Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Could Concrete Help Get Coal Ash Out of Neighborhoods?

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

By Elizabeth E. Payne

By its own estimate, Duke Energy is currently storing nearly 160 million tons of coal ash throughout North Carolina. Finding a way to properly recycle this ash could remove a heavy burden from the communities that live near it.

Coal ash — a byproduct of burning coal for electricity — contains numerous heavy metals that pose health risks to humans, including heart disease, lung disease and certain types of cancer.

Most of Duke Energy’s coal ash is now disposed of in unlined impoundment ponds near the utility’s 14 active and retired coal-fired power plants across North Carolina. In 2015, the state’s environmental agency identified nearly 200 wells near impoundment ponds that contained elevated levels of hexavalent chromium and vanadium, both known carcinogens.

Caroline Armijo speaks about cleaning up coal ash in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Caroline Rutledge Armijo.

Caroline Armijo speaks about cleaning up coal ash in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Caroline Rutledge Armijo.

In response to the disastrous 2014 Dan River spill that contaminated the river with nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash, the state passed the Coal Ash Management Act later that year to oversee the closure and cleanup of these ponds. Last year, an amendment to the law mandated that recycling be part of the closure strategies at three Duke Energy plants.

For Caroline Armijo, who is concerned about the coal ash near her hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C., these recycling projects open the door to thinking about the coal ash impoundments in a different way.

“We have serious issues going on in the world right now,” she says. “You’ve gotta stop thinking about today’s penny [and] really put some brainpower behind these problems. I feel like it can be solved.”

Reusing Coal Ash as Fill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines beneficial use as “the recycling or reuse of coal ash in lieu of disposal.” Finding another purpose for the ash can keep it out of landfills and impoundment ponds.

In 2015, Duke Energy — one of the largest utilities in the country and by far the largest utility in North Carolina — recycled 63 percent of the coal ash it produced in all its plants nationwide, according to the utility’s figures. But it only recycled 38 percent of the ash it produced in North Carolina.

The company highlights only three recycling projects on its website, each of which repurposes the coal ash as structural fill. Ash was used as a base underneath parts of the Asheville Airport and is planned for use refilling the Brickhaven and Colon clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties.

For structural fill projects, the ash is placed between liners to limit contamination with the surrounding soil and water. But EPA regulations for coal ash used as structural fill are more lenient than for coal ash buried in a landfill. Citizen and environmental groups have asked N.C. Superior Court Judge Carl Fox to review whether the clay mines that would be filled with coal ash should be considered landfills instead of structural fill. As of press time in early February, his decision has not been announced.

Concrete Facts

Reusing coal ash as structural fill leaves the coal ash unchanged and in a loose form that is more likely to leach toxins when exposed to water.

Using coal ash to make concrete is one way to physically change the coal ash and encapsulate the toxic elements while creating a valuable material.

Concrete is typically made by mixing sand, rock and water with cement — a dry powder often made from burned limestone.

Coal ash stored at Duke Energy’s power plant in Asheville, N.C., was used as structural fill at the city’s airport. Photo © Copyright 2011 Roy Tennant, FreeLargePhotos.com

Coal ash stored at Duke Energy’s power plant in Asheville, N.C., was used as structural fill at the city’s airport. Photo © Copyright 2011 Roy Tennant, FreeLargePhotos.com

Because of its chemical properties, coal ash can be substituted for cement when making concrete. Encapsulating the coal ash into a solid state minimizes the risk of contaminants leaching into the surrounding soil, water and air. The resulting concrete is also generally used for non-residential infrastructure projects, which further reduces risks to human health.

“It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s the best solution we have available to remove the ash from communities and to find a beneficial use for it,” says Amy Adams, North Carolina program manager for Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper.

Ash from coal-fired power plants can be recycled at two stages. First, it can be used immediately after it has been produced from burning coal at a power plant. This is called production ash.

Coal ash can also be recycled from impoundment ponds or landfills. This ash is more difficult to reuse because it has been mixed with water and contains ash of different types and qualities. It also may have deteriorated over time.

In order to repurpose stored ash it must first be processed, which is what Duke’s facilities at the three new recycling locations would be responsible for.

According to Jimmy Knowles, the vice president of research and market development at The SEFA Group, a company that specializes in marketing coal ash, production ash can be used by the concrete market with less processing and at a lower cost, since only ash that meets industry standards is collected and sold.

Coal ash has been incorporated into concrete for more than 60 years, according to a paper presented at an industry conference in 2005. Coal ash is not required for making concrete, but according to Knowles, when it is added the resulting concrete is more stable, stronger and often less expensive to make than concrete made from limestone-based cement.

“When it’s used in the concrete, not only does it make the concrete better, but it ties up these trace elements, these ‘constituents of concern,’” he says.

“From our perspective, [production] ash is our product. It’s not a pollution,” Knowles says. “It goes back to the ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ concept. But that’s the way recycling is.”

Location, Location

The 2016 amendment to the Coal Ash Management Act requires Duke Energy to identify three of its North Carolina power plants where processing facilities can be built to prepare coal ash for use in concrete. Each year, each of these sites must provide 300,000 tons of ash that meet industry standards for use in concrete.

Two of the sites — Buck Steam Station in Salisbury, N.C., and H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro, N.C. — have already been announced. A third site must be announced by July 1, 2017.

“I just keep saying, ‘Oh my God, this is all that we have asked for.’ After all the years of litigation and controversy, they’re finally going to remove [the coal ash],” Deborah Graham, a community advocate near the Buck Steam Station, told the Charlotte Observer when the deal was announced in October.

Duke Energy has retired both the Buck and Lee power plants, and neither is producing new coal ash. Together these two sites store only 12.6 million tons of the nearly 160 million tons of coal ash in the state. Duke Energy plans to leave the vast majority of the state’s ash in unlined, drained impoundments covered with a liner, a technique known as cap-in-place.

According to Amy Adams, several of Duke’s power plants that continue to produce and store large volumes of ash should be considered for recycling facilities. For example, the Belews Creek Power Station in Stokes County, N.C., stores nearly 20 million tons of ash, and the Roxboro Plant in Person County stores 34.6 million tons of ash.

A coal ash recycling facility.  Courtesy of The SEFA Group.

A coal ash recycling facility. Courtesy of The SEFA Group.

According to a recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute, these two sites generate much of the state’s new production ash and store much of the state’s pond ash on-site. Both the Belews Creek and Roxboro plants already provide production ash to the concrete market. But neither can currently recycle its stored ash.

Henry Batten, president of Concrete Supply Co. in Charlotte, N.C., purchases some of that ash and is a strong advocate for more coal ash recycling. According to Southeast Energy News, his company “consumes about 2.1 to 2.5 million tons of ash annually” in North and South Carolina — and wants to buy more.

Batten sees a market in recycled pond ash. “We would hope that every plant that ever gets capped would eventually allow us, or someone like us, to harvest that ash for reuse in concrete because it’s better – it’s a more sustainable option than leaving it in the impoundments,” he told Southeast Energy News.

The Greenhouse Gas Factor

Burning limestone to make cement creates a significant amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In 2009, cement manufacturing “was the fourth-largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But every ton of production ash — which already lost most of its carbon when the coal was burned for electricity — used in cement reduces the carbon footprint of the resulting concrete by approximately one ton.

Recycled pond ash has a slightly larger carbon footprint, since lingering carbon must be burned off before it can be used in cement. According to Knowles of The SEFA Group, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions gained from recycled pond ash versus traditional cement varies by the quality of the ash, but he estimates that a two-thirds ton reduction can be expected for every ton of recycled ash used.

He acknowledges that carbon dioxide is released when the carbon is removed from the coal ash, but he points to the overall reduction in emissions in the concrete industry when coal ash is used.

From Pond to Concrete

“The only large-scale commercial operation in the U.S. that is currently processing wet ash is the SEFA STAR process,” the Electric Power Research Institute study states. The SEFA Group’s plant in Georgetown, S.C., processes pond ash from the Santee Cooper Winyah Generating Station.

Recycling plants dry the ash to remove moisture, burn off any remaining carbon and process the ash to ensure that it meets industry standards.

According to Knowles, one of SEFA’s large recycling facilities could process up to 500,000 tons of pond ash per year, and even larger facilities could be built. After removing moisture and carbon, each facility could supply between 300,000 and 350,000 tons of ash per year to the concrete market.

Knowles doubts these recycling projects could provide enough financial incentive for utility companies to stop all cap-in-place closures. But “if you dig it up and move it, and put it back in a lined landfill, you haven’t gotten any value out of it,” he says.

Other Options

Reusing coal ash in concrete provides access to a pre-existing and large-scale market. But other technologies are also being developed.
Dr. Kunigal Shivakumar is a professor at North Carolina A&T University, where his research focuses on developing new composite materials that are lightweight and high strength.

Following the Dan River spill, his research took on new urgency. He and his colleagues developed a technique of mixing coal ash with other substances to create a plastic-like composite with many potential uses, including roof tiles, barrier walls or railroad ties.

The composite he has developed could also be formed into large blocks that would safely encase the coal ash for long-term storage.

At right, compounds made of coal ash. Courtesy of Dr. Kunigal Shivakumar, N.C. A&T University.

At right, compounds made of coal ash. Courtesy of Dr. Kunigal Shivakumar, N.C. A&T University.

“Coal ash is not a problematic waste material, it is a resource if we handle it properly,” Shivakumar says. “But it requires an investment.” His team is seeking funding to continue their research.

