shelter or anywhere where there was a young person sitting there, they would at least say ‘Hi,’” he continues. “You’d have a talk. Many times I’ve come up on somebody and they have their head buried in their phone or they have earplugs in their ears and they just give a little wave of their hand or they acknowledge your presence. They’re not rude, but you don’t engage in any conversation. That’s a disappointment.”

Swanson thinks technology is a big part of why thru-hiking has boomed.

“It’s a lot easier for hikers to share their experiences now, sending pictures home, posting on social media and blogs,” she says. “I think that outreach makes long-distance hiking seem achievable for a lot of people.”

Hiking selfie

Snapping a selfie on the trail. Photo by Kaiha Bertollini

Codispoti says one important thing has stayed the same: the community of people and the good will they share along the trail.

“I think that’s one of the big reasons why I go back,” he says.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Kaiha “Wild Card Ninja” Bertolini found that good will, along with connection and purpose, when she thru-hiked the AT in 2016. She’d never heard of the trail until she met a thru-hiker in December of 2015. She quit her job in advertising, borrowed some gear and hit the path.

“I was at a crossroads in my life,” she says. “I turned 30 and I was like, ‘I’m going to die one day and I don’t care about anything that I’m doing.’ In 2010 I was assaulted by men in the army. After that, I had a very hard time reconnecting not only with myself and my own personal strength, but also being able to see the world is still kind and good.”

“I needed to know that still existed,” Bertolini continues. “The Appalachian Trail taught me how to connect with the world again.”

Codispoti says most people who thru-hike the AT are looking for something.

“Some of them are working out issues or problems,” he explains. “Some of them are just looking for a great experience and some are there for a goal, like trying to set records. I know I’m looking for peace and quiet and the experience of the woods. I like the simplicity of it.”

“It’s just a simple path through the woods and yet it does a lot of different things for different people,” he says.

Whatever growing pains the trail may be experiencing as it enters its seventh decade, one theme remains constant. From Earl Shaffer who walked off the trauma of war as the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, to the thousands who will set out on their own treks this year, no one who makes the journey is ever the same again.


The rewards of trail life include awe-inspiring vistas, such as this one from Mount Crawford in the Smoky Mountains, top. Photo by Kaiha Bertollini

Resistance to Pipelines Across the East

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Pipelines are spreading but residents are fighting back

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Deep beneath the soils of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York — in what is known as the Appalachian Basin — the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are home to much of the natural gas reshaping the United States’ energy sector.

In order to get to market, the gas is wrenched from the earth using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which a brew of pressurized chemicals, water and sand is shot into the earth, cracking the bedrock so the gas can be loosened for extraction.

Where fracking goes, earthquakes, poisoned wells and releases of the potent greenhouse gas methane have followed.

pipeline map

This map shows the network of pipelines existing as of August 2016. The proposed pipeline projects would be in addition to this tangled web. Map courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration

Once collected and processed, the natural gas is then pumped through a circulatory system of pipelines, beginning with capillary-like gathering lines that flow from the wellheads to collection sites and ending with a network of large arteries that channel the gas hundreds, even thousands, of miles to power plants and export facilities.

Where pipelines go, disrupted landscapes, explosions, spills and erosion have followed.

For nearly a decade, gas extraction in the Appalachian Basin has been booming. The proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina would become two new arteries in an already crowded, and growing, field. But up and down the Eastern Seaboard, community members have joined together to fight against this expanding fossil fuel industry.

In the Belly of the Beast

West Virginia lies at the heart of the natural gas expansion, and its residents bear a heavy burden in the rush to build pipelines.

“We’re facing a lot more than just the ACP and the MVP here in West Virginia,” says Autumn Leah Crowe, program director at West Virginia Rivers Coalition, an environmental nonprofit. “We also have the Leach, the Rover, the Mountaineer XPress, the WB XPress, and a new one, the Eastern Panhandle Connector.”

Crowe’s list includes seven proposed projects by four groups of energy partners. These projects would require at least $17 billion to build nearly 2,000 miles of pipe radiating out from the Appalachian Basin. And her list only includes those pipelines West Virginia Rivers Coalition is focused on. There are more.

Across the state, residents are standing up to resist the expansion of the pipelines. April Pierson-Keating is co-founder of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, an environmental advocacy group that promotes clean water through clean energy and a just, sustainable economy. She is also a native West Virginian who voices her opposition to the pipelines loudly.

Like Crowe, one of her primary concerns is water, and she’s frustrated that so little is being done to protect this resource.

“West Virginia is a water-producing state. We have the headwaters of 46 rivers. And 14 states get their water from us,” says Pierson-Keating. “So, we have a duty to protect the water for everyone downstream. And we don’t even take it seriously to protect the water for ourselves.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also slated to run right by the high school in Pierson-Keating’s town. She’s written about it — including a letter to President Obama — and spoken with her local officials and the media, but still the school lies near the path of the proposed pipeline. (See map in center spread.)

Some in the state say they have felt negative pressure from their communities for speaking out about their concerns and now fight against the pipelines less publicly.

Because of such pressure, one farmer from Doddridge County, W.Va., asked to remain anonymous for this article. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is routed through neighboring property on one side of his house and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run nearby on the other. And a third, the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline, has already caused damage to his property.


Bulldozers clear land for the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline, which now channels natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to a larger pipeline. Photo courtesy of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance

“When [the pipeline companies] first came here a few years ago, they promised us they were going to build all new roads, all new bridges,” he says. “And they didn’t do a thing. All they did was just tear up everything we got. Just tore the roads to pieces and then just went off and left them.”

Same with the promises about jobs. “They tell you all the jobs they’re gonna produce. But it never happens, cause they bring men with them from out of state,” he says. “But the politicians will tell you that it’s gonna make 30,000 jobs. But they don’t tell you that those jobs are just gonna last one year till the pipeline is ran.”

This farmer has seen a son move out of state and has lost a daughter to cancer, which he believes was caused by the chemicals used in a fracked well near her house. Despite this, he’s felt pushback from his community for his opposition to the pipelines. But he’s not staying silent, and his words carry the weight of wisdom hard won.

