Junior Walk of Coal River Mountain Watch joined me on the recent Pennsylvania Appalachian Treasures Tour. Junior is from the Coal River Valley, attended Marsh Fork Elementary School, worked at prep plant, and was a security guard on a mountaintop removal mine. Oh, and by the way he is only twenty years old.
At all times Junior presented his story with eloquence, confidence and a certain inherent honesty that overwhelmed the audience. He was a delight to travel with, and I felt privileged to share the stage with him.
Approximately 100 hand written letters addressed to Senator Specter were generated at the presentations that Junior spoke at. As you all know Senator Specter is seen as a pivotal vote on the EPW committee.
Less than two weeks left until our Watauga Riverkeeper Festival. Come out on July 24, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Community Park in Valle Crucis, N.C.! Enjoy a day of outdoor recreation and a celebration of the river with live music, games, food and if the river is running—a float down the wild and wonderful Watauga River. This week’s river reptile:
The Bog Turtle: A Shy Little Guy
The bog turtle is the smallest turtle in North America. As a full grown adult, it maxes out at three to four inches!
They are easy to distinguish from other turtles, clad in a dark-brown shell with a distinctive red, orange or yellow blotchy marking on either side of its neck.
This reptile is no picky eater. Bog turtles are omnivorous, snacking on everything from worms, snails and beetles to berries and seeds.
Bog turtles prefer to live in wetland areas, such as wet meadows, fens and bogs. Occasionally, though, there are sightings of bog turtles roaming around in cattle pastures.
The bog turtle often lives about 20-30 years, but has been known to survive for over 50 years. You can tell how old a bog turtle is by counting its rings on its scute, a section of its shell. Each ring is a year, minus one ring that develops before the turtle is born.
Bog turtles are threatened by destruction of their habitats, particularly because of human development. An illegal trade that captures and sells them as pets is also a major threat to this species.
Keep a sharp eye out while you are enjoying your afternoon at the river, bog turtles are difficult to spot. They are rare and spend most of their time underwater, nestled in the mud or hiding in thick vegetation. They do like to lie out in sun and they are most often seen after periods of rainfall. So this week’s rainy days might help out your chances at catching a glance of this elusive tiny turtle.
As human beings, we dream of getting on a Kawasaki Jet Ski and flying through the water at breakneck speeds. But for Dragonflies, of the order Odonata, every newborn gets this ability built-in, with a natural water propulsion system that helps it shoot across the water without even moving its arms or legs.
What most people don’t know about the Dragonfly, of whom we usually think as a large and colorful insect that flies quickly around the skies, is that it spends the majority of its life in the immature nymph phase, swimming around in the water rather than the air.
Dragonfly nymphs are hatched from eggs in water, and spend up to five years developing and feeding off mosquito larva in streams and rivers before taking off into the air. They have an extremely unique system of respiration, breathing through a set of posterior gills. To create the Jet Ski propulsion system, Dragonfly nymphs rapidly expel water through their anuses; no wonder scientists dubbed this the “immature” phase!
As if that isn’t fun enough, the nymphs also wear a beautiful set of armor that, depending on the species, can be a variety of vivid colors.
Whether it’s shooting through water with a built-in Jet Ski, wearing a full suit of armor, or flying around the air eating anything that gets in your way, being a Dragonfly sounds like every kid’s dream!
Appalachia, of course, is the heart of the Coal industry, but more sustainable visions for the future are more prevalent than you might think.
One standout endeavor is the JOBS project, a Williamson, WV-based initiative that seeks to train unemployed construction workers in the installation of solar panels. Partnering with Mountainview Solar & Wind LLC, the JOBS project recently got a bit of a publicity boost when the BBC came to film the maiden installation of their project on a home in southern Morgan County.
The success of the project and its public presence could spark new interest in solar energy, proving that it is, over time, cost-reducing, and most importantly, sustainable.
And this isn’t the only forward-thinking project on the table; there is currently a hot debate over the future of Coal River Mountain, WV. Massey Energy is proposing a vast mountaintop removal mining site on the mountain range, but the Coal River Mountain Watch says that area would be perfect for an equally vast – but far less destructive – wind farm.