Local Support

For families impacted by the coal ash impoundment ponds, getting the ash cleaned up and ensuring access to clean water remain the highest priority.

Caroline Armijo, who grew up near the Belews Creek Power Station, and is fighting to get the coal ash in that community cleaned up, sees innovative recycling projects as a step in the right direction.

“We could easily be a leader in this, an international leader, in this issue. And I hope that we will be,” she says.

For more information about coal ash recycling in North Carolina, visit tinyurl.com/ActAgainstCoalAsh

State Politics Across the Region

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Elizabeth E. Payne and Molly Moore

While national political headlines might dominate newsstands and newsfeeds, there is also plenty of action happening in state legislatures across the region. Here’s an overview of some of the energy and environmental topics at hand.

Georgia

Session is expected to run from Jan. 9 through late March or early April.

According to the Georgia Conservancy, an environmental organization, key issues in the 2017 state legislature will include efforts to establish more transparency and environmental protections for any future petroleum pipelines, as well as legislation to protect freshwater sources by enhancing buffer zones.

Conservationists also hope to see passage of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, which would establish a permanent source of funding for environmental efforts such as establishing buffer zones around military bases and protecting the gopher tortoise, the state’s official reptile.

Kentucky

Session runs from Jan. 3 to March 30

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin began the year by announcing state budget cuts. According to the Courier-Journal, the Energy and Environment Cabinet’s budget will fall 9.7 percent from 2016 to 2018, and that’s on top of a 16-percent cut from 2012 to 2016.

Meanwhile, Bluegrass State legislators have introduced a suite of anti-environmental bills. Among them, H.B. 37 would exempt unmined coal reserves from state and local property taxation — these taxes support the Kentucky Heritage Land and Conservation Fund.

Other bills would make it more difficult for citizens to challenge environmentally harmful land uses, remove the requirement that any nuclear power facilities have a permanent waste disposal plan and make it more difficult for sewer districts to fund green infrastructure. H.B. 165 would restore a coal incentive tax credit that sunsetted for most facilities in 2009.

But there are also several bills that could benefit the state’s natural resources. H.B. 35 would establish public benefit corporations, where the business is accountable not just to shareholders but also to fulfilling a public-interest mission. And H.B. 61 would enhance the share of coal and mineral severance taxes that go to local governments.

The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition is advocating for passage of the Energy Opportunity Act, which would lead to increased renewable energy and energy efficiency in the commonwealth.

Maryland

Session runs from Jan. 11 to April 10

Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, has outlined a 2017 budget that offers $65 million in environmental investments including workforce training for green jobs, incentives for electric vehicles and efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

Yet in 2016 the governor vetoed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a bill that supporters say would have created jobs by requiring that Maryland derive 25 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, instead of the current target of 20 percent by 2022. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters intends to push for a legislative override of the veto in the 2017 session.

North Carolina

Session runs from Jan. 25 through July

At the beginning of 2017, North Carolina welcomed Roy Cooper, the state’s new Democratic governor, and welcomed back its Republican-controlled legislature.

The 2017 legislative session picked up where the December 2016 special session called by then-Governor Pat McCrory left off. In December, legislators limited the power of local election boards and limited the power of the incoming governor. Many of these initiatives are being challenged in court.

Cooper chose Michael Regan to head the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Regan served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under both the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations and recently worked with a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

Due to the restrictions on gubernatorial powers imposed by the special session, Regan’s appointment must now be confirmed by the state Senate.
If passed, two bills filed in the House could help smooth the way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. H.B. 3 would add a section to the state’s constitution expanding the situations in which government can apply eminent domain to take private property for public use.

H.B. 10 uses this revised definition to extend eminent domain to infrastructure projects including “facilities related to the distribution of natural gas, and pipelines or mains for the transportation of petroleum products, coal, natural gas, limestone or minerals.”

Ohio

Session runs from Jan. 3 to late June or July as needed

In December 2016, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, vetoed a bill passed by the state’s Republican legislature that would have frozen the state’s renewable energy standards. Gov. Kasich had signed off on the freeze in 2014.

The state’s dominant utilities, American Electric Power and FirstEnergy, are also pushing the legislature to change to the way Ohio regulates utilities, in part to help keep AEP’s fleet of older coal-fired power plants profitable.

Pennsylvania

Session runs from Jan. 3 to June 30

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, is advocating for a severance tax on natural gas. It’s the third year he’s tried to institute such a tax — earlier efforts were defeated by the legislature’s Republican majority.

Several legislators introduced memos supporting use of the potential new tax revenue for various projects, including pension obligations and low-income utility bill assistance. The state faces a $3 billion budget shortfall, according to the Associated Press.

South Carolina

Session runs from Jan. 10 through June 1

State Sen. Campsen introduced a bill to reauthorize and fund the South Carolina Conservation Bank, a land protection institution that also facilitates public access to these areas. Another of Campsen’s proposals aims to restore certain wetlands.

In the House, Rep. Neal proposed an Environmental Bill of Rights asserting South Carolinians’ rights to clean air and water and allowing local governments to enact environmental protections that are stronger than state standards.

Another House bill, from Rep. Atwater, would allow all regulations to expire after five years unless they meet specific provisions, while a bill from Rep. Pitts would create an industrial hemp agriculture program.

Tennessee

Session runs from Jan. 10 through mid-April

One bill headed for the Senate would amend the tax code for oil and natural gas severance payments in order to provide more resources to impacted communities. If passed, funds could go towards infrastructure, which expands economic opportunities and decreases respiratory ailments caused by dusty roads.

Another Senate bill seeks to expand broadband internet service to underserved rural communities in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam has also proposed a plan to invest $45 million in expanding broadband access over the next three years.

Environmental groups are seeking support for a bill that would expand how families and companies could finance energy upgrades, according to WMOT Radio.
The state’s environmental agency is also planning to privatize portions of Fall Creek Falls State Park.

Virginia

Session runs from Jan. 11 through late February

Parallel bills introduced in the Virginia House and Senate would encourage pumped hydroelectric storage facilities powered by renewable energy in Southwest Virginia. In facilities of this sort, wind or solar energy would pump water from a reservoir at a lower elevation to one at a higher elevation. That water can then be used for hydroelectric power whenever there is need on the energy grid.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to veto H.B. 2198, which would extend until 2022 tax credits to the coal industry that were set to expire in 2017. S.B. 990 aims to reduce electricity usage in the retail sector.

H.B. 1678 would exempt as “trade secrets” any chemicals and ingredients submitted to the DMME — such as those used in fracking — from requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

In the Senate, three bills sponsored by Sen. Frank W. Wagner focus on renewable energy. One bill would create community solar pilot projects in Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power territories. Another bill sets parameters for small-scale generators at agricultural businesses that use renewable energy to sell any excess electricity. A third bill would allow wind and solar facilities up to 150 megawatts to benefit from an easier permitting process.

Read more about Virginia state legislation on the Front Porch Blog.

West Virginia

Session runs from Feb. 8 through April 8

West Virginia’s Democratic governor and coal-mine owner Jim Justice appointed Austin Caperton, another man with deep ties to the coal industry, secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

On Jan. 27, Caperton fired Wendy Radcliff, the department’s environmental advocate. He also fired the department’s communications director.

“This is troublesome news,” Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Radcliff has been the direct line for citizen concerns to help make sure the agency is accountable to the public.”

When the state’s legislature convenes, the West Virginia Mineral Owners Coalition intends to lobby for legislation that would support landowners, such as protecting a landowner’s right to deny access to pipeline surveyors and upholding minimum royalty payments for minerals.

Maintaining water quality standards, promoting energy efficiency upgrades in commercial buildings, and advocating for disclosure of campaign financing are among the legislative priorities of the West Virginia Environmental Council.

Using Art to Combat Environmental Destruction

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

Inside Looking Out

By Andrew Tarley

Monongalia Arts Center, the historic home for arts and culture in Morgantown, W.Va., is collaborating with local artist Betsy Jaeger to show the visible changes in the rural countryside caused by the fossil fuel industry in an exhibition titled “Inside Looking Out.”

The arts center provides a forum for activism through the arts. This time, the issue is one that affects residents throughout the county: fracking and strip mining.

Betsy Jaeger

Inside Looking Out: Detail from Southeast Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

Jaeger lives in rural Monongalia County, just west of Morgantown and outside of the commotion of the small city. She moved to Morgantown from Chicago in 1976 to earn a Master of the Arts from West Virginia University. While at WVU, she met her husband, a sculptor, and the two married and moved to a serene 12-acre plot of land in the countryside.

“Many of our neighbors, then, earned their living by raising cattle to send to the big feedlots. Our little community was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the quiet and night-time darkness to see the stars and planets,” Jaeger writes. “But inevitably, all things change, and our rural idyll was no exception.”

With the advent of modern mining equipment in the mid-2000s, surface coal mining in Monongalia County quickly grew in scale, and Jaeger perceived a seismic shift in her community. She refused to sell her rural home and mineral rights to a coal company, even though some of her neighbors had begun, one by one, to agree to sell their mineral rights. According to Jaeger, some also sold their entire properties.

“We watched what had been a charming farm community become an industrial wasteland in just two years,” she says. “There was not enough bond money to pay for adequate reclamation.”

Betsy Jaeger

Inside Looking Out: Northeast Windows (Betsy Jaeger)


In 2012, strip mining began directly in front of her home, adjacent to her property line. Jaeger tracked more than 200 blasts, which rattled the foundation of her home, and she monitored the water quality in her local stream, finding high levels of heavy metals near mining outfalls.

