Posts Tagged ‘Economic diversification’

Senate bill signals hope for economy in Appalachian coal communities

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager, 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

NORTON, VA – A bill announced today by senators from four Appalachian states for $1 billion to repurpose abandoned coal strip mines for economic development projects marks a significant step in the ongoing effort to revitalize local communities in the region.

The bill was introduced last week by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA). Called the RECLAIM Act, it mirrors a bipartisan bill introduced in the House earlier this year.

Local support for increased and expedited federal investment in the coal-bearing region of Central Appalachia has grown swiftly in the last two years as coal has continued to decline. Nearly 30 local government entities in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee have unanimously passed resolutions calling for increased funding for economic development.

Funding through a RECLAIM bill represents part of a greater effort to support coalfield communities. This year, $65 million has been allocated specifically for immediate implementation of economic development projects in the region through the Obama administration’s POWER initiative, including nearly $47 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission for 174 coal-impacted counties across nine states. Additionally, $90 million has been allocated to West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania this year for pilot projects similar to RECLAIM’s intent of using old coal mine lands for economic development. The recent Continuing Resolution reauthorized that funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identified 14 abandoned coal mining sites in Southwest Virginia that would be ideal candidates for RECLAIM funding. The projects, including solar facilities, local parks and sustainable agriculture projects, represent well over $16 million in cleanup costs and $52 million in construction investments.

“This is great news. We’re grateful to Senators Kaine and Warner for taking leadership on introducing RECLAIM, and glad to know they recognize the urgent need for economic diversification and environmental cleanup we feel in our communities in far Southwest Virginia,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. “The timing of this clearly shows that both chambers of Congress are committed to passing RECLAIM in 2017 and sets a strong path forward for that to happen.”

“I’m very glad to see our senators leading the way on RECLAIM,” said Adam Malle of Big Stone Gap, Va., and a board member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Last year we worked with our localities to pass resolutions of support for federal investment for economic diversification and we’re glad Senators Kaine and Warner heard that clear message from our local communities.”

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Building Community and a New Economy in Southwest Virginia

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

In five Southwest Virginia towns, we’re gathering with area residents to celebrate local music and herbal traditions, and to bring folks together to share ideas on how to build an economy that works for everyone.

New Economy Focus Groups

Oct. 4, Pennington Gap, Va.
Pennington Gap Community Center
6:30-8:30 p.m.

Oct. 6, Clintwood, Va.
Clintwood Kiwanis Club
7:00-9:00 p.m.

​Oct. 11, Haysi, Va.
Lonesome Pine Regional Library
6:00-7:00 p.m.

​Oct. 18, Hazel Mountain, Va.
Hazel Mountain Community Center
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Oct. 25, Dungannon, Va.

Historic Dungannon Depot
6:00-8:00 p.m.

In September, our Central Appalachian Field Coordinator Willie Dodson — also a folk herbalist and musician — convened five Mountain Music and Medicinals events, which featured information on herbal remedies for colds and flus, live music by local players, good food and even a square dance. The events, held in Haysi, Dungannon, Pennington Gap, Hazel Mountain and Clintwood, provided an opportunity for participants to share their own experiences with herbalism growing up in the mountains.

In October, we’re hosting gatherings in the same towns for people from all walks of life to share their visions for the area’s future and economy. Ideas generated at these New Economy Focus Groups will be shared on an online platform and used to help inform a crowd-sourced vision for the area. Southwest Virginia residents who can’t attend the gatherings can also visit the webpage to post their thoughts. Visit the New Economy Wiki online forum at swvaneweconomy.com

TechHire Program Launched in Appalachian Region

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

This past June, the Obama Administration announced the launch of South Central Appalachian TechHire, an effort to develop and prepare tech talent in western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia. The Appalachian Regional Commission, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and private sector employers aim to jointly place over 50 individuals into tech jobs over the next year and 400 into tech positions by 2020, according to the White House blog.

The Obama Administration also announced $150 million in TechHire grants, of which over $30 million will serve rural areas. South Charleston, W.Va., for example, will receive $4 million to help young adults in former coal mining counties train for high-paying technology positions.

— Hannah Petersen

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

A June ruling from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy cost-competitive power from independent generators instead of conventional utilities. This bolsters the prospects of decentralized energy production — often solar power— in rural areas, says Utility Dive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made available a new low-cost energy efficiency financing program. The Rural Energy Savings Program provides funding to rural electric cooperatives to back loans to electric co-op members for weatherization upgrades.

— Eliza Laubach

Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

More carbon dioxide is being released from coal mine drainage than expected.

In June, a West Virginia University study found that 140 coal mines across Pennsylvania are collectively releasing carbon dioxide equal to that of a small power plant. The greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere when mine waters reach the land’s surface, a WVU press release explains.