Because of the compressor station near his house, “when it snows, it snows black,” he says. “It used to be a very pretty state.”

Standing Against the Pipelines

In rural South Central Pennsylvania, resistance efforts are focused on the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise project. It would allow the nearly 1,800 mile Transcontinental Pipeline, which currently runs from south Texas north to New York City, to run in the other direction as well. The pipeline, also known as Transco, would transport the natural gas pumped from the Appalachian Basin to the Gulf, presumably for export.

According to Tim Spiese, a member of the community action group Lancaster Against Pipelines, the project will also build what Transco describes as a nearly 200-mile “shortcut” between existing pipelines that “crosses every tributary that feeds the Susquehanna River.”

The Stand encampment

The Stand is a non-violent anti-pipeline encampment in Lancaster, Penn., along the proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise expansion project. Photo by David Jones

On Feb. 3, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the new pipeline, now many residents of Lancaster County are preparing to take a stand.

“Our hope is that when they do start building the pipeline there will be such a huge groundswell of opposition to this that it’s going to create the energy we need to have industries pull away,” Spiese says. “That’s our hope.”

The group has established an encampment, called The Stand, on a piece of farmland in the path of the pipeline. About 10 people are currently living there, and dozens more come out for events and training.

“‘Non-violent mass action’ is what we’re calling it, and we are likening it to what happened in the Civil Rights era and even women’s suffrage,” says Malinda Clatterbuck, also a member of Lancaster Against Pipelines. “We really believe that the only way we will stop this is through the power of people coming out in mass numbers to help bring about an awareness and a change in how people are thinking about what’s happening here.”

“We’re doing this work to stop a pipeline,” says Clatterbuck, who has faced intimidation for her outspoken opposition to the project. “But I feel like the bigger picture here, what we’re really fighting against, is this unjust system that has allowed corporations to become personhoods and have more power over the destruction of communities than those communities have the power to protect themselves against it and protect their health and safety. And that’s what’s gotta change.”

Southern Exposure on the Pipelines

Further south, there is still more resistance to pipelines carrying natural gas from the Appalachian Basin into Georgia and Florida.

The Sabal Trail is a 515-mile pipeline stretching from the Transco line in Alabama, across Georgia and down to central Florida. The $3.2 billion project by Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy, Inc., and Duke Energy is 78 percent complete, according to the Associated Press.

John Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper and president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition, has been pushing back against the Sabal Trail Pipeline in southern Georgia and northern Florida since 2013.

He has found that opposition to eminent domain — the taking of private property for public use — and the desire to protect streams and rivers cross party lines.

“You’d be surprised how many reclusive, right-wing, rural landowners really do not like this pipeline,” he says. “As one of them said to me, ‘You know, if caring about the wildlife and fishing and hunting and the waters means I’m an environmentalist, then I’m an environmentalist.’”

Quarterman is pushing for legislation to better protect water resources and is pursuing penalties against pipeline companies when violations are discovered. He also advocates for divesting from the companies that fund the pipeline and for expanding investments in solar energy and other renewables.

“Solar power doesn’t use any testing water, doesn’t use any cooling water and also doesn’t require any eminent domain,” he says.

Resistance in the Tarheel State

Along the banks of the Dan River in Rockingham County, N.C., an unproven power company wants to build a natural gas power plant.

According to the company’s website, NTE Energy is developing three projects in Ohio, Texas and in Cleveland County, N.C., and is in earlier stages with two other projects — one in Connecticut and this one in Rockingham County. None of the projects are complete.

Dan River

The outlet for the water used to cool a proposed gas-fired power plant would enter the Dan River about 250 feet upstream from the canoe access. Photo by Buck Purgason

Buck Purgason, a local resident and member of the advocacy group Good Stewards of Rockingham, is worried about this plant, particularly its impact on the beleaguered Dan River, which experienced a coal ash spill in 2014 and is now slated to provide the water needed to cool the proposed gas plant.

According to Purgason, cooling the plant will likely require between 1.7 and 5 million gallons of water from the river each day.

“This is water for a gas-fired plant that we don’t need,” he says. “That’s the main issue for me. And we’re trying to get more solar, renewable, and get off fossil fuels and [leave] them in the ground. And they’re building all these plants, and it’s gonna be fracked gas that they’re burning.”

As the plans to build the plant move forward, Purgason continues to participate in the public comment periods, speak with the press and organize community opposition. “It’s an uphill battle, but there’s a lot of people’s lives gonna be impacted for a little bit of peak power.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also the focus of growing resistance to gas infrastructure in North Carolina.

Thousands of North Carolinians have submitted comments against the ACP and communities are reaching out to other states and one another to fight against the pipelines.

For two weeks in March this year, community members walked along the proposed 205-mile route across the Coastal Plain of the state traveling from the Virginia border south through the low income, minority and agricultural communities that would be impacted by the pipeline.

The “Walk To Protect Our People And The Places Where We Live” culminated in a spring equinox ceremony lead by members of the Lumbee tribe at the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center. (For more on the walk, see center spread.)

The pipeline would end in Robeson County, whose population is nearly 40 percent Native American, primarily members of the Lumbee tribe, according to N.C. Policy Watch, a news outlet of the N.C. Justice Center.

A Victory from the Bluegrass State

Citizen resistance to a natural gas project in Kentucky led to a victory against the industry.

Since 2004, Suzanne Tallichet has been a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, a community-based organization fighting for social justice, and has held several leadership positions with the group.

Neighborhood canvassing

Doug Doerrfeld is one of the community members who went door-to-door educating residents of a neighborhood along the route of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline. Photo by Suzanne Tallichet

Three years ago, she heard about a dangerous project headed to her home of Rowan County. Energy giants MarkWest and Kinder Morgan planned to reverse the flow of nearly 1,000 miles along the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. This 70-year-old pipeline was designed to carry natural gas from the Gulf region to New York City and Boston, but under the new proposal it would transport natural gas liquids from the shale fields in Ohio towards the Gulf.

Natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane, are marketable byproducts produced when processing natural gas. They are used for making plastics and as heating and transportation fuels. They are also extremely flammable.

Tallichet contacted the local newspaper, The Morehead News, which ran a series of articles and editorials about the project. She also organized with other community members to participate in local government and go door-to-door in impacted neighborhoods to educate residents about the potential risks.

“I don’t know of a single person who has said, ‘I don’t know what you people are worried about. There’s nothing wrong. Hey, it might create jobs,’” Tallichet says. “As a matter of fact, that’s a huge problem, it doesn’t. If it created jobs, there might be a little contention. But there’s no contention because it creates no jobs for us.”

“And yet we take all the risks,” she adds. “No benefits, all the risks. And when people heard that, that did it.”

Rowan is one of six counties along the route that has passed a resolution against the pipeline. As of press time, the project was stalled, and many residents are breathing easier.

“I certainly hope that this pipeline stays dormant,” says Tallichet. “I mean, people talk about environmentalists being radical. That clean water and clean air is a radical notion … What’s radical is to take an old pipeline, reverse the flow of the material and then throw in the volatility [of natural gas liquids].”

The Fight Continues

As pipeline after pipeline moves closer to construction and completion, community members across the country continue to push back against them.

“Local people can make a difference, that’s energizing,” says Tallichet.

Malinda Clatterbuck, who is fighting the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania, agrees.

“We want to do what we can, with mass numbers of people, to say ‘we in the community say this isn’t right,’” she says. “The laws are against us. And the industry has so much power. And regulatory agencies are against us because they’ve been influenced by industry. But we the people, who are bearing the brunt of this damage, are saying it’s not okay.’”

Continue Following These Stories

For the latest updates, follow these groups on facebook or visit their websites at:

Good Stewards of Rockingham:

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth:

Lancaster Against Pipelines:

Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance:

Suwannee Riverkeeper and WWALS Watershed Coalition:

West Virginia Rivers Coalition:

Budget Blowback

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by interns

White House Blueprint takes aim at the environment and assistance to low-income Americans

By Brian Sewell

Front page news

Many regional news outlets focused on how proposed budget cuts could affect Appalachia. Photo courtesy Charleston Gazette-Mail

On March 15, President Donald Trump took the stage at a rally in Nashville, Tenn. Befitting the campaign-style event, he opened with familiar, crowd-tested applause lines.

“It’s patriotic Americans like you who make this country run, and run well,” the president told his supporters. “All you want is a government that shows you the same loyalty in return.”

The next morning, the White House would unveil the blueprint of its proposed 2018 budget, giving Americans a first look at the administration’s priorities in fiscal form. At the rally that evening, in between pledges to build a border wall and save the coal industry, Trump promised that his budget would “shrink the bloated federal bureaucracy.”

When the document was released, its vision of America and the role of the federal government was hardly recognizable. The “America First” budget — as it has been coined by the White House — would offset a $54 billion boost to the military and national security by cutting the same amount from domestic, non-defense spending. Nearly 20 agencies and dozens of programs would be axed altogether.

Responses flooded in from politicians and advocacy groups of every stripe. Some criticized the administration’s disregard for public support of the arts and sciences, including medical research. Other reactions focused on the irony that Trump wants to eliminate programs that benefit Americans in the areas that helped him win the White House. The budget would wipe out decades-old anti-poverty programs and newer efforts to create jobs in communities that are struggling economically, like many in Appalachia and the Rust Belt.

On the day after the blueprint’s rollout, the front page of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, led with the headline “Trump’s budget slams West Virginia.” The Roanoke Times ran an editorial titled “Trump backhands Appalachia” that reflected on the region’s support for the president and mused, “Trump has an odd way of returning the favor.”

Although Congress controls federal spending, the White House’s so-called “skinny budget” is the clearest picture congressional lawmakers have yet of the president’s priorities. It could have been something positive for Trump to stump on. But a few days after the Nashville event, when the president held an almost identical rally in Louisville, Ky., he decided not to mention it.

Appalachia Loses Out

Some of the blueprint’s uncompromising cuts to programs in rural areas raised the question: where did these ideas even come from? In February, the Heritage Foundation, a think tank with close ties to the Trump administration, put forward its own wish list for the federal budget. Both the official blueprint and Heritage’s “Blueprint for Balance” prescribe many of the same cuts and provide similar justifications for them.

“Heritage was the number one source,” Stephen Moore, a Heritage Foundation economist who advised the Trump campaign, told The Washington Post. “That was partly because there wasn’t a lot of time. They decided ‘we will get rid of this, and get rid of that.’”

One puzzling cut in the White House blueprint that can’t be traced back to any of Trump’s numerous promises is the elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency that invests in workforce training and infrastructure needs like broadband. The Heritage blueprint also calls for doing away with it. While the White House does not explain why the commission is on the chopping block, the Heritage Foundation describes it as “duplicative carve out” that “diverts federal funding to projects of questionable merit.”

Members of Congress were quick to defend the commission and its accomplishments. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) called the proposed cuts “draconian, careless and counterproductive.”

“Today, nearly everyone in the region has access to clean water and sewer, the workforce is diversifying, educational opportunities are improving and rural technology is finally advancing to 21st-century standards,” Rogers said in a statement. “But there is more work to be done in these communities.”

Since October 2015 alone, the Appalachian Regional Commission has invested more than $175 million in 662 projects throughout the region. Around $75 million of that has supported initiatives to diversify local economies that have long relied on coal mining and now hope to attract new industries.

The Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia received a grant to scale up its workforce development model and expand to other counties. The group Friends of Southwest Virginia is using commission funds to create community access points along the New River that will enhance the region’s ecotourism industry. Those projects and hundreds of others are projected to create or retain thousands of jobs and leverage nearly $142 million in private dollars into the region’s economy.