Fracking companies and their trucks also arrived to build drilling stations. “They caused much less damage to the physical landscape than the strip mines, but the air and water quality continued to degrade,” Jaeger says. Wastewater from the fracking sites caused a massive fish-kill on a creek north of her home.

Jaeger created “Inside Looking Out” to share the drastic changes that occurred. This exhibition recreates the views outside of her 12 windows, past and present, using mixed-media elements such as sculpture, photographs and paintings. She says she hopes that this exhibition will spark local discussion and energize the community.

“People in Morgantown need to be aware of what is happening to their air and water and landscape,” Jaeger says. “We need to be aware of what is going on outside of the city because it affects us all.”

The exhibition is free and will open with a public reception on Friday, March 3, 2017, at 6 p.m. Refreshments and snacks will be available. “Inside Looking Out” will be on display until April 1. Monongalia Arts Center is located at 107 High Street, Morgantown, W.Va. Inquiries should be directed to info@monartscenter.com or 304-292-3325.

Andrew Tarley is the Media and Advertising Coordinator at Monongalia Arts Center and a former Appalachian Voices intern.

Congress Blocks Stream Protection Rule

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Elizabeth E. Payne

A valley fill beneath a mountaintop removal mine in eastern Kentucky. The Stream Protection Rule would have limited the practice.

A valley fill beneath a mountaintop removal mine in eastern Kentucky. The Stream Protection Rule would have limited the practice.

On Feb. 1, the U.S. House of Representatives invoked a seldom-used procedure to strike down the Stream Protection Rule. The Senate followed suit the next day.

The rule, enacted by the U.S. Department of the Interior in the final days of the Obama administration, offered modest steps toward protecting streams from surface mining.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement worked on the rule since 2009. It required increased water monitoring and forest reclamation, among other provisions to update the 1983 stream buffer zone rule.

“I have watched the creek that flows past my grandmother’s home in Floyd County, Ky., become ruined by the strip mining above it. I used to catch crawdads in that creek, but now it smells and looks noxious,” said David Wasilko, of Kingston, Tenn., in comments submitted to the federal office that wrote the rule. “There is no life in the water and the terrible odor permeates the entire hollow. Citizens of the coalfields deserve the best possible Stream Protection Rule that the OSM can provide.”

The 1996 Congressional Review Act, the tool used against the Stream Protection Rule, allows Congress to block federal regulations within 60 congressional days of their passage and makes it difficult to write “substantially similar” rules in the future. It had only been successfully used by Congress once in the past.

“We have failed to protect the families in these communities, and passage of this bill will inflict another blow to their health and wellbeing. They deserve far better,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) told fellow members of the House.

As of press time in early February, members of Congress have challenged at least a dozen other rules using this law. Also at risk is the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule requiring oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands to decrease the amount of natural gas that is vented each year into the atmosphere.

On Feb. 1, the House also struck down a regulation passed by the Obama administration that required oil, gas and mining companies to report payments from foreign governments, according to the Washington Post.

Read more about the ongoing fight for clean water on our Front Porch Blog.

Appalachian Festivals

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 - posted by interns

Gatherings and events to enliven 2017

By Kevin Ridder

Within the storied hills of Appalachia is a wealth of cultural and ecological diversity. Take the time to look and you’ll quickly find celebrations of every shape and color.

There are festivals steeped in decades of history, festivals that arose from environmental movements, festivals centered around music, art and storytelling, and festivals that are more than a little bit quirky. Some are simply an appreciation of natural beauty.

But they all have one thing in common: you, the people of Appalachia. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of every happening around the mountains, it showcases some of the homegrown celebrations that tell the story of people who are proud to call the mountains home.

For a listing of Appalachian environmental and cultural events updated throughout the year, visit appvoices.org/calendar.

Fasnacht

Festival-goers don creative costumes for Faschnact.  Photo courtesy HelvetiaWV.com

Festival-goers don creative costumes for Faschnact. Photo courtesy HelvetiaWV.com


Feb. 25. 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.

Helvetia, W.Va.

Founded in 1869 by Swiss craftsmen, the town of Helvetia, W.Va., holds a strong connection to its cultural roots. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, hundreds of visitors join the village’s 59 residents to celebrate Fasnacht, “the night before the fast.”

The General Store and Helvetia Mask Museum open at 10 a.m., and festivities begin Saturday afternoon with a Swiss feast, drinks and open mic in the Star Band Hall, known locally as the Red Hall. After nightfall, a lamp-lit parade featuring larger-than-life and often frightening masks travels to the Community Hall, where the costumes are judged and traditional flower-shaped fried doughnuts are served. A masked ball whips up a frenzy under the piercing gaze of an effigy of Old Man Winter. At midnight, the massive effigy is cut down, carried to the bonfire outside and set alight to signify the end of winter.

Free. Bring a sleeping bag and stay at the Red Hall for $5. Visit helvetiawv.com for details on this and other Helvetian festivals.

EarthFest

April 15. Knoxville, Tenn.

Knoxville’s EarthFest brings a host of food, fun and entertainment for the whole family. This year’s zero-waste festival will be in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, which offers an incredible view of the Smoky Mountains as the backdrop to music, environmental exhibits and a scavenger hunt through the bamboo maze and gardens, to name a few.

Free. Visit knox-earthfest.org.

Earth Day: Music, Arts and Activism

April 22, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Pipestem, W.Va.

Celebrate Earth Day at the Appalachian South Folklife Center. This event features panel discussions, educational activities, demonstrations and live music. Their website states, “activities in years past have included a butterfly pavilion, giant telescopes and astronomy demos, puppet and dance performances, recycled art fashion shows and more.”

Free. Visit folklifecenter.org.

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance

May 4-7. Near Pittsboro, N.C.

Shakori Hills Community Arts Center hosts its 15th annual festival on 72-acres of farmland just outside of Pittsboro, N.C. In addition to over 50 bands on four stages, children and families can visit the expansive kids village with hands-on art projects, a climbing wall and even a parade. Attendees can also learn to dance, play an instrument and make their homes more sustainable through various classes and workshops. Don’t forget to stop by the Appalachian Voices table!

For tickets and camping information, visit shakorihillsgrassroots.org.

LEAF Festival

May 11-14, Oct. TBD. Black Mountain, N.C.

Now in its 44th year, the LEAF Festival brings thousands of people each spring and fall to the shores of scenic Lake Eden. The festival will feature over 400 performing artists, six stages featuring musicians and slam poets, eight family adventure villages and 100-plus vendors on its 200 acre expanse.

For tickets, lodging and camping info and more, visit theleaf.org.

Appalachian Festival

May 12-14. Cincinnati, Ohio
Entering its 48th year, the Appalachian Community Development Association will celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend with food, dance, crafts, storytelling, music and what their website describes as “educational Living History that embraces the Appalachian Heritage.” The first day also features an “Education Day” at Coney Island. Festival proceeds fund grants supporting organizations involved in Appalachian life.

Fri.: $5, Sat. and Sun.: $10. For information, visit appalachianfestival.org.

Appalachian Trail Days Festival

TrailDay

May 19-21. Damascus, Va.

For the 31st year, the town of Damascus, Va., will celebrate Appalachian Trail thru-hikers with a weekend festival. Past festivities have included a Hiker Parade through the town, free gear repair, auctions, outdoor movies, music, vendors and more. Stop by the Appalachian Voices table!
$5 campground fee, $20 parking fee. Visit traildays.us.

Matewan Massacre Reenactment

May 20. Matewan, W.Va.

On May 19, 1920, a shootout between miners attempting to unionize and the enforcers sent to fire and evict the pro-union miners erupted in the town of Matewan, W.Va. The massacre and the event that followed led to an uprising of some 10,000 coal miners at the Battle of Blair Mountain and their eventual unionization. Today, Matewan celebrates their history each year with reenactments, street vendors, plays and scavenger hunts.

Free. Visit historicmatewan.com.

Rally in the Valley

May 27. Oconee Valley, S.C.

Now in its sixth year, Rally in the Valley brings well over 100 cyclists and conservationists each year to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. A 60-mile bike ride kicks off the day at 8 a.m., followed by a 30-mile ride at 9 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., bikers and non-bikers alike can enjoy locally slow-cooked barbeque, craft beer and music on the shores of Lake Jemiki. All proceeds will go toward conservation efforts in Oconee Valley.

$35 for cyclists, $25 for non-cyclists. Visit oconeeforever.org/rallyvalley.

Whippoorwill Festival

Participants learn crafts during Whippoorwill Festival.  Photo courtesy Jameson Pfiel

Participants learn crafts during Whippoorwill Festival. Photo courtesy Jameson Pfiel

Summer, dates TBD. Beattyville, Ky.

Founded in 2011 with roots in the anti-mountaintop removal movement, the Whippoorwill Festival’s self-stated goal is “to promote sustainable living in Appalachia by sharing earth-friendly living skills with one another in a joyful, healthy, family-friendly atmosphere.”

The festival emphasizes connecting more young people with nature. Whippoorwill has several kid-friendly workshops, but also encourages unstructured play and activities.

Tucked away in Lago Linda Hideaway, past festivals have held four days of guest speakers, tent camping, a community campfire, folk music, dancing and over 75 educational workshops about topics such as foraging and organic beekeeping.

For tickets and more, visit whippoorwillfest.com.

Seedtime on the Cumberland

Summer, TBD. Whitesburg, Ky.

Appalshop, a multi-media cultural arts organization serving southeast Kentucky communities for over 40 years, hosts this annual festival in Whitesburg, Ky. Seedtime’s self-stated goal is to be “a mirror for the mountain people and communities,” with a festival full of music, arts, crafts, dance, writing, filmmaking and more.