Using a meter designed for measuring carbon dioxide in beverages, the research team discovered there is more carbon dioxide in the water than was measured using previous testing methods.

Coal mine drainage contaminates drinking water, disrupts ecosystems and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the university.

— Otto Solberg

New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality imposed precedent-setting protections against air pollutants by requiring that Dominion Power employ the best available control technology in its proposed gas-fired power plant in Greensville County, Va. The move comes in response to extensive comments from citizens and organizations such as Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The department also decreased allowable carbon dioxide emission limits by more than 10 percent compared to the original proposal, according to a press release from the organizations.

— Hannah Petersen

$30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

In July, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf awarded $30 million for 14 projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands that were selected based on their potential to create long-term economic benefits. Funding for the projects comes from a federal pilot program passed by Congress in December. The program is structured similar to the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would distribute $1 billion over five years to support land restoration and economic development in communities across the country impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

— Brian Sewell

Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

If constructed as proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would encounter many geologic hazards as it carries natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to Virginia, according to a recent study commissioned by Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (The POWHR Coalition). Because of its weak soil structure, the possibility of surface collapse and potential for seismic activity, the karst landscape along the West Virginia-Virginia state line makes this area a “‘no-build’ zone for the project,” according to Dr. Ernst H. Kastning, the study’s author.

Karst topography is formed when soluble rock layers such as limestone are dissolved, leaving behind underground caves and sinkholes.

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Renewable Energy Growing

Renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 23.7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, and that number is expected to rise as better funding enters the competitive market, according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

The world added more renewable power capacity than fossil fuel capacity in 2015. Hydroelectric power added a trillion watts, wind added 63 billion watts and solar added 50 billion watts.

— Otto Solberg

Coal Production Drops

The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest level of coal produced since 1981 and the largest quarter-over-quarter decline in coal production since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows that weaker demand due to above-normal winter temperatures, alongside complying with environmental regulations and competing with renewables and natural gas, have caused production to decline.

— Hannah Petersen

Norton’s walk along the river

Monday, August 8th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Dylan Reilly, 2016 Riverwalk Design Assistant at Appalachian Voices and student in the landscape architect master’s program at the University of Maryland

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

In the Southwest Virginia city of Norton, Appalachian Voices is supporting a project that would enhance recreation along the Guest River and clean up an abandoned coal tipple that is both an eyesore and a source of pollution.

In 2008, Norton city officials began to contemplate using their new sewer main right of way for a two-mile multi-use path connecting the downtown with the community of Ramsey. The proposed Riverwalk presented a unique opportunity to encourage Norton residents of all abilities to recreate along the scenic Guest River and to improve pedestrian connectivity.

Groundwork for the Norton Riverwalk project was laid by the City of Norton’s 2010 feasibility study, environmental research from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and a 2011 conceptual design for an adjacent coal tipple reclamation project completed by Virginia Tech student Nathan Brown.

As the Riverwalk Design Assistant with Appalachian Voices, I’ve been working in close collaboration with other stakeholders this summer to orchestrate a community engagement process that will result in a feasible conceptual design. This rigorous outreach process is helping Norton city leaders inform the public about the Riverwalk and allow area residents to have a substantial impact on the design, while it is still in its most flexible form.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

In addition to meeting with local groups such as police, park officials and public health advocates, a large community Design Evening was held on July 7. Participants were divided into three facilitated teams, each team tackling the same design challenge. Teams received three maps for Riverwalk Phase 1, icons of amenities, and sticky notes.

The teams were tasked with determining where amenities like amphitheaters, restrooms and water fountains should go, using the sticky notes to explain their design reasoning and to propose ideas that the icons could not encapsulate. The two-hour Design Evening was a smashing success with 30 participants and great design ideas. The results of the community engagement process and the conceptual plan will be presented to the Norton City Council on Aug. 16.

Project partners are seeking grant funding for the remediation, design and construction of the Norton Riverwalk. A Clean Water Act settlement is paying for an environmental assessment of the site. Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club were recently plaintiffs in a Clean Water Act lawsuit that resulted in the defendant paying $35,000 for a Supplemental Environmental Project to complete the environmental assessment of the coal tipple site along the proposed Riverwalk. This assessment will be completed by the end of the year, opening the door for the project to continue.

New SWVa project shows top spots for turning old coal mines into economic drivers

Monday, June 20th, 2016 - posted by cat

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.45.15 PM

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator
(o) 276-679 1691, (m) 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org

Norton, VA — Appalachian Voices today released preliminary findings in an ongoing review of abandoned coal mine lands in Southwest Virginia to identify the best potential sites for reclamation and redevelopment for positive economic benefit for the region.

