Across Appalachia

West Virginia: New River Gorge threatened by massive development

A real estate developer has proposed a 2,200-home development along ten contiguous miles of the rim of the New River Gorge in Fayette County. The Atlanta-based development firm, Land Resource Companies, hopes to complete the purchase of 4,300 acres by the end of February. If it is constructed, the development would be visible from several popular overlooks on the east side of the Gorge, such as Diamond Point on the Endless Wall and Babcock State Park.

Beloved by people across America, the New River Gorge is protected by the National Park Service as a “national river.” But the protected status only includes the river and the gorge, leaving the canyon rim vulnerable to development. Fayette County has zoned this property for “land conservation,” but the developer has filed an application requesting it be re-zoned for “planned development.”

Those concerned about the development are encouraged to attend public hearings in Fayette County on February 22 and 25, and to send polite emails by February 25 to Matthew Wender, Fayette County Commissioner, at mwender@cwv.net. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy hopes that people from across the nation will submit comments – contact them for more information.

North Carolina: Conservancy Protects Large and Important Tracts of Land in NC

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy purchased another 67 acres in the Roan Massif on December 30, 2004. The sale is the second of three phases, which will culminate in the ownership of a 145-acre tract. The Conservancy has been working to secure protection of land above 4,000 feet elevation in the Roan Massif area since its incorporation in 1974.

So far, the Conservancy has helped to protect 15, 000 acres in Roan Massif, which is now mostly owned by the U.S. Forest Service. According to lands program director David Ray, the Conservancy tries to buy tracts of land adjoining preserved land to expand the existing range for wildlife.
Roan Mountain’s high elevation forestland, reaching over 5,400 feet, is surrounded by 220 acres of Conservancy land, which is adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest. It is part of the transition zone between northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests, important habitat for such endangered species as the Carolina northern flying squirrel.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is a volunteer-based non-profit organization that works with individuals and local communities to conserve the clean water, unique plant and animal habitat and scenic beauty of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Alabama: New Book Published about the Fight to Protect Alabama’s Wilderness

The efforts of grassroots activists in Alabama to establish three wilderness areas in the state have been documented and published this year in John N. Randolph’s new book, The Battle for Alabama’s Wilderness: Saving the Great Gymnasiums of Nature.
The book is divided chronologically by order of establishment into four parts: The Sipsey Wilderness Area, The Cheaha Wilderness Area, The Sipsey Wilderness Expansion and The Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area.

The initial effort to establish the Sipsey Wilderness Area began in 1967. It was one of the first areas east of the Mississippi River to be the focus of a campaign for Congressional wilderness designation.

Randolph was personally involved in the efforts to establish these areas. In addition to writing about his own personal accounts, Randolph incorporates the voices of the other players, using newspaper clippings, Congressional testimonies and personal interviews.

Georgia: State legislature passes land conservation bill

The first bill to pass in the 2005 Georgia state legislature is a land conservation initiative that will provide new funds to protect green space in the state. Called the Georgia Land Conservation Act, it passed the Senate almost unanimously on February 14. The bill combines $100 in funds from federal, state, and private sources that will be used to encourage private landowners to permanently protect their land from development by funding conservation easements. The money can also be used to buy land for state parks and wildlife areas.

A broad coalition that included conservationists, hunters, farmers, and developers supported the bill. Decisions about how the money is to be spent will be made by a new state board, the Georgia Land Conservation Council. The bill instructs the board to prioritize land according to its ecological, historical, and cultural significance, as well as scenic views, wildlife habitat, and recreation areas.

Kentucky: Groups Sue Army Corps of Engineers over Mountaintop Removal Permitting

Three Kentucky environmental organizations – Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance – have banded together to sue the Army Corps of Engineers over nearly 200 valley fills caused by mountaintop removal. The suit is similar to a successful lawsuit filed in West Virginia that blocked the Army Corps from using a “nationwide,” or “general” permit that streamlines the authorization process for valley fills.
Valley fills are created when the rock from mountaintop removal coal mining operations is dumped into the valleys below. Since March of 2002, more than 50 streamlined permits have been approved, and will bury over 30 miles of Kentucky’s streams.

Tennessee: Wind Towers to Be Manufactured in TN

Chattanooga has been chosen as the site of a new factory that will build towers for wind turbines. The company, Aerisyn LLC, will spend more than $7 million and employ up to 150 people, according to an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The mayor of Hamilton County, where Chattanooga is located, told the paper, “These are the kinds of jobs we’re talking about when we talk about the future of manufacturing.”

Chattanooga has been working for years to promote itself as a sustainable city, and that no doubt contributed to its success in beating out cities in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Kansas to recruit the manufacturer. After being named the city with the worst air pollution in America in 1969, city leaders decided to revive the downtown and focus on environmental health and sustainability. Three decades later, Chattanooga is a thriving city and one of America’s greatest success stories in urban renewal.

Virginia: Clean Smokestacks Act stalls in committee

On February 2, the Virginia Clean Smokestacks Act was rejected by the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources in the state’s General Assembly. The electric utility industry had lobbied heavily against the bill, which would have reduced pollution from the state’s coal fired power plants. The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Jack Reid from Richmond, has vowed to reintroduce the clean air legislation in the 2006 General Assembly. Mobilizing public support for the bill will be critical to its ultimate passage.

Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of Appalachian Voices, says, “North Carolina legislators have told us that the state’s Clean Smokestacks Act would not have passed without the massive display of public support for the legislation. That will be critical in Virginia if we ever hope to overcome the utility industry’s well-funded opposition to any strengthening of our clean air laws.”

South Carolina: USC Opens World’s Largest “Green Dorm”

This semester, USC officials and students are celebrating the official opening of South Carolina’s “green dorm,” the largest residence-hall complex of its kind in the world.

The “West Quad” complex was built with the hope that “[students] will realize that comfort and ‘green’ are not mutually exclusive,” says USC Housing Director Dr. Gene Luna.

Built with a significant amount of recycled materials ranging from the cement blocks to the interior carpet, the West Quad uses 45% less energy and 20% less water than similarly sized traditional dorms.
Dr. Luna says he is particularly proud that West Quad, which cost $30.9 million, was built for the same cost as a traditional residence hall, debunking the myth that building green costs more. Furthermore, he says, “We will be operating the complex with significantly reduced utility costs.”

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