Visit seedtimefestival.org for schedule, ticket prices and more.

Mountains of Music Homecoming

June 9-17. Across Southwest Virginia

Pack your bags for a 330-mile musical road trip along The Crooked Road. Twisting and turning throughout Southwest Virginia, attendees will see musical performances at nine historic venues and have the opportunity to explore what the festival’s website describes as “a thriving network of over 60 traditional music jams, festivals, and concerts in gracious communities all along the way.”

For tickets and more, visit mtnsofmusic.com.

Bluff Mountain Festival

June 10, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Hot Springs, N.C.

This grassroots conservation festival started in 1996 as a humble gathering of musicians, artists, hunters, environmentalists and community members from around Hot Springs, N.C., who raised funds and awareness to successfully stop a destructive logging and road-building operation on Bluff Mountain. The festival continues as a fundraiser for the Madison County Arts Council and other local non-profits.

Free. Visit madisoncountyarts.com/bluff-mountain-festival

Rhododendron Festival

June 17-18, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.. Roan Mountain, Tenn.

The Roan Mountain Citizens Club first held this festival in 1947 to celebrate the world’s largest natural rhododendron gardens. The festival is held at the foot of Roan Mountain, with traditional music, handmade craft and food vendors, auctions and hikes up to the 6,000 foot peak to contemplate the scenic vista.

Parking by donation. Visit roanmountain.com.

Supermoon Music & Arts Festival

July 6-9. Pine Mountain, Ky.

Supermoon brings a potpourri of music, fun and Swarp to Wiley’s Last Resort on top of Pine Mountain, one of the the state’s highest peaks right outside of Whitesburg, Ky. What’s Swarp, you ask? There’s only one place to find out.

For tickets, visit facebook.com/supermoonfest.

Floydfest

July 26-30. Near Floyd, Va.

FloydFest is a 5-day annual music and arts festival near Floyd, Va., that highlights musical performances from stellar artists of all genres. The festival also features family-oriented camping, outdoor activities and workshops. FloydFest’s environmental ethic ensures that 74 percent of waste stays out of the landfill, and Appalachian Voices has been the featured nonprofit for the past two years!

For tickets and more, visit floydfest.com.

Fall Folk Arts Festival

Sept. 23-24, Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sun: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Kingsport, Tenn.

The aroma of Brunswick Stew and apple butter kettles greeting you as you walk onto The Farm at Exchange Place is the perfect way to get into the autumn spirit. Heritage craftspeople dot the 62-acre expanse demonstrating 1850’s crafts such as vegetable dyeing, blacksmithing, chair-making, weaving, toymaking and more.

$3. Visit exchangeplace.info for details on this and other festivals at Exchange Place.

Cave Run Storytelling Festival

Sept. 29-30. Near Morehead, Ky.

Although Carolyn Franzini was first inspired to hold a storytelling festival in her hometown after attending the National Storytelling Festival. The Twin Knobs Recreation Area in the Daniel Boone National Forest provides a striking backdrop for the wide variety of stories shared at this festival.
For tickets and more, visit caverunstoryfest.org.

National Storytelling Festival

Oct. 6-8. Jonesborough, Tenn.

Every fall for 43 years, storytellers have flocked to circus tents in Jonesborough, Tenn., to breathe life into folktales old and new. In addition to the main performances, attendees can experience the Ghost Story Concerts, Wine and Beer Garden, the Swappin’ Ground and the (adults only) Midnight Caberet.

For tickets, visit caverunstoryfest.org.

American Conservation Film Festival

Oct. 13-15 & 20-22. Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Now in its 15th year, this film festival describes itself as “promoting outstanding films and the arts to educate and inspire people to become engaged in conservation.” Independent, historic, publicly funded and Appalachian films are showcased. Submissions are open through April 1.

For tickets and more, visit conservationfilm.org.

Woodbooger Festival

A statue of the Woodbooger  in Norton, Va., above. Photo by Molly Moore

A statue of the Woodbooger in Norton, Va., above. Photo by Molly Moore

Oct., TBD. Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton, Va.

The Woodbooger, Bigfoot’s Appalachian cousin, is said to wander the hills of Norton, Va. To preserve the enigmatic ape, Norton was declared a sanctuary for the Woodbooger in October 2014 with a festival centered around conservation of the area and possibly catching a glimpse of the noble beast.

Annual search events have been held ever since, attracting hundreds of people. Past festivals have also included guided mountain bike rides, food vendors, salamander hikes, and kayak and canoe rides.

$3 park admission. Visit woodboogerfest.com.

HemlockFest

Musicians jam during HemlockFest. Photo by Dave Elmore.

Musicians jam during HemlockFest. Photo by Dave Elmore.

Nov. 3-5. Dahlonega, Ga.

In 1951, the Hemlock wooly adelgid was accidentally brought to Virginia. The adelgid, an aphid-like insect native to Asia, quickly infested hemlock forests in the Southeast, causing a massive decline in the tree species.

In 2005, HemlockFest began as a music festival to raise funds for hemlock preservation efforts. Now in its 13th year, the festival has helped several Georgia labs in their efforts to breed and raise predatory beetles to combat the wooly adelgid as an alternative to chemical controls.

At HemlockFest you can listen to live music, experience primitive camping, engage in knife throwing and archery, canoe on Lake Merlin, attend interactive exhibits, presentations and kid-friendly activities, talk to experts in the field of hemlock preservation and much more. HemlockFest is run by the Lumpkin Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports environmental quality and responsible growth in North Georgia.
For tickets and more, visit hemlockfest.org

Following Cherokee Footpaths

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

A quest to document and preserve Southern Appalachia’s indigenous trails

By Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

Hundreds of years ago, before interstate highways drove through the mountains, a network of trails winding around the Southern Appalachians served as the arteries of the sovereign Cherokee nation. Carved by man and beast alike, the trails evolved following the curves and contours of the land.

Lamar Marshall, cultural heritage director of Wild South, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the South’s wild places, has spent the last eight years pairing historical maps, surveys, journals and oral histories with geospatial mapping technology to bring this vast interconnected web to life. A background in engineering and land surveying provides him with an expertise in map reconstruction — a lifetime as an outdoorsman gives him everything else.

“What really got me was reading about Native Americans and how free they were,” Marshall says. “They lived off the land, they were totally independent and self-sufficient before the Anglos came in. I just admired the way they could live in the outdoors.”

Winding around the Appalachians with very little help from my GPS to Marshall’s homestead in Cowee, N.C., I soon found that his admiration extends far beyond that of a casual scholar; Lamar and his wife Kathleen live almost completely off the land.

Luckily, Marshall sensed my status as a city-dweller and had sent me in-depth instructions to his little house on the mountainside. After only three wrong turns and one stop for directions, I was pulling up their driveway with a trio of baying hounds close behind.

1747 map

A 1747 canvas map of the Provinces of North and South Carolina drawn by Englishman Emanuel Bowen. It shows several historic Cherokee towns and settlements. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall


“Most of the food we eat is either hunted or grown out back in our organic garden,” Marshall says as we walk into his house. “Deer season starts up soon so we’ll have to make some space in our freezers. Remind me to give you a few bags of veggies.”

Walking upstairs to his office, Marshall pushes aside a heavy blanket that he says prevents their small but powerful wood stove from overheating the bedroom.

Countless papers and artifacts are stacked around his office, with just enough room for two people to sit in front of the four monitors lining the desk. Near the window hang several name badges from conferences where Marshall has presented his life’s work.

Various scans of 18th-century era maps and journals pop up on the monitors as the computer starts up. Marshall double checks the Wi-Fi hotspot on his phone; the fact that the internet company has yet to extend their service this far up the road hardly slows him down.

“In 1991, I moved into the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama, and the [U.S. Forest Service] was mowing it down,” Marshall says. “They were cutting down 200-year-old hardwood ridges, replacing them with monocultures of loblolly pine. Converted 90,000 acres into these plantations.”

Except it wasn’t just trees they were cutting down, Marshall explains. One of those clearcuts exposed Indian Tomb Hollow, an archaeological site in the heart of Bankhead National Forest sacred to regional Native Americans. Looters soon invaded the area and dug up several of the graves.

Outraged, the Blue Clan of the Echota Cherokee teamed up with Marshall and other locals to form the publication Bankhead Monitor and the nonprofit group Wild Alabama, with the goal of preventing future clearcutting of sensitive areas. Their efforts led to the protection of roughly 180,000 acres in the Bankhead National Forest.

In 2007, Wild Alabama became Wild South, an Asheville-based nonprofit that currently has more than 15,000 members dedicated to preserving the South’s environmental and cultural landscape. Since its inception, Wild South has helped protect half a million acres of land and numerous species of wildlife in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and beyond.

Delving into the Archives

With grants and a seal of approval from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Marshall and his team from Wild South have used archival records to map well over 1,000 miles of Cherokee foot trails and around 60 historic Cherokee towns and settlements in the last eight years.

“I not only map the trails and towns, but we also go to archives all over the East, including the National Archives in D.C., photographing old records to the extent that I have over 100,000 images,” Marshall says. “Instead of trying to pick and choose records, we go box to box and photograph them all for study when we get back. We’d never have time to go through them all when you’re at the archive.”

“By reading these old documents, letters and affidavits, you glean out these tidbits of geography and ecology,” he continues. “You begin to put together the big picture: that the trail system is continental wide.”

These files don’t just gather dust on Marshall’s hard drive, either. Every archival document he photographs is gifted to the Qualla Boundary Public Library in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for genealogical research.