Both of these projects highlight what might be a surprising fact: Even in the heart of West Virginia, Solar and Wind Energies are being seriously considered for the region’s energy future.
Four weeks left until our Watauga Riverkeeper Festival. Come out on July 24, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Community Park in Valle Crucis, N.C.! Enjoy a day of outdoor recreation and a celebration of the river with live music, games, food and if the river is running—a float down the wild and wonderful Watauga River. Meet our mascot: Hillary the Hellbender salamander.
Sasquatch of the Salamanders
Cryptic, territorial, and elusive are traits inherent to the hellbender salamander, a unique and formidable-looking creature with almost prehistoric appeal. The Eastern hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in the United States, affectionately known as the snot otter, devil dog, and Appalachian alligator. The giant amphibian averages from 12 to 15 inches, but has been known to grow over two feet in length and hides almost reclusively during the day beneath flat rocks in shallow, clean, and quick moving streams.
“If a fisherman catches a hellbender they’ll kill them,” said Jesse Pope, chief naturalist at Grandfather Mountain. “The reason for that is that they think the hellbenders are eating the fish, but that’s just not true.”
Rarely seen due to its nocturnal nature and secluded lifestyle, the hellbender has a voracious appetite, but not for fish. These toothless giants hunt for crayfish, toads and salamanders among other tasty morsels. The hellbender is exclusively found in the mountains and surrounding local areas in the eastern United States, with their largest concentration, here, in western North Carolina. Provided their mountain rivers and streams stay clear and unpolluted, a hellbender will start reproducing at age four and can live for more than 30 years in ideal conditions.
These unique creatures are very important indicators of water quality because as adults they breathe entirely through their skin. That makes them extremely sensitive to pollution and siltation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as near threatened and they are close to qualifying for vulnerable status. In addition to the threat of misled fishermen, the hellbenders are threatened by habitat loss and degradation.
“Hellbenders have to have good water quality and relatively low sediments in the water,” Pope said. “Sediments come from development, impacting streams, road run off and storm water run off.”
Hellbender populations have dramatically declined in the last 25 years and even though several institutions are making heroic attempts to breed them in captivity, none have been successful. “It is critically important for us to protect pristine mountain streams in order to save these rare and threatened salamanders,” said Donna Lisenby Watauga Riverkeeper, “We simply have to stop strip mining in Appalachia because it contributes tone of sediment and pollutants to these irreplaceable headwaters streams.”
“The concern is that a lot of the hellbenders we’re finding are big hellbenders, 15 to 20 years old,” Pope said. “We’re not finding the little ones. This raises concern. Are they remnant populations that are there? Are they no longer reproducing? Are these the last hellbenders that are going to be in those streams?”
Keep a keen eye out at the festival; perhaps you’ll catch a glance of this elusive, rare and spectacular salamander. Rumor has it that you might be able to get a one-of-a-kind Hellbender T-shirt at the festival because, “The Riverkeeper team at Appalachian Voices is hellbent on saving our beloved mountain rivers,” Lisenby said.
Larry is renowned for his hospitality; he his always available to show people the mountaintop removal coalmine adjacent to his land and is the host of annual parties that routinely draw hundreds of attendees.
Unfortunately, Larry’s outspoken stance on mountaintop removal, and his courageous efforts in standing up to the coal companies, has led to threats of violence and to repeated acts of vandalism to his property. This winter a campaign was launched to raise money for a security system for Larry’s home and public park. Through online donations, a drawing and the tireless efforts of volunteers, over ten thousand dollars were successfully raised to purchase Larry a state of the art security system. This weekend a crew of hardworking volunteers successfully installed the new system, just in time for Larry’s legendary 4th of July party.
Thanks to all who donated time, money and effort to make Larry’s security system a reality.
Tickets are now available online for the third annual Music on the Mountaintop Festival, which is quickly becoming one of Boone’s largest music festivals. Just visit Music on the Mountaintop to purchase tickets in advance for the event, held on August 28th and 29th.