Around the same time, coal production in eastern Kentucky fell to a level not seen since the Great Depression, Appalachian states shed thousands of coal mining jobs and the nation’s three largest coal companies fell into bankruptcy, largely due to the growth of natural gas and the falling demand for coal globally.

Trump won 400 out of the 420 counties in which the Appalachian Regional Commission operates partly on the promise that he’ll “bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” which policymakers and energy experts accept is an impossibility. The president’s congressional counterparts are ready for him to expand on his message to Appalachia.

“It’s true that the president won his election in rural country,” Rep. Rogers told Reuters. “I would really like to see him climb aboard [the Appalachian Regional Commission] vehicle as a way to help us help ourselves.”

Climate and Energy in the Crosshairs

Even many expected cuts are deeper than anticipated. It comes as no surprise that a candidate who called the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “a disgrace” would target the agency’s resources in addition to rolling back environmental rules. But the blueprint calls for gutting EPA funding by nearly one-third and eliminating approximately 3,200 positions, making it the hardest hit of any federal agency.

EPA initiatives ranging from the Chesapeake Bay restoration program to the Clean Power Plan would be zeroed out. Funding for the enforcement of federal environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act would be reduced with the unrealistic expectation that states would pick up the slack.

According to an analysis by the North Carolina Sierra Club, federal dollars pay for almost half of the state’s multi-million responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. If North Carolina or any other state lost those funds, it would likely weaken programs that, in some cases, have also been cut by state budget-makers.

The EPA’s work to research and respond to climate change is also targeted, as is the climate-related work of other agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. When asked about the reason for those cuts during a White House press briefing, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said “we consider that to be a waste of your money.”

In another ironic twist related to the coal industry and its future, the White House wants to cut the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, which researches carbon capture technologies — the closest America has to anything resembling “clean coal.”

A week after the budget was announced, 35 Senate Democrats wrote a letter to their colleagues calling the Trump administration’s pledge to protect clean air and water “meaningless,” considering the proposed cuts to the EPA.

“There is already bipartisan agreement that President Trump’s harmful budget will be a nonstarter in Congress,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who added his name to the letter, said in a statement.

“Dead on Arrival”

In a time of historic political polarization, the unpopularity of ideas in the blueprint transcends the partisan divide. Weeks before all the details were known, as rumors swirled about massive cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) described the White House’s budget as “dead on arrival.”

According to a March poll by Quinnipiac University, most Americans would be fine with that — for any number of reasons. Sixty-seven percent of respondents oppose cuts to federal climate research and environmental programs. Nearly three-quarters of those polled are “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about climate change and 59 percent say the United States should do more to address it.

“When it comes to cutting Public TV, the arts, after school programs and scientific research to improve the environment, it’s a stern ‘hands off’ from voters,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a release announcing the results.

The White House will send its full 2018 budget to Congress later this spring. In the meantime, Congress must address federal spending for the rest of this year before the current resolution to continue funding the government expires on April 28. But, when it comes to Trump’s brazen approach, the White House’s budget office Director Mick Mulvaney says “folks who voted for the president are getting exactly what they voted for.”

Uncompromising Cuts

The Appalachian region would take a hit if cuts to numerous national programs that benefit rural or low-income Americans were to go into effect. The following are just a few of the agencies and programs not mentioned in this article that would be eliminated:
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports nearly 1,500 locally owned public radio and television stations nationwide.
— The Corporation for National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps and other national service initiatives.
Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal aid to low-income Americans.
— The Energy Department’s State Energy Program, which assists states in improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.
— The Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which makes grants to state and local governments to provide home weatherization services to those in need.
— The Department of Health and Human Services’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps families afford their energy bills and minor energy-related home repairs.
— The Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants, which leverages private capital by investing in economic development in communities where it’s most needed.

Refuge, Restoration and Radio Silence at Laurel Fork

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Chris Robey

fallen tree

Maintaining trails along Locust Spring Run often involves removing fallen trees. Photo by Lauren D’Amato

In the northwest corner of Highland County, Va., there is a secluded, stream-furrowed valley unlike anywhere else in the state. Here, clear waters amble among remnant stands of red spruce. The high-pitched calls of northern saw-whet owls echo among the restless boughs, while snowshoe hares duck in and out of the understory and northern flying squirrels den in the old cavities left by wayward woodpeckers.

Located in the Warm Springs Ranger District of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, the Laurel Fork Special Management Area was once a priority candidate for the protective status of a wilderness designation. Resistance from local landowners, however, stalled these efforts.

Despite this, Laurel Fork offers some of the best opportunities for solitude in the state — a quality enhanced by its proximity to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, just a crow’s flight south and over the border in Green Bank, W.Va. Here, astronomers utilize the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.

The popular astronomer Carl Sagan wrote that the energy received by all the radio telescopes on Earth is dwarfed by a single snowflake striking the ground. To protect the radio observatory’s sensitive instruments from electromagnetic interference, which could drown out these impossibly faint signals, the Federal Communications Commission established a 13,000 square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone. Laurel Fork, it so happens, sits smack in the center of this zone. Wifi and radio use in the immediate area is restricted, and cell phone towers are few and far between.

For those seeking solitude, this radio silence is part of the attraction, according to Warm Springs District Ranger Elizabeth McNichols. “In my mind, it really enhances the experience,” she says. Freed from the buzzes and pings that punctuate the livestream of smartphone-dependent living, a hiker’s thoughts may wander along with their feet.

Locust Spring Run trail

After the trail work is complete the path is again clear for hikers. Photo by Lauren D’Amato

Twenty-eight miles of trails wind among Laurel Fork’s myriad tributary runs. Many follow old narrow-gauge railroad beds where, almost a century ago, steam engines carted men with crosscuts and axes into the woods each morning and emerged laden with timber at day’s end. In their absence, a clarifying, restorative silence reigns.