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall


Russell Townsend, tribal historic preservation officer with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, says his work has benefitted greatly from having access to these files.

“We use those archive materials daily to research Cherokee history and culture,” Townsend says. “They run the gamut from some of the earliest English activity in the area in the late 1600s up to [Bureau of Indian Affairs] activities in the 20th century.”

“The knowledge gained from them is really important because it shows [the Cherokee foot trails] connected these communities in ways that the automobile roads don’t,” Townsend continues. “You realize that some places divided today by a 15 or 20 mile drive around a long ridge was really just four or five miles of a hard walk. Back in the 20th century and before, that kind of hike was nothing. So really a lot of communities are more connected historically than we thought, and that affects linguistic patterns, cultural patterns, material patterns — everything.”

Stepping Through Time

After exploring the history behind the trails, Marshall and I drive to the Needmore State Lands to hike a section of an ancient Cherokee foot path that eventually became part of the Trail of Tears.

Coming to a stop by a swinging foot bridge, we cross the Little Tennessee River and begin our trek through the trees. Marshall deftly outpaces me as I attempt to fend off the thorny underbrush. Reaching the edge of the trail, I stop next to Marshall as a feeling of reverence settles over me.

“What you’re seeing right here are the exact mountains, the exact views that the Cherokee thousands of years ago saw,” Marshall says, looking off into the distance. “This is the vantage point where they were when they moved through the woods. To me, this isn’t just something that connects you to the past — it’s a portal to it.”

The path is clearly defined, with banks up to four feet high carved by a millennia of hooves and silent footfalls. A resounding crunch amplifies each step I take through the autumn river of leaves.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.


Once a Cherokee foot trail has been mapped and turned over to the U.S. Forest Service, Marshall tells me, it is automatically protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 until it has been studied for its significance. Afterwards it can be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these trails are open to the public, save for the sections that run through private land. Many continue to be in use today as roads and hiking paths.

Due to its status as a Trail of Tears corridor, Marshall informs me, the trail we are walking on will almost certainly be nominated.

“There’s no way to tell how old these trails are,” he says. “They say Paleo-Indians got here 13,000 years ago. Now I don’t know if they’re that old, but it dates at the very least back to the Mississippian culture [between 800 CE and 1600 CE].”

“This is a natural walkway, too,” Marshall continues. “The buffalo could’ve even tunneled it. This right here is a jewel, it’s priceless. Not only to the Cherokees, but to everybody. And it could’ve easily gotten bulldozed away if we hadn’t identified it, mapped it and turned it into the state.”

To date, Marshall has mapped over 1,000 miles of trail with GIS and topographic maps and field-mapped over 200 miles by foot. He inputs each trail’s GIS data into a yet unfinished ArcGIS Story Map with the hope that it can eventually be used as an educational tool. Its completed form will have narrative, text, images and multimedia content layered over the trail network to provide a glimpse into our region’s past. Samples of the maps Marshall has created are available on the Wild South website. Out of respect for the Cherokee people, no sensitive, sacred or archaeological sites are shared with the public.

1837 U.S. Army map

As this 1837 U.S. Army map to the left shows, Brush Creek was once known as Raven Creek. This map was used by Marshall to help put together the storied history behind the trail section we hiked. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall.


To thank him for his contributions to Cherokee cultural preservation, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gave him a name: Usdi-nvno Awatisgi, or “Trail Finder.”

“It’s really cool when you look at a map and see how interconnected things really were,” Russell Townsend of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says. “There are stories about people who traveled on them regularly, various incidents that happened on them that are prominent to our history and culture. I think our elders are very pleased that the knowledge of these old foot trails is not going to be lost.”

To view some of the maps Lamar Marshall has created and find out more about the Cherokee journey, visit cherokee.wildsouth.org.

Public Pushback Against Appalachian Natural Gas Pipelines

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

Critics cite flaws in Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental review process

By Molly Moore

pipeline easement illustration

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is seeking an amendment to the Jefferson National Forest Plan that would reclassify 186 acres of old growth forest as a 500-foot-wide “utility corridor.” This image simulates a such a corridor from the perspective of Giles High School in Giles County, Va. Illustration courtesy Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, nine individuals gathered in the small town of Elliston, Va., for a meeting of the eastern chapter of Preserve Montgomery County VA, a grassroots group formed in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline. Some attendees had known each other for years, while others shook hands for the first time. But these individuals shared at least two things in common: all lived along the steep slopes and rolling ridgelines that distinguish Central Appalachia, and all were opposed to a new natural gas pipeline slicing through their home county.

Dozens of major new gas transmission pipelines are proposed for construction across the eastern United States. Two of these, each 42 inches in diameter, are slated to cross the steep slopes and abundant streams of the Appalachian Mountains while carrying high-pressure natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to companies in Virginia and North Carolina. Since applications for the projects were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — in September 2015 by the public utilities backing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and in October 2015 by the private companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline — communities along the route have raised the alarm.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would stretch from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County along Virginia’s southern border, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from Harrison and Lewis Counties, also in northern West Virginia, across Virginia to Robeson County on the southeastern edge of North Carolina.

Both would tie in to the Transco Pipeline, which extends between Texas and New York. Transco also connects to a recently approved natural gas export facility in Maryland, opening the possibility that this gas could go to overseas markets.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would also each require the construction of between three and four compressor stations — industrial facilities that maintain pressure throughout the system but pose concentrated health and environmental risks to nearby communities.

Common Cause

In places like Montgomery County, Va., some residents who might have different perspectives on other issues are united in their opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Community member Ellen Darden serves as the volunteer co-chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights — a coalition of local groups along the proposed route of the MVP. “[It’s] totally nonpartisan,” she says of the group’s name. “It’s really all about water, heritage and rights because those were the elements that were important to different groups and we wanted that represented.”

The coalition is working alongside environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

Many of the residents are outraged at the prospect of losing the use of their land to gas companies or utilities while facing the likelihood of diminishing property values.

“The thing about going through properties, in addition to environmental destruction, is we’re in hollers. The only flat land you have is down by the creek,” says Anita Puckett, a member of Preserve Montgomery County VA. “They want to run it down by the creek because it’s easier to build, so they’re leasing prime farmland, garden land, house-building land.”

In eastern Montgomery County, the MVP would claim a right-of-way through a flat portion of resident Jim Law’s land that he intends to use as a future homesite for his granddaughters. Roughly 100 miles further east, the ACP would bisect a pasture on Carlos Arostegui’s dairy farm.

Other nearby citizens cite worries about the risks that high-pressure gas poses to their homes, farms and lives. Natural gas transmission pipelines can be constructed with thinner walls and with shutoff valves spaced further apart in more sparsely populated areas, increasing the safety risk to nearby landowners.

Environmental impacts are also of concern to many. The construction process involves heavy truck traffic, clear-cutting, and crossing and tunneling beneath waterways, which leads to sedimentation and stream disturbances. Both the MVP and ACP would also traverse fragile karst topography, a porous limestone bedrock that amplifies the risk that groundwater would be affected.

New pipelines also have implications for global climate change. Methane is released during natural gas drilling and transmission and has a climate-altering potential 86 times greater than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after emission.

Locally, the projects would negatively affect viewsheds and tourism, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. After months of attempting to collaborate with pipeline officials and other stakeholders to minimize risks, in November 2016 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy concluded that it is “strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.”

In contrast, pipeline backers emphasize potential for construction jobs and tax revenue — a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by MVP anticipated that a four-year construction phase would contribute to roughly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

According to the ACP’s website, that pipeline would generate $8.3 million in property tax revenue in 2018, a figure that would rise and top $30 million each year by 2025, when considering all three states. But different projections were reached in a 2016 study by Key-Log Economics, LLC, which predicted the pipeline would result in a net loss of property taxes.

The ACP has the explicit support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and President-Elect Donald Trump’s First 100 Days platform calls for removing barriers to new energy infrastructure projects. But even with such high-profile support, the pipelines still face regulatory and potential legal hurdles.

Federal Procedure

Before breaking ground, interstate pipeline projects must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, so instead of relying on financial support from taxpayers, it is funded by fees from the companies it regulates. Pipeline opponents nationwide have alleged that this is a conflict of interest that favors industry.

Since 2009, FERC has approved 170 major natural gas pipelines, though the commission isn’t obligated to review whether or not these pipelines are needed.

Yet even if FERC approves a pipeline, it’s not a done deal. Privately financed projects like the MVP still need to find and retain financial backing. Pipelines can also be denied at a state level even if they have federal approval — in April 2016, the state of New York halted construction on the Constitution Pipeline by denying a water-quality permit.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FERC is required to prepare an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of significant projects like these and to assess alternatives, as well as consider public input before making a decision and issuing a final environmental review. At FERC, these documents are often prepared by contractors and subcontractors who are paid directly by the gas companies or utilities.

FERC has been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for repeatedly accepting environmental assessments for new pipelines that the EPA deems insufficient. In October, the EPA issued a letter charging that FERC’s review of the LeachXPress pipeline — which would carry natural gas through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — omitted significant information.

The environmental review process is intended to give the public a chance to be heard by submitting public comments or attending formal in-person FERC listening sessions. The draft environmental review for the MVP was released on Sept. 16 and the deadline for public comment set for Dec. 22. Release of the ACP’s draft environmental assessment is expected in December 2016. [Editor’s note: The ACP environmental review was released Dec. 30. Read the full draft here and environmental groups’ press statement here.]

