Friends of the Cheat has been awarded $100,000 from the DTE Foundation to study the removal of the Albright Power Station Dam. Other than the dam at Cheat Lake, this obsolete dam, located 29.3 miles upstream of Cheat Lake, is the only barrier to aquatic passage for migrating species of fish, such as walleye, throughout the entire 78.3 mile-long Cheat River main stem. The Albright Power Station Dam reduces water quality by allowing water to slow and stagnate and is a dangerous hazard to boaters and anglers. The dam is a component of a First Energy coal-fired power plant decommissioned in September 2012. The pool created by the dam once fed the plant’s cooling towers. The plant and dam remain as relics. Removal will eliminate the burdens of maintenance and repair along with any safety concerns.
“Preserving our environment – land, air and water – is a priority for the DTE Energy Foundation,” said Lynette Dowler, president of the DTE Energy Foundation. “We’re proud to support Friends of the Cheat in their work to remove a dam that will improve aquatic life and enhance fishing along this beautiful waterway.” Over the last 25 years, Cheat River water quality has vastly improved. Fish can be found throughout the entirety of the river, and populations in Cheat Lake show continued growth and diversity with over 45 species logged. Removing the Albright Power Station Dam would improve river habitat for aquatic life, including pollution-sensitive walleye and smallmouth bass. Dam removal would also improve water quality for once-present species, including the Eastern Hellbender and freshwater mussels, and could act as a catalyst for restoring and reintroducing these sensitive species in the Cheat River.
Once a liability, the Cheat River is now an asset fueling the recreation renaissance throughout the region. Whitewater paddlers have returned and outfitters are seeing renewed interest. The Cheat River and Lake are hosting annual bass fishing tournaments as well as competitive Global whitewater events. With the dam removed, paddlers could navigate the river 162 miles from its headwaters on Shavers Fork near Snowshoe, WV north to Cheat Lake. Without the dam, both outfitters and private paddlers would benefit through the expansion of access sites and connected river miles enabling new types of trips and experiences (tubing, SUP, multi-day trips, races, etc.)
“Removing the Albright Dam, if found feasible, is the next logical step in our mission to restore the Cheat River,” said Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager for FOC. “FOC has dedicated 25 years to restoring the Cheat from acid mine drainage, and now we are beginning to reap the rewards; improved water quality and healthy pH, a diversity of fish species recolonizing in the river — including acid-sensitive smallmouth bass and walleye, and renewed interest in river recreation. Removing this barrier allows the river to flow naturally, rather than slow artificially and drop out sediment and other material, and fish and other aquatic life can migrate upstream and downstream as needed in particular life stages.”
A qualified consulting firm will be hired to conduct a reconnaissance level study of the Albright Power Dam. Results of the study will provide information on the current structural integrity of the dam, how much sediment has accumulated behind the dam and its composition, a mapping of the bottom of the river, and calculated anticipated flows. The finished report will also include conceptual plan drawings and two potential options for removal. Additional project highlights include using environmental DNA technology to survey the Cheat River for Eastern Hellbender and collaborating with WVDNR on preliminary fish surveys.
According to The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, “WVDNR has documented incredible improvements to the fisheries of the Cheat River watershed due to improved water quality. Consequently, recreational opportunities such as fishing and kayaking have dramatically increased. To further improve the fisheries and recreational opportunities on Cheat River, WVDNR is in favor of removing the Albright Power Station Dam. The WVDNR anticipates that riverine habitat and angling opportunities on one of the premier smallmouth bass fishing rivers in northern West Virginia will be improved. Additionally, an ever-increasing walleye population in Cheat Lake will have the opportunity to expand upstream past Albright once the dam is removed, potentially providing another recreational opportunity for Cheat River anglers.”
The potential economic and environmental benefits of removing the dam prompted the interest and support of all 4 County Commissions touched by the project, upstream to downstream: Randolph, Tucker, Preston, and Monongalia.
Public involvement is a critical part of this project. FOC and project partners will host the first public open house for community members to learn more and share ideas this fall.
A bill to allow commercial logging in West Virginia’s State Parks, Senate Bill 270, was introduced in the WV Legislature at the request of Governor Justice. This bill would end an 80-year ban on logging in West Virginia’s State Parks.