This past fall, I served as the assistant leader with a trail crew for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, a regional conservation nonprofit. Over nine days, five other young seasonal staff and I, wielding the same hand tools the 20th-century logging crews once used, removed 65 fallen trees, cleared brush and painted blazes along eight miles of trail, dug over a dozen drainage features, and improved trail visibility at numerous stream crossings along a 12-mile loop of trails. Though the entire loop is a worthwhile hike, you need only walk the 3.5-mile Locust Spring Run Trail to gain a sense of the area’s history.

Locust Spring Run

On the long, windy drive out to the trailhead at Locust Springs Day Use Area, you may notice signs reading “NO PIPELINE” posted by the roadside. At one point, the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline ran just a few miles south of Laurel Fork. Dominion Energy moved its proposed route even further south after the Forest Service issued a letter expressing concerns over the pipeline’s potential effects on sensitive local habitats. Despite this change, the pipeline will still cross nearly 16 miles of George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in the state, including sensitive habitats.

SAWS trail crew

The SAWS trail crew working on Laurel Spring Run stand near the trailhead on the first day of the project. From left: Matt Baker, Lauren D’Amato, Sina Varshaneh, Chris Robey, Emily Rose and Kathleen Murphy.

From the picnic area, the trail delves for a mile and a half through stands of red spruce transitioning into red pine. The path is easy underfoot — the old railroad bed is preserved in the trail’s gentle grade. You may notice a series of ditches spaced at intervals along the trail — or, if we did our job well, you may walk right over them without a second thought.

The field crew did the majority of our drainage work along this stretch. The ditches are meant to divert rainwater off the trail, slowing the process of erosion. Though structurally simple, most trail features are incredibly labor intensive. Hours of struggle and strife go into building something expressly intended to be invisible to the average hiker’s eye. Our work should preserve the illusion that you’re walking a path worn by years of boot-shod feet tracing the most pragmatic path over the land.

Eventually you will come to the intersection of Locust Spring Run and Buck Run Spur. From here, the trail veers right and braids itself with the creek. As you press further, note the sudden transition to northern hardwood forest, characterized by the occurrence of sugar maple, black cherry, yellow birch, northern red oak, red maple and sweet birch.

The young hardwoods loom tall and thin above you, taking on a cathedral aspect, their long branches supporting the canopy like flying buttresses. It is shadier, more subdued. Rusted engine parts, twisted railroad ties, bent wheels and axles jut from the ferns and moss, artifacts of bygone logging days. Reckless logging radically altered the forests here. These northern hardwoods dominate where red spruce once stood, suggesting periods of unchecked wildfires and erosion following the turn-of-the-century timber frenzy.

Locust Spring Run
Length: 7 miles (3.5 in, 3.5 out)
Difficulty: Moderate
Directions: From the intersection of US 220 and US 250, head west on US 250 for about 23 miles, passing into West Virginia, to the junction with WV 28. Turn right and go about 6.5 miles to the Locust Springs Picnic Area sign, then turn right.
Contact: Call Warm Springs Ranger District (540-839-2521) or visit

Rhododendron grows thick near Locust Spring Run’s terminus. If you plan to stay the night, there are a number of campsites right along Laurel Fork. The namesake of the largest, most popular campsite, Slabcamp, is immediately clear. Past pilgrims have stacked slabs of smooth shale from the creek beds into armchairs and hearths. Though it’s as close to a luxury suite as you’ll find in a potential wilderness area, don’t follow their example by stacking more — the local aquatic life will thank you for not disrupting their home.

While Laurel Fork’s trails were our workplace, Slabcamp was our home. The stream’s gentle voice coaxed us awake each morning and lulled us to sleep each night. During our breaks, we’d ease back onto our packs and gaze up through the shifting boughs. In our free time, we’d wander the streambeds and scramble up the cobbled slopes, suddenly kids again. Some nights, we lounged around a roaring fire and read Game of Thrones and poems by Wendell Berry aloud to one another. Other nights, we swapped ghost stories or, content after a long day’s work, sat silent and reflective, gazing up at the star-studded night sky.

Just a ways south, over the next few ridges, astronomers confronted the roaring silence of deep space, hoping for a sign that we’re not alone in the void.

At Laurel Fork, the silence presses close like a soft blanket. Those looking outward may cast their hopes with the scientists at the radio astronomy observatory. Here, one comes to look inward.

Leave it to Beavers

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Adrienne Fouts


A beaver swims in Tomahawk Pond in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest. Photo by Steven David Johnson.

From cutting down trees to flooding forests and fields, few animals are as influential on their surrounding environment as beavers. After being trapped for their fur to near-extinction in North America by the early 1900s, beaver populations were reintroduced across the continent and are now thriving, continuing their vital role in maintaining wetlands and supporting aquatic life — while occasionally being a nuisance to landowners.

Beavers are sometimes called “nature’s engineers,” and for good reason. By building lodges and dams as their homes, they physically alter the landscape to suit their own needs, similar to humans.

Lodges serve as houses for beaver families and are typically made of sticks, mud and rocks. To protect a lodge from predators, beavers build dams to flood an area, which creates a beaver pond upstream, surrounding the lodge with water. An underwater tunnel leads to the inside of the lodge, where dry chambers above the water level allow the beavers to safely live. As aquatic mammals, beavers are adept at maneuvering in water, so beaver ponds allow them to swim to nearby trees for food rather than having to travel more slowly across dry land.

Beaver ponds serve another vital purpose: attracting and supporting a variety of wildlife. Beavers have a large influence on other species in an ecosystem. The freshwater wetlands that beavers help create and maintain are among the most biologically rich in the world, especially in the southeastern United States, and can support many threatened or endangered species of fish, crayfish and other aquatic life.

Even dried ponds, called beaver meadows, provide a habitat for plants and wildlife long after the beavers have abandoned the area, according to Michael Fies of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The nutrient-rich soil that was once at the bottom of a beaver pond grows different kinds of vegetation than the surrounding forest. Fies says that in the national forests of western Virginia, the U.S. Forest Service is interested in protecting beaver meadows because they recognize the value of those habitats.