Residents across the country can submit comments for interstate pipelines like MVP and ACP. But the effectiveness of public comments also depends on how thorough the initial assessment is — for instance, if the draft doesn’t describe how pipeline builders plan to mitigate landslides, it’s harder for local residents to weigh in on whether that plan is sufficient. Attendees at FERC’s seven public listening sessions held along the MVP route in November stated that the draft environmental statement was “woefully inadequate.”

Incomplete Review

In October, the nonprofit law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates submitted a letter to FERC outlining shortcomings in the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement. The 15-page letter, sent on behalf of 27 conservation and community groups, called on the agency to revise or supplement the draft and questioned whether the MVP was even necessary.

According to Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, FERC published an incomplete review. “FERC even acknowledges it still needs information about impacts on drinking water sources, as well as important streams and wetlands,” he stated in a press release. “The public must have access to this crucial information if its review of FERC’s analysis is to have any meaning.”

In its application, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, stated that it has secured contracts for the two billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas it would transport each day. Yet separate studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commissioned by Appalachian Voices, and by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., both concluded that pipelines carrying gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are being overbuilt and that there is enough pipeline capacity to meet demand until 2030.

The Appalachian Mountain Advocates letter also points out that some information — such as surveys for a proposed route change — can be omitted until the end of the comment period, and even more information can be withheld until after FERC grants a certificate of approval. These components include plans for avoiding active mines, mitigating landslides, installing permanent culverts and permanently filling waterbodies and wetlands along the route.

There are many organizations resisting the pipelines, and those listed below can also help identify local groups in your area. Learn more or submit a comment asking FERC to reject the MVP at appvoices.org/no-mvp-pipeline

  • Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Coalition of local groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: abralliance.org
  • Appalachian Voices: Advocacy organization fighting against the ACP and MVP
    Visit: Appvoices.org Call: (434) 293-6373
  • NC WARN: N.C. organization working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: ncwarn.org Call: (919) 416-5077
  • Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: Coalition of local groups resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline
    Visit: powhr.org
  • Speaking Out

    FERC’s seven listening sessions on the MVP were held in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania during the first part of November. Some were sparsely attended, while others had high turnout, including more than 150 attendees in Roanoke, Va.

    Instead of speaking publicly before attendees and the commission as is the custom for public forums, individuals were led into a room with just a FERC official and a stenographer, an atmosphere that Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer with Appalachian Voices, calls “sterile and disempowering.”

    Yet as attendees met with FERC individually, community groups and the Sierra Club Virginia hosted alternative meeting spaces in the same building for people to share their comments with one another and learn more about the pipeline. In Weston, W. Va., local organizations also held their own forum with a stenographer taking comments in a public space so that residents could hear each other’s concerns.

    In the face of proposals like the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, building connections — whether between organizations or between neighbors — is key.

    “This is not just a local fight,” says Darden, noting that if one proposal fails, companies will likely try another route. “The [pipelines] are coming. This is just the start. And the companies just all want their own profit, there’s no collaboration, no coordination.”

    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental assessment was expected December 2017. The draft was expected in December 2016, and was released Dec. 30. Read the response to the draft from Appalachian Voices and other citizens groups.

    Reclaiming Mined Mountains to Beneficial Use

    Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    More than half a century of surface coal mining has left scars across Central Appalachia. As mining operations moved from one coal seam to another, more than a million acres were reduced to barren landscapes or replaced with gravelly grasslands. And mountaintop removal coal mining leveled more than 500 hundred mountains across Appalachia.

    At least 233,000 acres of land in Central Appalachia were damaged by mining before 1977 and are in need of reclamation, according to a 2015 analysis by Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and The Alliance for Appalachia based on federal data. This figure conveys only a fraction of the area impacted by coal production, as it does not include lands mined after 1977. But no inventory of sites mined after this date is currently available.

    Data center

    This data center at left could get its electricity from a solar project proposed for a site near the Wise County Airport in Southwest Virginia. Photo by Gerald Collins.

    “There are thousands of [abandoned mine land] features across Appalachia that still need to be addressed,” say Adam Wells, economic diversification program coordinator at Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper. “These sites are liabilities in many ways, but they are also opportunities for a new approach to economic development in Appalachia.”

    Yet determining who is responsible for recovering mined lands to a condition similar to how they were before mining — a process known as reclamation — and for making these lands useful again is a complicated issue.

    Paying for Cleanup

    On Aug. 3, 1977, the U.S. Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which established the legislation that continues to regulate coal mining today.

    The law created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and established its mission. One of the agency’s programs governs the cleanup of abandoned mine lands, a term that refers to mine sites excavated before the passage of SMCRA. To pay for this, the law created the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is financed by a tax on every ton of coal mined.

    Another program oversees environmental regulations for coal mines that started after the passage of SMCRA. The law outlines how companies should reclaim the land and gives the agency the authority to ensure companies can pay for the remediation.

    The ability to cleanup the sites mined in the 40 years since the passage of the federal law has been threatened by two related issues: bankruptcies and bonding.

    Believing that China’s demand for coal would continue to grow, beginning in 2011 many United States coal companies purchased more mines of metallurgical coal — which is used to make steel — than they could afford, including mines in Appalachia.

    When Chinese demand and the price for the coal collapsed, so did the companies that bought the mines. Three of the largest American coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past year; Alpha Natural Resources filed in August 2015, followed by Arch Coal in January 2016 and Peabody Energy in April.

    volunteers

    Students from Appalachian State University plant seedlings on a surface mine in Eastern Kentucky. Photo by Kylie Schmidt

    While the executives of these companies were well compensated, the corporations’ obligations for miners’ pensions and for reclamation of mine sites often went unfunded. As of April, Peabody has $1.4 billion in unfunded reclamation needs, Alpha has $640 million and Arch Coal $485 million, according to the Washington Post.

    Bankruptcy settlements have addressed only part of these debts. For example, in February 2016, regulators in Wyoming agreed to accept $75 million to forgive a reclamation debt of $485 million, according to the Associated Press. The remaining cleanup costs could fall to taxpayers.

    And on Nov. 16, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection sued Alpha Natural Resources for fraud, alleging that the company’s executives knowingly hid $100 million in debts in order to secure their bankruptcy settlement.

    “There is no doubt that the newly disclosed $100 million shortfall seriously threatens the reorganized debtors’ viability and ability to perform their legal obligations to bond and reclaim their remaining mine site,” the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection filing stated.

    At issue in all of these unfunded obligations is a practice called self-bonding. Before a mining permit is issued, federal law requires mining operators to provide a financial guarantee — or bond — large enough to cover the cost of cleanup after mining is complete. But rather than requiring a company to secure this money from an outside source, many states allow companies to self-bond. This means that they can use their own financial history as a guarantee for their ability to pay for reclamation.

    This practice has come under scrutiny after so many coal companies filed for bankruptcy while responsible for billions of dollars in unfunded cleanup costs.

    The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement began a rulemaking process in August 2016 to require a more robust analysis and review process before allowing companies to use self-bonding.

    Other forms of paying for reclamation after mining also carry risks. Several states, including Kentucky and Virginia, allow companies to use a financial structure called a “pool bond.” In this model, several companies each pay a fraction of their expected cleanup costs into a common pool, out of which reclamation costs can be paid should any of the companies go bankrupt.

    This system can support individual bankruptcies, but “the fund is completely unprepared to address the increasingly likely scenario that multiple operators holding multiple permits will decide that they can’t or won’t follow through on their reclamation commitments,” states a blog by Peter Morgan, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.

    A Case for RECLAIM

    However, none of these issues impact mine lands abandoned before the passage of the federal law. For sites mined before 1977, funding sources for reclamation work are well established, if limited.

    “In the early years, the [Abandoned Mine Land] program focused on the physical reclamation of hazards affecting coalfield communities,” states the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement website. “More recently, the program began working to reclaim the vitality of communities left impoverished and degraded by past coal mining.”

    The RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Congressman Hal Rogers (R-Ky) that is currently before the U.S. Congress, would create economic opportunities in areas historically impacted by coal mining. The bill would accelerate the release of $1 billion from taxes already paid by coal companies and invest the funds in projects such as restoring abandoned mine lands to beneficial use.

    map

    A new study shows the potential of 14 abandoned mine land sites in Southwest Virginia to contribute to the local economy.
    Click to enlarge.

    The economic development potential of 14 abandoned mine land sites in a seven-county region of Southwest Virginia was highlighted in a November report produced by Appalachian Voices, the regional nonprofit that produces this newspaper, Downstream Strategies, an environmental consulting firm, and Coal Mining Engineering Services, a consulting firm specializing in coal mining and reclamation work.

    With funding from the RECLAIM Act, the report concludes, these sites could be repurposed to better serve the area through ecotourism, agriculture, renewable energy and commercial development.

    The goals of the study were to demonstrate the need for RECLAIM funding and recommend sustainable projects that could create good jobs on former coal mines.

    “One of our hopes for this report is to offer place-based, forward-thinking economic development opportunities that reverse the trends of extraction by investing in historically coal-reliant communities,” says report co-author Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices.

    According to Gerald Collins, a co-author of the report and owner of Coal Mining Engineering Services, LLC, there are about 50,000 acres of identified abandoned mine lands in the seven-county area. Other coal mining states in Appalachia have even more acres of impacted lands.

    “The problems are just as real [in Southwest Virginia] as they are in Kentucky and West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Collins says.