The festival combines a love for music with an environmental consciousness, and part of its proceeds go toward several non-profits dedicated to environmental awareness.
We are delighted that this year’s main featured non-profit will be Appalachian Voices! Other organizations include the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE), ASU Energy Center, NC Green Power, High Country Conservancy, Dogwood Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, and the Hunger Coalition.
The 2010 initial lineup includes: Sam Bush, Keller Williams, Railroad Earth, Acoustic Syndicate, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Toubab Krewe, Josh Phillips Folk Festival, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, The Dirty Guv’nuhs, The Mumbles, Uncle Mountain, The Native sway, Farm Vegas, BPL, The Moderate, Big daddy Love, and many more.
The festival will have crafts, a 35-foot climbing wall, and other activities in addition to music. In keeping with its mission of environmental awareness, the festival will use solar power, compostable products, and recycling removal systems among its methods of reducing its environmental footprint.
Duke Energy has recently made comments hinting that they would like to see an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, but some are skeptical of their commitment.
Duke has asked its suppliers to quote the price for coal not mined with the controversial mountaintop removal technique, a first for the company. Senior vice president Paul Newton also said that the company sees mountaintop removal coal as “a non-sustainable coal.”
Some environmentalists, however, have their doubts.
“I have very strong suspicions that this is not about a sincere effort to protect mountaintops from coal mining,” said Appalachian Voices program director Matt Wasson, citing PR gains from an ostensible concern over mountaintop removal as a potential motive.
Either way, it might not be entirely Duke’s decision. Certain state regulations prohibit energy companies from producing anything other than the cheapest electricity. If non-mountaintop removal coal is significantly more expensive, state regulators could stop Duke even if they wanted to go through with the move.
Four counties in West Virginia are in a state of emergency after 4.8 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period caused major flooding in the state’s southern region.
While there were no fatalities, the flooding caused severe property damage, which is especially detrimental for the many without flood insurance.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin toured the affected regions and is sending state resources their way.
Logan County, one of the counties most heavily affected by the flooding, is also one of the most heavily surfaced-mined for coal. The silt runoff from mountaintop removal coal mining can fill riverbeds and creeks, which then flood with increased rainfall.
Mountaintop removal has been proven to exacerbate flooding in many cases, and one of Manchin’s main goals in future flood prevention action includes cleansing rivers of silt and other clogging materials.
“Don’t Blast Our Homes!” That’s what Wise County residents told the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy when more than 20 community members gathered outside the DMME’s office in Big Stone Gap to rally in opposition to A&G Coal’s proposed Ison Rock Ridge surface mine. “Ison Rock Ridge is families. Keep it standing!” said one picketer’s sign. Two individuals even delivered a “Certificate of Failure” to the DMME for failing to protect communities.
Residents of Inman, Derby, Arno, and Andover – communities that are directly adjacent to the pending 1,200+ acre mountain-top removal mine – took turns addressing the crowd to express their disapproval of the DMME’s apparent support for the project.
“The DMME and the state of Virginia seem to be ignoring regulations protecting our waterways. It’s a shame we have to contact Washington DC to get our state officials to obey the law,” said Jane Branham a resident of Big Stone Gap and Vice President of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), the Wise County-based community group that organized the demonstration.
Ben Hooper, a resident of Inman added, “The DMME’s not there to protect us. It’s their job to keep the coal money flowing to Richmond, not to make sure the coal is mined responsibly.”
The event was spurred because the DMME recently approved a portion of the proposed mine, despite the fact that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers continue to hold the pending mine’s NPDES permit for review due to evidence that strip-mining of such scale invariably violates the Clean Water Act. If operated, this particular mine would destroy three miles of streams and fill nine valleys with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt. The EPA has sent a letter to the DMME reiterating that the pertinent permits remain under federal jurisdiction.
