Photo by Joseph Gareri/iStock
Native elk disappeared in Virginia in the mid-19th century. State officials are considering repopulating southwest Virginia with Rocky Mountain elk.
Hundreds of people turned out for public hearings held by the Corps of Engineers in October in Appalachia as the agency considers a major change in how it permits mountaintop removal coal mining. Currently, the Corps issues a one-size-fits-all type of permit, which allows coal companies to dump rubble into streams. The agency proposes switching to individual permits for Appalachian coal mines, with case-by-case analysis of environmental impacts and public comment. Hearings in West Virginia and Kentucky turned fiery as coal miners, concerned over losing jobs, shouted down mining opponents and Corps officials. A final decision is expected within a few months. http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-16803.pdf
The permit proposal is one result of an agreement this year between the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the tremendous environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. In September, the EPA announced it was suspending 79 pending permit applications for further review due to concerns over compliance with water quality laws. epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/mining-screening.html
Two reservoir proposals in north Georgia are raising concerns among conservationists who say they aren’t needed. Hall County is considering damming Flat Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River, for an 850-acre reservoir; an Austrian developer would partner with the county to build homes around the lake. Another company is proposing a 2,000-acre reservoir on a tributary of Etowah River, on land in Dawson County owned by Atlanta. Planners say the reservoirs are needed to meet demand during drought, while conservation groups say they would cause too much ecological damage. The debates are intensified by a federal ruling this summer that Atlanta is illegally drawing water from Lake Lanier and must find alternative sources. coosa.org, ucriverkeeper.org, georgiawaterplanning.org
The U.S. Forest Service made a final decision in October to close the entire upper Tellico River area in the Nantahala National Forest to off-road vehicle use in order to restore and maintain water quality in the watershed, one of the last, best habitats for native brook trout. Years of intensive ORV use had sent an estimated 25,000 tons of mud into Tellico tributaries, according to agency studies, which found muddy runoff reaching streams in hundreds of locations. The move comes after years of struggle between the agency, ORV users and conservation groups, both of which had threatened to sue the USFS. Most of the trails will be closed and reclaimed, and the remaining trails converted to forest roads for public access. cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/nepa/tusquitee/tellico.htm
Boone-based Appalachian Voices has been named one of five “Google Earth Heroes” by the Internet search engine giant. The recognition is for people or groups around the world who use Google Earth as a tool to help make the planet a better place. The mission of Appalachian Voices is to empower people to defend the Appalachia region’s natural and cultural heritage. Its current focus is on ending mountaintop removal coal mining and eliminating air pollution. appvoices.org, google.com/earth/changetheworld/#e
The Tennessee Valley Authority has promised to spend $43 million to help develop the economy in Roane County, where a massive spill of coal-ash slurry from its Kingston power plant last year wreaked havoc. TVA has conjured a new controversy with a proposal to dump dry ash from the Kingston plant in a defunct coal mine in Cumberland County. The county commission likes the idea, and the company proposing the project says building a lined landfill for the ash will help solve the acid-mine drainage at the site. Still, many local residents are wary of potential air and water pollution from the coal ash, and some have filed suit. socm.org, www.brockhill.org
The last native elk in Virginia was killed in the 1850s; now state officials are considering introducing a related, larger species, the Rocky Mountain elk, to boost hunting and tourism in economically challenged southwest Virginia. Already, some 125 elk have crossed into the state from Kentucky, where a successful elk-introduction program now tallies some 11,000 of the big-game animals. Michigan, Pennsylvania and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park also have introduced Rocky Mountain elk. While hunters and others in Virginia are enthusiastic about the prospect, farmers are worried the elk could spread disease to livestock. dgif.virginia.gov
Roanoke Valley marked two important land conservation deals this fall. In September, Roanoke City completed an easement on 5,178 acres around its drinking water supply, Carvins Cove. Combined with a 6,185-acre easement in 2008, the Carvins Cove Natural Reserve became the largest publicly-held easement in the state, and the second largest municipal park in the country. In October, the city formally agreed to support plans for permanent easements on Mill Mountain and the surrounding 600-acre park. The mountain, on the National Register of Historic Places, has periodically been eyed for various developments; the easements would protect it in perpetuity. virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org, westernvirginialandtrust.org
In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency said in October it plans to revoke a mountaintop removal coal mining permit issued by the Corps of Engineers for a project in Logan County. The Spruce No. 1 mine would be the largest in Appalachia, covering 2,278 acres. The EPA said it was taking the action – a first since the 1972 Clean Water Act – due to the magnitude and scale of anticipated environmental impacts, including valley fills of about seven stream miles. Company officials with Arch Coal, Inc., as well as Governor Manchin, objected, saying the permit was the most scrutinized in state history, taking 10 years to complete. blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo
Gypsy moths cool off in Virginia
The cool, wet summer meant less damage this year:
112,340 acres defoliated last year
29,000 acres defoliated statewide this year
12,288 acres defoliated this year in the two national forests
5,700 acres damaged in Shenandoah National Park
The Southern Environmental Law Center's Reed Environmental Writing Award
The Southern Environmental Law Center announces its 15th annual Reed Environmental Writing Award. January 11, 2010 is the deadline for entries in both categories – non-fiction book and journalism – each of which carries a $1,000 prize. The entries must relate to the environment in at least one of the six states in which the nonprofit SELC works: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
SELC has assembled a stellar panel of 11 writers and activists for the judges panel, including poet Nikki Giovanni, Bill McKibben ("Deep Economy"), and Janise Ray ("Ecology of a Cracker Childhood"). See southernenvironment.org/about/reed_environmental_writing_award for a full list of judges and details about the contest.
In addition, SELC is hosting popular southern author Lee Smith at an event during the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, in Charlottesville, March 20. Smith will read from her new novel, "Mrs. Darcy Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger," and reflect on the meaning of the southern landscape in her work. Winners of the Reed award will be announced at the event, which is open and free to the public. –CM