Posts Tagged ‘transition’

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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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.

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.”

Crowdsourcing Southwest Virginia’s New Economy

Friday, November 20th, 2015 - posted by Adam
Adam Wells, economic diversification campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, at the community forums in  Wise County, October 15, 2015. Click for more pictures

Adam Wells, economic diversification campaign coordinator with Appalachian Voices, at the community forums in Wise County, October 15, 2015. Click for more pictures

This October, more than 130 citizens from across Southwest Virginia’s coalfield counties came together to discuss the region’s economic future. Appalachian Voices, in partnership with Virginia Organizing, hosted eight community forums to gather ideas and input from ordinary citizens about how to move the local economy forward. We called them “Southwest Virginia’s New Economy Forums.”

It was crowdsourcing old-school style — inviting ideas from community members whom you meet face-to-face. And I got to meet all kinds of people: small business owners, coal miners, local government officials, concerned citizens, environmentalists, clergy, students and young parents…people like Brianna Stallard, a recent graduate of UVA Wise who works at a local business that cleans polluted water from coal mines, and Bobby Bloomer, who recently opened a bike rental shop in Big Stone Gap and is tapping into the growing excitement around outdoor recreation and ecotourism in the area.

It was inspiring to see the level of enthusiasm and optimism that people brought with them, and the high hopes they hold for our region’s future.

In a few weeks, Appalachian Voices will publish an outline of all the ideas we heard, and early next year we’ll launch an online, wiki-type crowdsourcing project. The goal is to both broaden the reach of the effort and get more specific details about how to act on those ideas. Ultimately, we’ll synthesize the information into a “Citizens’ Roadmap for a New Economy” to help local governments, planning districts, and others garner federal and state funds for job training, infrastructure development, and other forward-looking economic development activities. The aim is to get more resources to Virginia’s coal counties for economic development.

The eight community forums were formatted as highly participatory events, with small group discussions on specific questions about new opportunities for the region’s economy. At the end of each forum, the small groups shared their ideas with the entire crowd and everyone had a chance to vote on their favorite ideas.

Common themes that surfaced included supporting advanced manufacturing and ecotourism, developing better relationships among local colleges and the surrounding communities, ensuring the area’s youth have a voice in helping shape the region’s future, and further developing the emerging industries of commercial drone and water-cleaning technologies. Forum participants also discussed the need to capitalize on existing broadband infrastructure and extend it to unserved areas.

As an organizer, I was heartened to see so many new faces each night at the forums. The solid turnout and the diversity of the attendees speaks to how urgent the work of economic diversification in Central Appalachia is right now. During the forums, and in the weeks since, people have been pulling me aside and thanking me for the work we’re doing to help our communities move on from the days of the coal mono-economy. It feels great to join with our friends and partners in this broad community effort to move our economy forward.

Publishing the summary of the forums in a few weeks and launching the online crowdsourcing project will keep the momentum going and stimulate more ideas from more people. The final report, or “Citizens’ Roadmap,” won’t just sit on a shelf. We’ll use it as an engagement tool to advocate for the forward thinking ideas that came out of the forums, and use the grassroots power that we’ve built over the process to make sure that the new economy we’re building in Southwest Virginia is one that’s truly good for people and the environment.

Appalachians Look to Branch Out from Coal-Based Economy

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 - posted by cat
Citizens of Wise County, Va., participate in a community forum hosted by Appalachian Voices to share their vision for a diversified economic future.

Citizens of Wise County, Va., participate in a community forum hosted by Appalachian Voices to share their vision for a diversified economic future.

Contact:
Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices, (276) 679-1691, adam@appvoices.org
Gabby Gillespie, The Alliance for Appalachia, (276) 220-5048, gabby.gillespie@sierraclub.org
Eric Dixon, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, (865) 202-8688, eric@appalachianlawcenter.org

Two dozen local government entities in the heart of Central Appalachia’s coalfields have passed resolutions calling for major federal investment to revive the region’s economy, which is struggling in the midst of the coal industry decline. Most have referred specifically to the White House budget proposal called the “POWER+ Plan.” All have passed unopposed.

Starting in July with the community of Norton, Va. —the first in the country to pass such a resolution—a groundswell of support has spread across the region for the plan, a $10 billion proposal to help coal-impacted communities across the country, including more than $1 billion for a range of economic initiatives in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. President Obama announced the plan in February as part of his proposed 2016 budget, but congressional representatives from the coal region have been slow to warm up to the plan.

The resolutions, and a variety of other public and private efforts in recent years, show the huge disconnect between what local citizens see as a necessary way forward to bolster the region’s economy and the politically motivated “war on coal” rhetoric of industry leaders and their allies.

“The benefits of the POWER+ Plan to the people of Eastern Kentucky, both in the short-term creation of jobs and business opportunities, as well as the long-term economic development of the region, are essential to overcome the devastating effects of our current economic difficulties as we transition to a post-coal economy,” wrote Pike County Executive William Deskins in a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers, on September 28, which he included with a copy of the resolution passed by the Pike County Fiscal Court.