A beaver swims at Tomahawk Pond in Virginia. Photo by Steven David Johnson

Not everyone is interested in keeping beavers around, however. Despite all the benefits that they bring to natural areas, beavers can also cause problems when their activities conflict with humans. To obtain food and materials for lodges and dams, beavers will often cut down valued trees on people’s property.

“Other times it’s flooding issues,” Fies says. “Beavers are very adept at changing their habitat, which is what makes them unique, but their dams can result in the flooding of farmers’ fields and state roads.”

Most states in Appalachia have a beaver trapping season between November and the end of March, varying slightly from state to state. In some cases, landowners are permitted to trap or hunt beavers year-round if they are causing issues on their property.

Beavers cause fewer harmful side effects in the mountains than they do in lower-elevation, large river systems in the Southeast, where they are more common, according to Fies. In the Piedmont of North Carolina, state wildlife officials have stepped up efforts to manage the beaver population after a study by Appalachian State University biology professor Michael Gangloff and one of his students found that beaver dams were threatening an endangered mussel species.

beaver lodge

A beaver lodge sits in a pond in the Laurel Fork area of Highland County, Va. Photo by Al Bourgeois.

“The mussels need flowing water and high oxygen levels to survive,” Gangloff says. “And beaver dams actually change the physical and chemical properties of the water, so there is a lower oxygen concentration.”

In the streams of the Appalachian Mountains, though, beavers are less likely to be a problem in the ecosystem because of lower population levels and naturally higher oxygen levels in the water, according to Gangloff. Instead, they help increase fish biodiversity and provide wetland habitat for numerous other animals, including frogs, snapping turtles and waterfowl such as wood ducks and herons.

Despite the headaches that they can cause landowners and wildlife officials, beavers play a vital role in natural areas throughout Appalachia and North America. With their human-like methods of building and changing their environment, it is inevitable that beaver and human activity will often clash. Society has come a long way since nearly trapping beavers into extinction, however, and hopefully humans will continue to work toward living in harmony with these clever and industrious animals.

Beaver Basics

  • The largest rodents in North America, full-grown beavers weigh around 60 pounds.
  • Family size can range from two to 12 or more beavers living in the same den.
  • Beavers’ large front teeth never stop growing; their constant gnawing on wood wears the teeth down and prevents them from growing too long.
  • In the 1950s, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission wanted to relocate beavers from residential areas to the middle of a roadless wilderness area. So wildlife officials put 76 beavers into small wooden boxes, strapped them to parachutes and dropped them out of airplanes into the forest. All but one of the beavers survived the fall. Watch footage here.

In the Pipelines’ Paths: Environmental damages to special places

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Dan Radmacher

Peters Mountain

This photo was taken on Peters Mountain, close to where the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail. A hiker standing here would see the pipeline right-of-way traversing a ridge to the left. Photo courtesy of Roanoake Appalachian Trail Club

It’s not an easy hike up to the top of Peters Mountain, which straddles West Virginia and Virginia. Unlike some Appalachian mountains, there aren’t roads that can get you part of the way up. But the hike is worth it, say those who spend a lot of time on the mountain.

“It is a special, beautiful transitional zone between Virginia and West Virginia,” says Kim Kirkbride, a self-employed bookkeeper who lives in Giles County, Va. “By the time you get there, it feels like you’re in another place, in a different realm. It makes me realize all the things that aren’t important. It’s so magnificently beautiful.”

Dana Olson, a physician who lives at the base of the mountain on the West Virginia side with his wife and mother-in-law, agrees. “It’s incredible, a wonderful, magical place,” he says. Getting to the top is a steep hike that takes maybe an hour. “It’s an ‘Almost Heaven’ kind of place, for sure.”

It’s a huge mountain for this region, 52 miles long with elevations above 4,000 feet. The Appalachian Trail follows its ridgeline for several miles between the Celanese Corporation’s industrial plant in Narrows, Va., and the Peters Mountain Wilderness Area.

That stretch of mountain is also where the Mountain Valley Pipeline company wants to cross with its 42-inch natural gas pipeline — a possibility that has many outraged.

“This pipeline will transform ‘Almost Heaven’ into ‘Almost Hell,’” says Olson. “Now, hikers along the AT stop and ponder life. They can camp in a meadow up there where you can see five or six counties in Virginia and West Virginia. Instead of that, this will be a place to just get through. It will turn into something that’s a threat and a danger.”

The pipeline crossing will harm both views and water quality, opponents say. “The mountain is just alive with water,” says Olson, who recently found a spring by the Appalachian Trail near the top of the mountain. The draft environmental impact statement tends to gloss over such concerns, saying Mountain Valley has planned mitigation measures such as set-backs and vegetation screens to resolve such issues.

“Like all of our mountains the pipeline is proposing to cut through, Peters Mountain is full of water and layers of rock that filter that water,” Kirkbride says. Multiple springs bubble up out of the mountain, and one even serves as the municipal water source for Lindside, W.Va.

“Even if that spring isn’t right next to the pipeline, we don’t know how everything flows in the mountain,” says Kirkbride. “It’s hard to say who’s going to suffer damage when the pipeline leaks.”

Even without a leak, the pipeline construction and maintenance will impact water quality. The pipeline will traverse the mountain’s steep slopes, and the permanent 50-foot right-of-way will be stripped of most vegetation. This will lead to sedimentation issues, according to geologist Pamela Dodds. She wrote a report on the problem submitted to FERC by Roanoke County. Opponents also worry about what the pipeline will do to viewsheds.

“Views of Peters Mountain will be affected, and views from Peters Mountain will be affected,” says Kirkbride. “The Columbia Gas pipeline is only 8 inches in diameter and cuts over and down Peters Mountain near Narrows. It’s a huge scar. It’s hard imagining something that’s almost six times that size.”