The nonprofit organization partnered with two expert consulting firms, Coal Mining Engineering Services and Downstream Strategies, to design and implement the analysis of 500 sites officially designated as “abandoned mine lands” (AML) by federal and state regulators. The initial findings released today narrow down the field of eligible sites to 21, scattered across seven counties in Southwest Virginia.

“This project brings a new way of thinking to the old problem of what to do with our region’s abandoned mine lands,” says Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “We’re using this study to connect existing ideas from communities across the area with new funding sources to create new economic activity while improving the environment.”

Among the potential projects the joint team is considering for the sites are solar farms, community parks, forestry operations and permaculture farms with closed-loop systems that integrate waste back into improving the soil for growing organic crops.

The team evaluated the hundreds of AML sites based on a variety of criteria. It reached out to local planners to find sites that are already earmarked for some level of redevelopment activity. The team also assessed sites for proximity to population centers, transportation, and utilities infrastructure and markets. Finally, the team evaluated sites based on potential eligibility specifically for funding from the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation introduced this year by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and co-sponsored by Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith, along with several other Appalachian lawmakers. The bill would expedite expenditure of $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which would be in addition to the fund’s annual allotment already coming to Southwest Virginia for mine reclamation.

The next step of the analysis will be a deeper assessment of each of the sites for its suitability for a variety of economic activities such as recreation and parks, renewable energy production, agroforestry, agriculture, and business or industrial park development.

The study was launched earlier this year, and the team expects to complete the final report this fall, which will be distributed to local, regional, state and federal entities to help further the growing conversation around economic diversification in Southwest Virginia.

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Connecting the Economic Dots in Southwest Virginia

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

At a recent economic summit in Wise, Va., Dickenson County resident Tammy Owens paused at the Appalachian Voices information booth to talk about reclaiming existing abandoned coal mines in ways that benefit the local economy. Owens runs an organic commercial farm on former strip mine land. She also wants to start an outfitter company running river trips along the Russell Fork River and is working with the county and the U.S. Forest Service to develop a boat take-out site on another abandoned strip mine.

Adam Wells, our economic diversification campaign coordinator, helped organize the May summit.

Adam Wells, our economic diversification campaign coordinator, helped organize the May summit.

Owens was one of more than 300 people who attended the 2016 Economic Forum on May 12 hosted by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The forum brought together public, private and nonprofit entities — including Appalachian Voices — working on economic development initiatives to help move Southwest Virginia forward.

Although the region is struggling, there are opportunities, too. Under the Obama administration’s POWER Initiative to boost areas around the country hit hard by coal’s decline, the 2016 federal budget includes a total of $65 million for matching grants. And if passed, the bipartisan RECLAIM Act would release an additional $1 billion over five years for remediation of abandoned mine lands that have a post-cleanup economic benefit.

During afternoon breakout sessions, attendees discussed topics such as education, workforce development, health, supporting existing businesses, attracting new businesses, developing the region’s agricultural and natural assets, and tapping into emerging industries like solar energy.

During breakout sessions, attendees discussed solar energy, agriculture, health and more.

During breakout sessions, attendees discussed solar energy, agriculture, health and more.

Developing solar energy in Southwest Virginia was one of the featured topics at the Appalachian Voices booth. For the past several months, we have been partnering with the nonprofit organization Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy to research opportunities for community-scale solar energy in the region. Our focus is on building the local economy by generating local jobs and relying on local services.

Our booth also focused on the opportunity to reclaim abandoned mine lands (generally strip mines closed prior to 1977) in a way that also develops economic opportunities such as solar energy. Appalachian Voices is currently working with environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies and engineering firm Coal Mining Engineering Systems, LLC, to identify optimal sites for potential funding under the RECLAIM Act.

Hundreds of ideas came out of the breakout sessions at the economic forum and are posted on the UVA-Wise website. Six action teams will continue to develop those ideas in advance of a 90-day progress meeting scheduled for Aug. 24.

For more information on the forum, visit tinyurl.com/swva-economic-forum. To learn more about our work, visit appvoices.org/new-economy.

New Virginia Main Street Towns Aim to Thrive

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Lexington and Wytheville, Va., are two of four new towns to be considered Virginia Main Street Communities. The Virginia Main Street Program, managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, works to revitalize select downtown economies, while preserving their historic value. Towns with a Main Street designation become eligible for certain grants, such as Downtown Improvement Grants that can provide up to $25,000 for one-time projects. Economic consulting services will also become available.