The POWER+ Plan would provide $1 billion over five years to coal states and tribal lands to clean up abandoned mines that continue to pollute waterways and pose health and safety hazards, including almost $340 million for the four states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It would also provide $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission to support local food systems, health care, energy efficiency and other sectors in the agency’s 13-state region. Additionally, the plan earmarks $128 million to support worker retraining and other economic development initiatives in coal-impacted communities, and would ensure the solvency of the United Mine Workers of America’s health care and pension plans.

“The POWER+ Plan will provide funding to put local people to work building the broadband and municipal water and sewer infrastructure that is urgently needed in our mountain communities. We urge our West Virginia congressional delegation to support this funding proposal,” says Carey Jo Grace, a member of the Alliance for Appalachia from Charleston.

At the August meeting of the Wise County Board of Supervisors in southwest Virginia, citizens told officials the plan would help develop the region’s tourism assets, retrain laid-off miners, and support health and pension plans for retired miners. In response, board member Ron Shortt said: “We’re behind you 100 percent on this. We realize how important it is to southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

“There’s a strong sense of excitement and energy these days about the potential for the region, for expanding the opportunities for jobs and more sustainable businesses that are good for workers, communities and the environment,” says Adam Wells, in the Wise County office of Appalachian Voices. This fall, Wells led a project to host eight forums around southwest Virginia to get input from ordinary citizens about their vision for the future. More than 130 people attended, including many younger people who planned to stay involved, he said.

Andrianah Kilgore, 25, was one of them. “I want to see Wise County reach its full potential and I want to work for a better tomorrow, not only to benefit us now, but to benefit the future generations that love Wise and plan to reside here, just as I have chosen to do,” she says.

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KENTUCKY
Whitesburg City Council
Benham City Council
Benham Power Board
Harlan County Fiscal Court
City of Evarts
City of Vicco
Letcher County Fiscal Court
Pike County Fiscal Court
Bell County
Perry County
Floyd County

TENNESSEE
Campbell County Commission

VIRGINIA
City of Norton
Wise County Board of Supervisors
Cumberland Plateau Planning District
Town of Appalachia
Town Of Wise
Town of Dungannon
Town of Cleveland

WEST VIRGINIA
Fayette County
Lincoln County
City of Morgantown
Wyoming County
Kanawha County

Video Shows Rare View of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - posted by cat

CONTACT:
Cat McCue, Communications Director, (434) 293-6373; cat@appvoices.org

A short video released today by Appalachian Voices with stunningly detailed drone footage provides a rare view of mountaintop removal coal mining and the increasing proximity of this destructive form of mining to people living in Appalachia. The video also includes interviews with local citizens who want to end mountaintop removal mining and transition their communities in a more just and sustainable way.

View the video here (4:30).

Trip Jennings, an award-winning videographer who has worked with National Geographic, produced the video in partnership with Appalachian Voices and with support from Patagonia. Using camera drones and time-lapse photography, Jennings weaves images of the region’s natural wonders, the destruction from mountaintop removal, and the resiliency of the Appalachian people into an unforgettable tableau.

You’ll hear from Norman, a former coal miner who would like to see more rooftop solar and other forms of clean energy in the region …. Kathy, a coal-miner’s daughter-turned activist who is witnessing it moving ever-closer to communities … and Carmen, a young person determined to stay and create positive change in her hometown.

Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit regional organization, released the video as part of its “Communities At Risk” project, a data-based, online mapping tool showing the increasing encroachment of mountaintop removal mining on communities even as coal is in decline in Appalachia. The group’s aim is to educate Americans about what’s at stake in Appalachia and urge President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining.

“This is no way to leave a legacy,” says Kate Rooth, campaign director the organization. “It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations, starting with ending mountaintop removal mining.”

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Moving Appalachia forward

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 - posted by tom

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

Farmer's markets provide economic diversity to small communities throughout Appalachia.

Farmer’s markets provide economic diversity to small communities throughout Appalachia.

Earlier this month, President Obama showed that Appalachian citizens are finally being heard. The White House announced a proposal for more than $1 billion in federal funding to help build economic resilience for parts of the region long-dominated by the declining coal industry. While congressional approval would be needed to make this a reality, the announcement shines a spotlight on what should be a real national priority.

For years, people throughout the region have been calling for renewed investment in Appalachia, which powered America’s industrial ascendancy for more than a century while suffering from widespread pollution and poverty.

But citizens are not simply waiting for help. Rather, they have been taking bold steps toward creating a positive future for their families.

In Virginia, one example is the Clinch River Valley Initiative, a multi-partner effort to link downtown revitalization in Southwest Virginia communities with outdoor recreation along the Clinch River.

Another example, in Kentucky, is “Appalachia’s Bright Future,” a project hosted by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth that connects people and ideas to nourish and promote economic diversity efforts occurring in the region.

And in West Virginia, Sustainable Williamson is a living lab of “community-driven processes to breathe life back into central Appalachia.”

These are just a few of many efforts underway region wide, and Appalachian Voices is collaborating with citizens and other organizations to pursue opportunities to diversify the economy while honoring the natural and cultural heritage.

President Obama identified a suite of ideas in his budget proposal — funding for job training, improved infrastructure, restoration of forests, waters, and abandoned mines, and other tools to diversify the region’s economy and support communities. His proposal signals that the White House believes the country must stand behind Appalachian communities as we move toward a 21st-century economy that is no longer dominated by coal.

Let’s work together to hold him to it.

For the mountains,
Tom