Crossing Landscapes and Waterways

These two major pipelines proposed to pump natural gas from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to the East Coast would be huge construction projects, stretching for hundreds of miles and carving a swath through national forests, wetlands, over and down steep ridges, through private property and public attractions, and across both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

Poor Mountain

The Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right-of-way on Poor Mountain would be visible from this Blue Ridge Parkway overlook. Photo courtesy of Roberta Bondurant

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would start in Wetzel County, W.Va., and snake down through the Mountain State before crossing Peters Mountain into Virginia, where it would join the Transcontinental Pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would start in Harrison County, W.Va., and wind through the state, cutting through the Monongahela National Forest before crossing into Virginia. From there, it would slice southeast through Virginia before dividing, with one arm headed to Norfolk, Va., and the other headed southwest across the North Carolina Coastal Plain.

Both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline will cross West Virginia’s Greenbrier River and several of its tributaries. That concerns many people, including Lew Freeman, chairman and executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of organizations that came together to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Several of the Greenbrier River tributaries the Atlantic Coast would cross are native brook trout streams,” he says. “Native trout are a little bit like a canary in the coal mine for the mountains. If they cannot breed successfully in a location, that tells you there’s something wrong with the water quality and that maybe you have sediment issues.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will also impact the James River in Virginia, crossing under the river near James River State Park. Many of its tributaries are also in the pipeline’s path. “Virtually all of the major rivers that form the James are affected,” says Freeman. “We’re talking the potential for serious water quality problems.”

This is exacerbated by the karst topography in Bath, Highland, Augusta and Pocahontas counties, according to Freeman. Karst topography is landscape made up by limestone and other soluble rocks, which creates a network of underground drainage systems and caves. “The water recharge areas for wells and springs, including the springs that form the headwaters of the James and Cow Pasture rivers, are susceptible to disturbance underground,” he says. “Groundwater and the water sources for hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who depend on well and spring water will be put at risk.”

Freeman is also concerned about the miles of ridgeline the pipeline will run along. In order to achieve the necessary 125-foot construction right-of-way on these narrow ridgelines, Freeman says that for half a mile, the pipeline company will have to cut 25 to 50 feet of elevation from the top of the mountain.

“It would become a very visible scar, and then there’s the challenge of what to do with all the rubble. This would destroy the vistas that are so significant for this area, harming the tourist attraction and inviting serious erosion and sediment into nearby waters.”

Bent Mountain At Risk

Unlike Peters Mountain, Bent Mountain, Va., is not remote or isolated. It’s a small community of about 800, scattered across an upland plateau bisected by U.S. Route 221. When the Mountain Valley Pipeline shifted its route away from Floyd, Va., Bent Mountain came into its crosshairs.

The pipeline would come up over the steep Poor Mountain and cut through Bent Mountain’s forests, springs, wetlands and headwaters before crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading south into Franklin County.

Life on Bent Mountain

Family photos of life on Bent Mountain include images of harvests and orchards. Courtesy Marie Henry

There are a lot of “No Pipeline” signs in yards around Bent Mountain, but Kathy Chandler may be one of the most fired-up opponents. The pipeline would cut right across the property where she and her husband make their home, and a narrow private road she and others use to get to their homes would become an access road to the pipeline during and after construction.

She has even found the survey process upsetting. “It is an invasion of privacy,” she says. “These surveyors don’t seem to realize they’re in someone’s home, in someone’s yard. We just have bigger yards around here.”

Her big yard includes three springs that flow together to join Mill Creek, which flows into Bottom Creek and then into the Spring Hollow Reservoir, one of the main sources of drinking water for Roanoke County. Chandler worries about the impact to the springs from the pipeline and the access road. “Our water is your water,” Chandler says.

She and local activist Roberta “Bert” Bondurant worry about the pipeline’s impact on Bent Mountain’s many wetlands, including forested wetlands, in its path. They also worry about the people.

Bondurant — a board member of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), a grassroots coalition fighting the pipeline — has gotten to know many of the elderly residents of Bent Mountain, many of whom grew up in the community when thriving orchards provided its economic lifeblood. Several of these residents have property in the pipeline’s path, Bondurant said. “Somehow, they managed to go around the expensive subdivision, though,” she says.

Bondurant and Chandler studied the area’s history, and Chandler became friends with Jack Hale, an 85-year-old retired pilot whose grandfather owned 200 acres along Mill Creek and Green Hollow. They used what they’ve learned to submit arguments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has permitting approval authority for the pipelines and conducted a public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late 2016.

Olson, the Monroe County physician, doesn’t hold out much hope for FERC denying the project, though. “The public is spending thousands and thousands of hours reading through these applications and asking questions and trying to get clarifications,” he says. “But FERC is funded by the people it regulates, and as far as I’m concerned, the gas industry is a ventriloquist and FERC is Charlie McCarthy [the ventriloquist dummy]. It’s like we the people who live nearby are just in the way. We’re nothing but noise to them.”

The Science and Synergy of Trailbuilding

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Lorelei Goff

Peter Barr loves his job. Who wouldn’t love to get paid to hike?

Barr is the trails and recreational lands coordinator for the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, an organization that preserves land and protects natural areas from development. He designs, builds, maintains and promotes trails on the conservancy’s land in Henderson and Transylvania counties in North Carolina, as well as parts of the surrounding counties. According to Barr, trailbuilding has changed significantly over the last decade or two.

Trails used to be located mainly on old logging roads, game trails or walked-in paths that weren’t designed for heavy outdoor recreation use and often resulted in ecological damage. Steep trails were prone to soil erosion. And hikers, bikers and horses widened the trail and trampled vegetation when trying to avoid areas where standing water accumulated during wet conditions. Because it’s unlikely the damage can be completely arrested or restored, instead of repairing old trails they are often rerouted and built sustainably.

Trail stairway

Stairways, when built sustainably, add to the durability and beauty of a trail. Photo courtesy of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy

“Trails can cost up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’re now starting to be seen as facilities, like a playground or campground, because they’re highly engineered and there’s science behind them,” Barr explains.

The Science

Barr breaks trail science down to physical sustainability, social sustainability and ecological sustainability.

Physical sustainability considers how long the trail will last and the amount of maintenance it will require. Water management is a big concern, so Barr designs slight but constant changes in elevation into the trail. That prevents water from gathering momentum over long stretches and washing away soil.