    Abandoned mine land sites are classified by OSMRE based on their level of risk to human health and safety. Priority 1 sites pose an extreme danger to human health and safety, while Priority 2 sites pose a danger to human health and safety but not an extreme one. Priority 3 sites pose environmental risks, but do not directly threaten human health and safety.

    mine portal

    All of the sites in the new study have coal mining features, such as this abandoned underground mine portal at a proposed recreational site in Haysi. Photo by Libby Bringner

    The federal law requires that Priority 1 and 2 sites must be cleaned up before funds are used to reclaim Priority 3 sites. Because there is a shortage of funds, many Priority 3 sites remain underutilized. But Collins notes that “with the RECLAIM Act, you’re looking at specifically money for [abandoned mine land] sites that have economic development potential.”

    One example highlighted in the study is a proposed solar installation on more than 400 acres of land near the Wise County Airport. Much of this land was re-mined and reclaimed since SMCRA, but several Priority 3 features remain, including a mine opening portal, that would make the parcels eligible for RECLAIM funding.

    This project already has backing from several local agencies that are eager to provide renewable energy to the area’s growing information technology industry cluster. According to the November report, the land could support a 20-megawatt solar installation and provide more than 200 local full-time jobs during construction and three permanent positions after construction.

    “There’s a lot of potential,” Evan Fedorko of Downstream Strategies says. “[Some] folks just aren’t looking for the potential, but they’re just continuing to be discouraged or despondent about [unreclaimed areas]. And there’s a lot of potential there.”

    Fedorko is particularly interested in seeing some of the mine lands reused for agricultural purposes. He says that he has encountered the misperception that all former mine land sites are unsafe for agriculture, but he insists that this is not true and that testing is available to ensure that no hazardous materials are present on a site.

    The Foxfire Farm in Dickenson County is an example. Portions of the 110-acre farm were mined during the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. According to the study, some of the land was mined after the passage of SMCRA, but before Virginia established its Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. As such, it falls in an “interim period” and is not eligible for RECLAIM funding as the bill is currently worded.

    “My property is clearly representative of the mass majority of land that has been strip mined and reclaimed,” says Tammy Owens, the owner of Foxfire Farm. “Even after almost 50 years, the land is unproductive and nowhere near what it was before it was mined.”

    Foxfire Farm

    Tammy Owens’ Foxfire Farm at left is on former mine lands that could benefit from an investment from the RECLAIM Act. Photo by Adam Wells.

    If funding were available, Owens says she would use the money to restore the topsoil to support the farm’s organic production of cultivated and wild-simulated medicinal herbs.

    The authors of the report make several recommendations, including that the wording of the RECLAIM Act should be modified so that some abandoned mine lands that were re-mined after 1977 could be eligible to apply for funding.

    Such an expansion of eligibility would increase the pool of potential sites that could be repurposed for economic development. It would also provide a chance for reclamation at sites that have fallen through the cracks.

    Restoring Forestland

    Before they were mined for coal, most Appalachian peaks and slopes were covered in forests. And many scientists, government officials and environmental advocates hope to see reforestation as part of future reclamation plans.

    Leading these efforts is the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, a coalition of citizens, industry and government representatives within the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The initiative was established in 2004 with the goal of reforesting mine lands in the eastern United States.

    Dr. Patrick N. Angel is a senior forester and soil scientist at the agency and a liaison to ARRI. But he began his career as a reclamation inspector for the state of Kentucky and became a federal inspector in 1978 after the passage of SMCRA.

    “Before the federal law, trees were growing very, very well on mine sites. But we had this problem of landslides,” says Angel. To eliminate the risk of landslides, SMCRA called for mine lands to be stabilized. But these compacted surfaces were ill-suited for growing the native trees that had existed prior to mining.

    “Basically, it created a landscape that could not return to a healthy, productive forest without serious human mitigation.”

    reforestation

    This 20-year-old research plot demonstrates the success of Forestry Reclamation Approach. Photo by Matt Barton

    Angel followed this approach until nearly two decades ago, when one of his forestry professors helped him realize that the choice needn’t be between safety or trees. It was possible to have both.

    Angel says that he and about a dozen other foresters, soil scientists, mining engineers and hydrologists decided to try and change how things had been done for more than 25 years. He recalls his thoughts from that time: “We got to get the mining industry to change the way they are doing reclamation. We’ve got to change the culture of what people think good reclamation looks like. It’s not golf courses, okay. It’s something altogether different.”

    Angel and his colleagues were introduced to the Forestry Reclamation Approach, which is now advocated by ARRI and its nonprofit partner Green Forests Work. This method provides guidelines for re-establishing healthy forests on formerly mined lands by establishing a thick layer of loose topsoil, minimizing competition from invasive species and carefully planting select varieties of trees.

    In 2007, researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland determined that more than 740,000 acres of previously mined land in the Eastern United States are suitable for reforestation. While the process is expensive — costing $1000-$1500 per acre, according to Angel — Green Forests Work has planted almost two million trees on nearly 3,000 acres since 2009.

    “Up to a million acres of these [former mine] lands could be reforested and a lot of the acres are slopes that you can’t develop and build on, you can’t build roads to, there’s a lot of areas that make more sense to put back into a healthy productive forest,” says Angel.

    Citizen Site Inspections

    In late August 2016, representatives of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club and Tennessee Clean Water Network participated in inspections at four mine sites in Claiborne County. The inspections took place near Straight Creek, Tackett Creek and several unnamed tributaries, where mining operators had requested a bond release.

    As a mining company completes the reclamation process, it applies for a return of the money put forward to cover the cost of cleaning up the site. According to federal rules, the release of a bond occurs in phases as the company completes different stages of reclamation.

    SMCRA requires mining companies to announce in local papers when they are requesting a bond release. Environmental groups in Tennessee monitor local papers in areas being mined so that citizens can participate in the process, as is allowed by law.

    site inspection

    Axel Ringe, conservation chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, takes a water sample at an inspection of a mine site. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Chapter of Sierra Club and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment

    According to Axel Ringe, the conservation chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club who participated in the site inspections, the group confirmed that the regrading had been done properly, took water samples from sediment ponds and checked that the vegetation species and survival rates met the reclamation plan.
    “The purpose of doing this is to get the local community people involved in the process, because they’re the ones that are most directly impacted by the mining,” Ringe says.

    Carol Judy, a local community member, participated in the inspection because of her desire for clean water. “I’ve always felt like your water data is trackable, and it’s factual,” she says. “And it gives a body a way to look at long-term water quality impacts through several different lenses.”

    Following the inspection of the Claiborne mine sites, the groups submitted their concerns to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. But as of press time in late November, they had not heard back on the status of the bond release.

    Looking Ahead

    After more than half a century of surface mining, few in the coal-bearing regions of Appalachia are unaffected by reclamation issues.

    A resident of Dickenson County, Va., who asked not to be named because he lacked permission from all landowners to speak about the site, described his frustration after working unsuccessfully for 10 years to get the effects of mining on his property cleaned up.

    Remembering how his land was once used for pasture, and dreaming of how it might one day be used for wind or solar energy generation, he says he just wants something to pass on to his grandchildren.

    “It’s not too much,” he says, “but at one time it was beneficial. Now it’s a wasteland.”

    Appalachians Against The Dakota Access Pipeline

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Willie Dodson

    More than 200 people opposed to the pipeline rallied outside an Army Corps office in Huntington, W.Va. Photos by Chad Cordell

    More than 200 people opposed to the pipeline rallied outside an Army Corps office in Huntington, W.Va. Photos by Chad Cordell

    UPDATE: On Dec. 4, the Department of the Army announced it would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, and instead would look at alternatives and conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. In a statement thanking the Obama Administration and supporters, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said, “When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.”

    Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, the companies behind DAPL responded by saying they remain “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

    After the Army announcement, the Standing Rock Tribe asked supporters to return home until the winter weather clears. Some water protectors are remaining at the Camp of the Sacred Stones on private land, but have suspended the open invitation to supporters due to limited infrastructure.

    Across Appalachia, communities are supporting the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a partially constructed crude oil pipeline stretching 1,100 miles across North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

    While an earlier alternate route for the project was rejected due to concerns that it would jeopardize the water supply for the city of Bismarck, N.D., the route currently under construction is planned to go under the Missouri River along the eastern edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, threatening to impact Lake Oahe, a vital source of drinking water for the tribe, and 8 million people living downstream. Additionally, DAPL construction has destroyed numerous sites sacred to the Sioux people, and portions of the pipeline route are on Sioux land that was never ceded to the United States.

    For months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request that pipeline construction be stopped went unheeded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the primary government agency responsible for permitting the project.

    During this time, tribal citizens, along with allies from over 200 indigenous nations — the largest gathering of indigenous peoples in over a century — as well as non-native supporters, set up encampments along the pipeline’s route. Referring to themselves as water protectors, these citizens are engaging in prayerful, non-violent direct action to protect their water and sacred sites from damage caused by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building DAPL. These actions have been met with tear gas, attack dogs, water cannons, rubber bullets and other projectiles from law enforcement and private security contractors.

    On Nov. 14, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would delay further construction of the pipeline until after consulting with representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a move indigenous organizers have largely dismissed as an empty gesture. In response, Energy Transfer Partners sued the Army Corps, asserting that the project had already complied with all regulatory processes.

    A demonstrator holds a sign during a Knoxville, Tenn., event that focused on the banks funding DAPL. Photo by  Lou Murrey

    A demonstrator holds a sign during a Knoxville, Tenn., event that focused on the banks funding DAPL. Photo by Lou Murrey

    Activists on the ground report that despite the Army Corps’ announcement, work continues on the pipeline, as do attacks on water protectors by militarized police and security personnel.

    In Appalachia, communities are organizing to provide material support and their physical presence on the front line, as well as to execute solidarity actions in the region.

