Tomorrow marks a frustrating day for FOC staff and other organizations working to remediate acid mine drainage (AMD) impacted streams and rivers. On September 30, the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fee collection expires, and halts a majority of the future funding FOC and WVDEP could use to treat AMD sources in the Cheat River watershed.
The Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation program fund, part of the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act of 1977 (SMCRA), authorizes the collection of fees on current coal producers on a per ton coal produced basis. Prior to tomorrow, the fee collection generated the pool of funding available to treat Priority 1, 2, and 3 AMD sites. Many of FOC’s current AMD treatment systems are built on Priority 2 and 3 sites.
Currently, the reauthorization of the AML program is wrapped up in the giant Energy Infrastructure bill, where $11.289 billion is slated for AML, but new regulations concerning the distribution of funding leaves many streams and rivers, including the Cheat, in the lurch.
In the opinion of FOC and many of our partners in AMD, the current version included in the bill is not adequate. It lowers the AML fee by 20%, gives too short of a timeframe to spend out the $11+ billion, doesn’t allow spending on Priority 3 sites – most of which are the AMD problem areas – and doesn’t allow states to put funds in their set-aside accounts that pay for the ongoing costs of AMD treatment.
This is a huge setback to the Cheat River. To put this into perspective, Lick Run Portals, a Priority 3 site, has been the lower Cheat watershed’s largest source of acidity for many years. If no amendments to the bill are passed, this AMD source, and so many others like it, will be left without a clear path forward for remediation. Also, limiting funding for water treatment puts existing long-term restoration projects like that on Muddy Creek at risk, as funding for ongoing operations and maintenance would be restricted.
Finally! A big win for FOC’s Preston Rail-Trail Committee!
For Immediate Release – April 7, 2015
Today, project partners Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission (PCPaRC) and Friends of the Cheat (FOC) announced that ten miles of the former West Virginia Northern railroad corridor between Kingwood and Tunnelton has been purchased for conversion into a rail-trail.
Funding for the property acquisition was provided by the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways; the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust; and, the West Virginia Division of Tourism. The property and associated trail rights were purchased from Utah-based Kern Valley Railroad which acquired the railroad in 2000 following the closure of the stakeholder-operated Kingwood Northern tourist train.
Since 2002, a group of volunteers known as the Preston Rail-Trail Committee (PRTC) has worked persistently and patiently on developing rail-trails on three corridors in Preston County, and this purchase marks the group’s first rail-trail acquisition. In 2011, FOC took action to bring attention and resources to other aspects of the project. These efforts resulted in a wave of activity: the century old water tower was listed as a historic Endangered Property by Preservation Alliance of West Virginia; funding and technical support from the West Virginia Northern Brownfields Assistance Center supported the development of conceptual revitalization plans for the former railcar maintenance facility near the water tower; and Stan Hostler donated 2.5 acres of property adjacent to the water tower and trail. The emergence of the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission as a partner represents the project’s final keystone because their willingness to own and manage the trail allows the project to come to fruition.
“The West Virginia Northern Rail-Trail is exactly the type of endeavor the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission was formed to support. The rail-trail will link two communities and provide a new outdoor space for free, low-impact exercise.” explains PCPaRC President Lynn Housner. PCPaRC Commissioner Paul Martin believes the new rail-trail will also “enhance existing recreation opportunities offered at the Craig Civic Center and local schools in both Kingwood and Tunnelton.”
PCPaRC and FOC are ready to hit the trail running, and they have the funds to do so. The Recreational Trails program has granted the project team an additional $420,000 for rail-trail design and construction. With support from the Division of Highways, design will commence immediately with construction slated for 2016. A ground breaking event is being planned for this summer.
The groups will fundraise for additional rail-trail construction and maintenance funds. On Saturday, May 2nd PRTC will host the 11th annual Cheat Fest 5K with proceeds benefitting rail-trail projects in Preston County. Sign up to participate at http://cheatfest.org/activities-2/5k/
PRTC is eager to get more community members involved. The group meets the first Monday of each month at 5pm at the FOC offices in Kingwood. Learn more at www.cheat.org/recreation/trails.