Another strategy, called curvilinear design, creates constant curves that slightly change direction while following the terrain of the landscape. By cooperating with the features of the land this way, water is naturally shed from the trail because it prefers to follow a straight line.

“Even if the distance is only a mile in a straight line, we’ll often times utilize a trail that may take up to three miles to keep that grade low enough to be sustainable,” Barr explains. “Both of these features, the rolling trail with grade reversals and the curvilinear design, they actually make for a more interesting and enjoyable user experience, too. When you’re kind of going up and down constantly, just a tiny little bit, and you’re curving through the forest, it appears more natural.”

Additionally, an almost imperceptible slope toward the outside of the trail across the direction of travel directs water away. Trail armoring, a labor-intensive method to create a more durable walking surface, uses rocks or hand-crushed gravel to minimize damage in portions of trails near streams or areas that tend to naturally hold water.

While physical sustainability manages water and erosion, social sustainability uses psychology — knowing and embracing what the user will most likely want to do — to manage the behavior of trail users and protect the landscape.

Trail-building Bulldozer

Shrimper Khare positions rocks to armor the trail tread on CMLC’s new Weed Patch Mountain Trail. Photo courtesy of CMLC

“Sometimes the trails are multi-use, for hikers and bikers and equestrians,” says Barr. “So in the design, you want to give each user the experience they’re looking for while also maintaining the integrity of the sustainable trail principles. I design mountain bike trails often times for the experience, because mountain bikers like a trail that’s fun to ride and is very dynamic.”

“Hikers, pedestrians, are very much destination-oriented,” he adds. “They want to get to the top of the mountain, or they want to get to the waterfall, or they want to get to the rock outcropping to see the scenic view.”

Balancing the motivations of trail users requires a bit of give and take. These preservation efforts form the third trail goal, ecological sustainability.

“We’re building a trail at Young’s Mountain in Rutherford County, N.C., right now, and also another mountain called Weed Patch Mountain,” says Barr. “Those two trails traverse a very rocky landscape where we know there to be the presence of green salamanders, a rare species. The trails visit some of the rocky outcroppings to provide scenery for the user and a view, but avoids other rock outcroppings [to protect green salamander habitat]. It’s a means of concentrating the impact.”


The Synergy

According to Barr, there can be great synergy between trailbuilding and conservation, as well as good science.

Besides constructing trails on their own property, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy constructs trails on property owned by partner organizations and agencies, and also on private land with public trail easements.

The decision to build is usually driven by the goal of linking two or more existing trails together, or connecting a protected property in one place to a protected property in another. Making it happen requires cooperation among all involved, including donors from public and private sectors. Trails are the catalyst for that synergy.

Trail-building volunteer

Volunteer Bob Carlson helps Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy clear an overgrown corridor. Photo courtesy of CMLC

When it became evident that a trail route Barr was scouting would have to go around a cliff on private property, the conservancy sought a donation of the land from the owner for an easement granting a perpetual public right-of-way for the use of that trail. The landowner saw the value of a publicly accessible trail on the already conserved land and agreed.

“Conservation will support trails … and [a trail] also makes conservation more attractive to funders,” says Barr. “If we’re protecting a piece of land and we let the funders know that it’s likely to have a public access and trails component, that particular land protection project becomes more attractive and more desirable to fund. On the flip side, land with trails on them have a greater sense of urgency to protect the land surrounding that public access.“

Synergy is vital in the construction process as well, which can involve professional contractors, volunteers and the Youth Conservation Corps — a program that employs 15 to 18-year-olds through the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. Crews use machines, including mini-excavators as small as two-and-a-half-feet wide, and hand tools.

“Sometimes that’s entirely by machine,” Barr says. “Sometimes that’s entirely by hand. Sometimes it’s a combination, where we’ll have the mini-excavator do the digging, heavy lifting and moving of rock, but then we’ll have a hand crew come behind to finish the trail by compacting the tread, cutting the vegetation, cutting the roots, outsloping the trail, and getting it to the point that a user could walk on it.”

However serene and carefree the trail experience may feel, creating those simple paths through the woods is more complex than meets the eye.

Helping Hands: Trail Crews Behind the Scenes

By Lorelei Goff

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy coordinates six trail crews and 31 trail clubs. The crews take on large-scale trail rehabilitation and construction while trail clubs handle much of the day-to-day maintenance. Other organizations that help maintain trails in the region include the U.S. Forest Service and nonprofit groups The Wilderness Society and the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards.

Chris Robey, author of this story, signed up as a SAWS crew member while he was still in college. He’ll serve as a crew leader during his fourth season this year. Each season, which runs from mid-May to mid-August, begins with two weeks of training about tools, land stewardship and Leave No Trace outdoor conservation ethics. Robey calls it a “blitzkrieg introduction” to what seasonal trail crew life is like. Then the work begins.

“On the very first day of the hitch, you’ll backpack in four to five miles carrying almost 100 pounds of gear on your back, in addition to tools,” Robey says. “The work doesn’t stop until almost when you go to bed at night. It continues like that for the entire hitch.”

Still, he says, it’s a lot of fun.

“You get to know each other really well,” he says. “You have inside jokes. You get to spend your time with very passionate people.”

Working on a trail crew isn’t without danger. Robey tells the story of getting caught in a sudden thunderstorm out on a trail. The crew ditched their tools and hunkered down. Robey saw a blinding flash of lightning and heard a whipping sound, like something crashing through the trees above him, as lightning struck about 50 feet away.

That didn’t stop Robey from going back. He says the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“At day’s end you have a real sense of what you accomplished,” he says. “You can see the immediate and physical results of all the toil that you put in that day. But more importantly, you’re having an actual impact that’s going to last long after you’ve stepped foot out of that area.”

The Problems with Pipelines

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by molly

This map shows a sampling of the types of sites that would be affected by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline. View the print centerspread here while we transfer it to a web-friendly version.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Member Spotlight: Susan Tyree & Kent Walton

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by molly