Main Street Lexington Executive Director Stephanie Wilkinson hopes to make use of the upper floors of downtown buildings for condos or small businesses. Wytheville plans on opening several new businesses over the summer in addition to the six that were established last year, and potentially more by the end of 2016. — Dylan Turner

Connecting the economic dots in Southwest Virginia

Thursday, May 19th, 2016 - posted by cat
Tammy Owens, owner of Foxfire Farm in  Dickenson County, Va., at the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum in May.

Tammy Owens, owner of Foxfire Farm in Dickenson County, Va., at the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum in May.

At a recent economic summit in Wise, Va., Tammy Owens paused at a display booth about the benefits of reclaiming abandoned coal mines as sites for new business. Owens owns land in nearby Dickenson County that years ago was a strip mine; it’s now in pasture for livestock as part of her organic commercial farm, established in 2011.

She also owns land along the Russell Fork River and wants to start an outfitter company that runs river trips. She’s working with the county and the U.S. Forest Service to put the take-out site downstream from her property, on another abandoned strip mine.

“It all circles back to sustainability, with the way our land is, the way it’s laid out, and keeping the natural beauty while we have a new economy,” she says. “It’s really exciting, there’s so many possibilities.”

Owens was one of more than 300 people who attended the 2016 Economic Forum on May 12, hosted by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The school is a key player in efforts to improve the region’s economy, and hosted the forum — with the tagline “Discover. Connect. Ignite.” — as a way to bring together the many public, private and nonprofit entities working on economic development initiatives to help move Southwest Virginia forward.

Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development addresses the audience. Copyright Tim Cox.

Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development addresses the audience. Copyright Tim Cox.

“Our commonwealth cannot be successful unless all our communities and regions are successfully growing,” said Matt Erskine, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary for Commerce for Economic Development and the morning’s featured speaker. “Yes, there are longstanding challenges in this region … but there is good reason to be optimistic.”

Under the Obama administration’s POWER Initiative to boost areas around the country hit hard by coal’s decline, the 2016 federal budget includes a total of $65 million for matching grants. The key, Erskine said, is partnership and collaboration. “It is not and cannot be a silver bullet,” he said. “It’s not a hand out. It’s all merit-based and competitive, and regional and local entities have to have skin in the game.”

at-tables-web

To help encourage the dialogue needed to foster collaboration, the conference planning partners — which included Appalachian Voices — set up a series of breakout sessions for the afternoon. Topics covered education, workforce development, health and wellness, keeping and supporting existing businesses, attracting new businesses, developing the region’s agricultural and natural assets, and tapping into emerging industries like solar energy.

Appalachian Voices, along with many other groups, companies and government agencies, had an information booth at the conference, and solar was one of our featured topics. Over the past several months, Appalachian Voices has been intensively researching the opportunities for community-scale solar energy in the region. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy, and we’re seeking ways to help Southwest Virginia tap into it. Our emphasis is on building local wealth, developing local systems and capacities that “in-source” labor, services, materials and procurement.

Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices' Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, who is based in our Norton, Va. office.

Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices’ Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, who is based in our Norton, Va. office.

The other topic displayed at our booth was the opportunity for turning abandoned mine lands (generally strip mines closed prior to 1977) into a force for positive development, including solar energy but also a variety of other economic endeavors. Appalachian Voices is currently working to identify optimal sites for potential funding under the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that would release $1 billion over five years for remediation of sites that have a post-cleanup economic benefit.

The concept resonated with Didi Caldwell, an international expert in industrial site selection. Caldwell stopped by the Appalachian Voices booth to talk about reclamation opportunities, and during her address to the conference she mentioned the idea and our work.

It’s also what intrigues Tammy Owens of Dickenson County.

“How do we go from the industry of coal that all these generations have grown up with … into something that’s drastically new?” she asks. As she has talked with people in the region, she has found some still deny coal’s decline, but more often she finds hesitation, misgivings, a “fear of the unknown.” “We’re at the point now, coal is gone forever and it’s not coming back. We’ve had lean years before and could wait it out.”

But this time, Owens says, the region has to embrace the chance to reinvent its economic future. Judging from the turnout and enthusiasm around the UVA-Wise Economic Forum, she’s not alone.

“We wanted it to build positive energy and we definitely accomplished that,” said Shannon Blevins, Associate Vice Chancellor at UVA-Wise and head of the school’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement. As far as she knows, it was the first time in the region so many people had come together to focus on solutions. “I think there’s power in getting that many people together who care about the region, and their neighbors.”

Hundreds of ideas came out of the breaking sessions, which Blevins and others have grouped into six broad areas and will post on UVA-Wise’s website inviting people to join those groups and keep the conversation going.

In the week since the forum, Blevins has heard positive feedback from people who attended, including one woman who told her it felt like a pivotal moment, “like in five years we’ll point back to the forum as the day things really started to turn the corner.”

RECLAIMing Central Appalachia

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 - posted by molly