There has been a quick public outcry against this bill as many folks have an immediate, emotional reaction to cutting trees in West Virginia’s precious State Parks. In an effort to educate the public on this complex issue, Friends of the Cheat has done their best, in a short time frame, to pull together factual information on this matter with support from our partners at West Virginians for Public Lands.
If you have already made up your mind that commercial logging in State Parks is not good for West Virginia contact the Governor now, and tell him you oppose lifting the logging ban.
If you are not so sure, read on…
The State Code (section 20-5-3) says that the purpose of the West Virginia Parks and Recreation section, is “to promote conservation by preserving and protecting natural areas of unique or exceptional scenic, scientific, cultural, archaeological or historic significance and to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for the citizens of this state and its visitors.”
Section 20-1-7 says that valid reasons for acquiring state park lands are “for the purpose of preserving scenic, aesthetic, scientific, cultural, archaeological or historical values or natural wonders, or providing public recreation.”
Logging does not serve any of these purposes. Logging operations reduce the scenic and aesthetic values of a forest, interfere with recreational use, and can degrade or obscure scientific, cultural, archaeological, and historical values. Therefore, logging our State Forests contravenes the mission of the Parks and Recreation section, and betrays the values for which the land was acquired. Allowing logging in our State Park system would fundamentally change the nature of that system. Is that really what we want to do?
West Virginia’s public lands are about 13% of the total forest land in the state*, and 98% of those public lands are currently open to logging**. There is little to be gained, and much to be lost from this proposal.
*WV Division of Forestry Resource Assessment 2010, pg. 25
For more information, check out the Save Our State Parks webpage.
On the first day of the 115th Congress, the House of Representatives passed budget rules that included a provision devaluing public lands. By assigning no value to federal property, Congress has potentially greased the skids for transferring public lands to state or private control — those transactions would now be considered “budget neutral.” Dolly Sods. Seneca Rocks. Cranberry Wilderness. According to the House, with support from all three West Virginia Representatives, these iconic landscapes are deemed worthless.
Our federal public lands have already been bought and paid for by the taxpayer. Look no further than our mountains and rivers for examples. The Monongahela National Forest was created from owners willing to sell logged-out property so the government could rehabilitate the land. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported over $182 million in purchases, including access along the Gauley and New Rivers and wetlands in Canaan Valley. As the result of foresighted actions like these, every American is now a shareholder in over 620 million acres of public land.
These public lands are big business. Congress commissioned a study to understand the value of outdoor recreation, currently estimated at $646 billion. Public land is at the heart of that economy; after all, who would buy new boots or boats if they have nowhere to use them? In state, the Monongahela National Forest supports 1.3 million visitors that spend approximately $82 million dollars annually. The New River Gorge National River provides another $53 million to the local economy. There is likely even more tangible value in the “ecosystem services” offered by public lands: much of West Virginia’s drinking water originates in the headwaters of the Monongahela National Forest — over 300,000 thousand people get their drinking water from the Elk River alone.
The return on our investment in public lands goes far beyond dollars and cents. A rafting trip with friends, a hike with a pet, a day spent hunting and fishing with our children — how can you quantify the value of those experiences and the feelings that linger long after? Or the connectedness and sense of place that public lands offer? The “Mon” serves as a common denominator among hunters, birders, boaters, fishers, campers, RV towers, bikers, hikers, and climbers. We may enjoy the land in different ways, but every Mountaineer loves and takes pride in our public lands, the most “Wild and Wonderful” part about living in West Virginia.
The new budget rule isn’t the only attack on the integrity of public lands. Bills have been introduced to allow states to seize two million acres of national forests so long
as logging is the priority (HR 3650 & HR 2316). Transferring control of and developing public land is the stated platform of the party that now leads all three branches of government. Congress may very well have taken the first step in a widespread public lands divestment.
Loss of federal ownership could be detrimental to public land users like you and me. Federal lands are managed with mandatory public input and “multiple use” provisions that value clean water and recreation alongside timber and minerals. States often have different priorities. Western sportsmen have found themselves shut out of state lands following profit minded sell-offs. Because the West Virginia state legislature is prohibited from passing a deficit, selling or developing state land could become a quick fix for our financial woes. Mineral rights have been auctioned off beneath some of our Wildlife Management Areas.