    “I live in Ellett Valley on the North Fork of the Roanoke River, which is threatened by the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Erin McKelvy says during a phone interview conducted while she and three others traveled from Virginia to Standing Rock. “We are showing up flexible to do whatever needs to be done. In an earlier trip we helped set up a wellness center and medical infrastructure to support the encampment.”

    Thousands of people continue to flock to the frontlines answering a call to action issued by indigenous organizers. But according to North Carolina-based activist-medic Noah Morris, would-be supporters who show up unprepared and aloof to the importance of indigenous leadership can become a burden.

    “There is a call for action targeting banks like Wells Fargo, Suntrust and many others that are invested in this pipeline,” says Morris. “I’d encourage folks who don’t have specific skills to offer on the front lines to focus on doing something locally to support the struggle instead.”

    On Nov. 4, 80 people marched through downtown Knoxville, Tenn., delivering letters to representatives of Suntrust and Citibank, two banks that provide funding to Energy Transfer Partners, asking that these institutions sever all financial ties to DAPL. This was followed by at least a dozen solidarity actions across the Appalachian region on Nov. 15.

    “The protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock is an historical event. On face value it’s the fight to keep our water clean and sacred sites protected, but it’s also becoming a turning point, globally, for people to recognize the value of Indigenous lives and living in balance on Mother Earth,” says Crystal Willcuts-Cole, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

    A woman holds a sign during a the demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Huntington, W.Va. Photo by  Chad Cordell

    A woman holds a sign during a the demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Huntington, W.Va. Photo by Chad Cordell

    McKelvy and Morris stress that non-native allies should educate themselves about indigenous resistance to colonization, and heed the voices of indigenous organizers. “We’re not just fighting a pipeline. We’re fighting 500 years of settler-colonialism,” says McKelvy. “Support for native-led struggles, and support for non-native people-of-color-led struggles … it’s just what time it is.”

    On Nov. 28, the governor of North Dakota ordered the evacuation of a camp on land that indigenous leaders say is sovereign territory of the Great Sioux Nation and was never ceded to the United States, although it is currently claimed by the Army Corps. Two other camp sites are not being evicted. As of press time, as many as 2,000 United States veterans planned to gather in North Dakota to serve as “human shields” for the activists, according to The New York Times.

    To find out how to get involved with Standing Rock solidarity efforts in your community, contact actions@noDAPLsolidarity.org.

    Thoughts from Crystal Willcuts-Cole
    Crystal Willcuts-Cole is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who lives in Big Stone Gap, Va. She and two of her children held a demonstration in support of the Standing Rock water protectors in front of the Norton Virginia branch of Wells Fargo, a bank with financial ties to Energy Transfer Partners on November 15th. This caught the attention of community members who joined Willcuts-Cole for another demonstration on December 5th. Willcuts-Cole shared some of her thoughts with The Appalachian Voice.

    “The protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock is an historical event. On face value it’s the fight to keep our water clean and sacred sites protected, but it’s also becoming a turning point, globally, for people to recognize the value of Indigenous lives and living in balance on Mother Earth. People are waking up to the harsh realities of climate change. To many, Earth has only been a resource, something we can use for our own benefit, something that will make us rich. But Earth is telling us everyday, if we want life for our children and live in a balanced way, we have to change how we care for Mother Earth and each other.

    If you are a non-Native and want to be an ally at Standing Rock or in general, it has to first start with a willingness to see things from a Native perspective. A change in values from those of capitalism, egoism, and power to humility, perseverance, respect, honor, love, sacrifice, truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom is fundamental. Next, learn about the issues the Indigenous face by listening with an open heart, knowing that history books never told our side of the story and mainstream media does the same today. Lastly, bring your skills to whatever cause you feel led to. We need everyone’s support in whatever capacity they are willing to assist, whether its being present at Standing Rock, supporting those who are there, or fighting for a cause closer to home. It’s imperative to always listen to the Native elders and follow their lead. Although no matter what, please always pray for us.

    I am Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. I am an artist and freelance writer and I also have land at Standing Rock so this is a very personal issue to me. My husband and I moved to Big Stone Gap in 2008 to work at USP Lee County. We have a son and two daughters.”

    Traveling The Crooked Road

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    Heritage music trail continues to draw visitors to Southwest Virginia

    By Dave Walker

    From Clintwood to Ferrum, from Glen Lyn to Galax, The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Thousands seek out the 330 mile-long route each year to hear the sounds of America’s roots music, which gave rise to bluegrass and country traditions. Nine major venues, 60 affiliated venues and festivals, and 26 wayside exhibits delineate the trail that follows much of Route 58, along with other sites across Southwest Virginia. But throughout the Appalachian region, The Crooked Road has come to symbolize much more: how a region can leverage its cultural assets to develop a new economy.

    Music on the Crooked Road

    Tyler Hughes and his band perform at Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, Va., during the 2016 Mountains of Music Homecoming. Photo by Jennifer Meade.

    Fourteen years ago, on a January day with six inches of snow, 26 people showed up for a meeting to talk about a radical idea for Southwest Virginia — building an economic development plan around the region’s traditional music heritage. Some drove from over 100 miles away.

    “It was very surprising, and I like to say the Holy Ghost came down,” says The Crooked Road co-founder Todd Christensen. “No one was in charge and everyone got turned on to having a music trail and having traditional music as the central development piece for our entire region.”

    Christensen initiated the idea for The Crooked Road with folklorist Joe Wilson and currently serves as the first executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation. He likened the founding to a stone soup supper, where artists, musicians, folklorists and economic development professionals contributed their skills to plan the “first step of our efforts to develop a creative economy in Southwest Virginia.”

    “It was a grassroots movement in the beginning,” says The Crooked Road’s Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood. “But people had enough vision to come together and see that the idea for a music trail had potential.”

    Today, The Crooked Road is run as a nonprofit that helps communities celebrate their heritage, weaving together the unique roots-music stories of 19 counties, four cities and over 50 communities.

    Musical Attractions

    Bookended by the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, Va., and the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum, Va., The Crooked Road is anchored by nine major venues, including the Carter Family Fold, the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Floyd Country Store and the Country Cabin — the longest continuously run place to see live heritage music in the region.

    Activities along The Crooked Road peak in the summer with festivals and fiddlers conventions. From June 9 to 17, the Mountains of Music Homecoming highlights 23 communities that work together to put on cultural events like public concerts, quilt demonstrations, lectures, outdoor movies, canoe floats and historic church tours.

    “Mountains of Music Homecoming represents all the different things that communities are proud of, making it accessible to people in their community and people from other communities,” says Hinshelwood.


    But throughout the year, there is something different to hear and to see. A jam session or concert can be found nearly any night of the week in Southwest Virginia, says Hinshelwood, and many are listed on The Crooked Road’s website.

    “The Smyth County Jam has a wonderful jam on Monday nights. Thursday nights, we have a great jam at the Heartwood in Abingdon,” he says. “Pretty much any time someone comes, there is something to do and see. There is way more than you can see, even in a two-week trip.”

    Boosting Local Economies

    During the summer of 2015, the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development studied the economic impact of The Crooked Road on the region. This study found that, “The Crooked Road facilitates $6.4 million of tourist spending annually in Southwest Virginia, resulting in $9.2 million of total economic impact annually and an equivalent of 131 full-time jobs in the region.”

    Road sign

    This signature sign for The Crooked Road marks the route. Photo courtesy of www.Virginia.org, Virginia Tourism Corporation

    Boosting the local economy was a primary reason for the creation of The Crooked Road. According to Christensen, in June of 2003, the original organizers of The Crooked Road set out two ambitious goals. “One, to make Southwest Virginia nationally known as a tourist destination, which at that time it wasn’t,” Christensen says. “And two, to triple the cultural heritage revenues in the area.”

    The excitement about the trail quickly grew. “Within 18 months, The Crooked Road was getting international and national press,” says Hinshelwood. “We’re now in our second decade, and it continues to be written about in international publications.”

    Nearly 42 percent of the trail’s visitors come from outside the region, and almost half of these individuals “said they came primarily for The Crooked Road,” stated the Virginia Tech study. This included visitors from Canada, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.

    But The Crooked Road does much more within the region. According to the Virginia Tech study, “regional officials indicated the importance of The Crooked Road in encouraging ‘pride’ in the region’s rich cultural heritage.” This most notably occurs through The Crooked Road’s Traditional Music Education Program’s partnership with Junior Appalachian Musicians, which teaches children to play and dance to traditional old-time and bluegrass music.

    Hinshelwood echoed the power that The Crooked Road has brought to Southwest Virginia. “By working with The Crooked Road, I’m really working around people that are positive and care deeply about the future of our region,” he says.

    The founders of The Crooked Road progressed to developing artisan networks in every county, which led to the development of a recreational outdoor network called Appalachian Spring.

    “Protecting the water quality, viewsheds, forests, has become an economic development priority versus maybe six years ago those were seen as extractive assets,” says Christensen, “Now those elements are seen as assets to be preserved to enable communities to have economic development.”

    These new endeavors have a promising example to follow in The Crooked Road, which has created a new way for communities in Southwest Virginia to work together to build local economies.

    “Folks who are interested in cultural heritage or environmental stewardship can, now, band together with economic development people to realize that by working together we are all furthering each other’s objectives,” states Christensen. “The Crooked Road set that example: preserve the music and make it more accessible to people,” he continues. “You don’t compromise your assets for economic development; you build upon and promote them.”

    For more information, visit myswva.org/tcr