“This thing would have happened nearly three years ago if it hadn’t been for us,” declared Dorothy Taulbee, a former resident of Stonega, referring to the previous successes of SAMS’ work to preserve the communities surrounding Ison Rock Ridge. The organization was formed in 2007 and has been fighting the Ison Rock Ridge permit since the beginning. In 2008, SAMS secured meetings between community members and EPA representatives and mobilized dozens of local residents to speak out against the proposal at public hearings. These efforts led to the EPA’s intervention in the permitting process, halting the mine thus far.
On Tuesday and over the course of this week, supporters of SAMS from across the state will be visiting Senator Jim Webb’s offices in Roanoke, Virginia Beach, and Falls Church to deliver a message from coalfield residents asking for the Senator’s support in defending the communities adjacent to Ison Rock Ridge. A similar event will take place at the EPA’s region 3 offices in Philadelphia where allies of the local organization will deliver a letter thanking the agency for affording adequate scrutiny and oversight to the proposed mountaintop removal mine, and asking that the NPDES permit be ultimately denied.
SAMS supports deep-mining and other industries that provide jobs for the people of Wise County, but they say Mountaintop Removal mining favors explosives and heavy machinery to workers. SAMS is concerned about the impacts A & G’s Coal Company’s proposed mine would have on nearby streams that have already exceeded acceptable levels of pollution from mine discharge, and will regard the issuance of the Ison Rock Ridge Permit by the DMME to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards will continue to fight for the people of Appalachia and surrounding communities until the permits for the Ison Rock Ridge mine are denied once and for all.
North Carolina State Representatives have introduced a bill this week that if passed, will strip North Carolina investments in Massey Energy Company. Reps. Pricey Harrison, Paul Luebke, Susan Fisher and Earl Jones recently introduced a bill into the General Assembly that would mandate the divestiture of state funds from Massey Energy. North Carolina owns 385,000 shares of Massey Energy stock, currently valued at approximately $12 million.
This effort to strip state investments from Massey is being led by Representative Pricey Harrison of Greensboro North Carolina. Rep. Harrison is no stranger to Massey’s reputation as a bad actor. In 2009, she was the lead sponsor of the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act. This bill would have prohibited North Carolina utilities from purchasing mountaintop removal coal
“Massey Energy Company is a rogue corporation that puts company profits before the safety of miners,” said Harrison. “North Carolina has no business investing state funds in a corporation that routinely places its workers at risk and has absolutely no regard for environmental protection.”
Earlier this month, North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell and a coalition of institutional investors urged Massey shareholders to withhold votes from the three board of director members responsible for mining safety in the company. All three were re-elected. This prompted the bill sponsors to take the actions of the State Treasurer a step further. If this bill passes the State Treasurer will be instructed to sell off all Massey Energy Stock.
Appalachian Voices is proud to support this bill, and we hope to see movement in the General Assembly.
“Maintaining our current investment locks North Carolina into Massey’s negligent behavior, which has cost the lives of American miners,” said Austin Hall, Field Organizer for the regional non-profit organization Appalachian Voices. “This company’s deplorable safety and environmental standards fly in the face of our state’s hard-earned reputation for safe workplaces and environmental stewardship.”
Law enforcement officials and river conservationists happily collected approximately 188,563 pills and 20.2 gallons of liquid medication during High Country’s second prescription drug take back event on May 22nd. More than 38 volunteers and 16 law enforcement officials from Watauga and Avery counties participated in Operation Medicine Cabinet, and the amount of drugs obtained was over four times that of the previous year. Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman could not have been more pleased.
“Through joint operations with multiple partners in both counties, we made this one of the most successful drug take back events in the state of NC,” he said.
Approximately 154 people turned in a wide variety of unused medications, from oxycodone and hydrocodone to anti-depressants and pet medications, for safe destruction. Parents and conservationists alike lauded the efforts, both for keeping prescription drugs away from children and for preventing the consequences of their unsafe disposal.
“I needed to get rid of the out-of-date drugs because I don’t want prescription drugs around my teenage son,” said one local mom.
Volunteer Crystal Simmons said, “For the High Country to create such an event is a real testament to our commitment to a healthier environment and a safer community.”
In addition to individual volunteers, the event had over 30 community partners that helped make the event a huge success.