President Trump has said we need to be stewards of public lands and it’s not something that should be sold. His pick for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, is an avid sportsman who has spoken out against selling public lands — but he voted for the new budget rule. All Representatives from West Virginia voted in favor of it too. We must hold our leadership accountable. Tell them to protect our public lands from sale or transfer.
Because worthless and priceless are far from the same thing.
Matt Kearns is a veteran and avid outdoorsman. He travelled the length of the Elk River in 2015 to promote the connection between the Monongahela National Forest and our drinking water. Matt is a natural resources graduate student at WVU and works on public lands issues for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition. the Elk River alone.
Just weeks after Congress passed a provision making it easier to sell off public lands, a move to do just that was put forth by US Representative Jason Chaffetz (UT). H.R. 621, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, called for the disposal of 3.3 million acres of land for sale to non-federal entities.
The public outcry was enormous. Thousands of people called their representatives and took to social media to express their outrage and rallied in opposition to the bill. Thanks to the huge numbers of engaged, outspoken public opponents, in less than one week Chaffetz posted on Instagram his withdrawal of H.R. 621.
This victory is just one example of what can happen when citizens rally together and speak out; our voices are heard, and we can protect what cannot protect itself. This will not be the only time we need to rally for our public lands, or for our water, etc. We must remain vigilant and alert. Here are a few ways to stay engaged.
Sign up for WV Rivers Coalition e-news (state and Federal updates, action alerts): http://www.wvrivers.org/make-
Sign up for WV Environmental Council e-news (WV updates, action alerts): http://wvecouncil.org/action-a
Join Friends of the Cheat and other groups for E-Day February 27th at the WV Capitol.
Contact your representatives:
US Senate: https://www.senate.gov/senato
If a man fails to honor the rivers, he shall not gain the life from them. — Anonymous
I was raised on the Alabama gulf coast. As far back as I can remember, I was sporting on the water. Coastal cultures are different from inland cultures: different values, hobbies, and mannerisms. So, it has always been with a bit of trepidation that I have moved to inland cities and towns, no less so when I moved to West Virginia. Fortunately for me, I met a man named Bob Spangler. Though he claims to be from these parts, I noted a glimmer of the coast in his eye. Did I mention coastal people are a little crazy? Maybe it is all that water seeping into the brain.
Nonetheless, Bob introduced me to another kindred water spirit, Attila, who designs and manufactures inflatable kayaks. I visited his shop, Custom Inflatables, and saw first hand the care and pride his team puts into the best inflatable kayaks on the market today. Anyway, I worked out a deal on a used “ThrillSeeker,” picked up a quality marine pump and was on my way.
While I have enjoyed rafting all my life, hard boating (the graceful swans of our sport) demands a skill set that some people find more difficult to master than others. But a ThrillSeeker! I could suddenly boat in my own craft down the Cheat Canyon. While such excursions are certainly a thrill, “harrowing” is also a word that comes to mind.
I have always enjoyed running the Narrows on my inflatable sofa: feet up, eyes on the sky; watching eagles and hawks watching us. I even invented my own water sport called “Guerilla Kayaking.” With my ThrillSeeker and pump tucked away in the trunk of my car, I can travel anywhere in America, scouting nontraditional put in and take out points. Or, I just put in. The take out takes care of itself. See, water creates community. While in landers may go about their own business, failing to look strangers in the eye, to seize the opportunities of meaningful coincidences, water people are much more sensitive to these nuances of human experience– to our interconnectedness with the natural world and with each other.
Yes, water creates community, and communities create questions: whose water is it? What are my responsibilities for stewardship of this resource? How does my relationship with the water mature?
But surely, the glory of the water is reflected in each of us, each time we choose to enjoy it in our own way. It is more than astonishing sceneries, or the mastery of mad skills. It is a heart-song we sing together: sharing paddles, food and drink, music, and remedies for poison ivy. It is a war cry: sounded and heard from a line run just so; from a friend who overcame a fear; from a drunken commercial raft who hits the rapid sideways.
Our water community is diverse. Answers to pressing questions will reflect that complexity. But we return to the water, time and time again, and each time we find our self.
Walt Turner recently retired from Bethany College where he was an Associate Professor of English.
Tundra swan photo by Derek Courtney.