By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Tim Williamson with FreedomWorks LLC received the eagerly awaited response, from the Monongahela National Forest Service, on March 4, in regards to the permit to study the feasibility of the proposed Pumped Storage Hydro plant. The studies were to include core drilling, observe sub-surface geology, analyze soil material, geochemistry analysis, soil chemistry analysis, and biological studies on the lands proposed to be utilized for the facility. The letter, signed by Forest Supervisor Shawn Cochran, stated that after evaluation of the permit request, he must “reject it for failure to meet initial screening criteria.” The response further stated, “The proposal is inconsistent, and it cannot be made consistent, with applicable forest land and resource management plan standards and guidelines for management of the area.” Examples for arriving at this decision explained in this letter included the requirement of vegetation and earth disturbances to occur within the Big Run Bog and would defy the management objectives he continued to outline. The letter concluded stating, “Rejection of this unsolicited proposal is not subject to administrative appeal.”
A phone interview was conducted with Williamson, to which he stated, “There was no legal basis for denying the project. We’re not going to touch that (the bog), we are four hundred feet below that and off to the side,” he explained, “Big Run Bog was not going to be affected.” According to Williamson, during a January 11 government-to-business meeting in Farmington, several local entities “crashed and manipulated” the discussion which potentially persuaded the decision of the National Forest Service.
Williamson stated the issue is the politics behind this project, or lack thereof. As a result, he is seeking out the support of more local and state representatives and officials. “This is not only a Tucker County project, it is a West Virginia project and without support, it will never happen,” he stated. The status of the project is currently in a “wait and see” mode, as he allowed “It is technically denied, and it’s illogical to spend one more dollar to go further.” Williamson hopes to gain the support of not only state representatives, but also the environmental groups. He compared the possibilities of the contributions of this proposed hydro facility to that of the racing industry in Charles Town, WV. According to Williamson, the thoroughbred racetrack grosses around $75,000,000 each year, a leading income provider for the state. This facility, based on his configurations, would be capable of generating around $100,000,000.
One positive for FreedomWorks that came out of the denial was the extra studies they were required to do. As a result, he stated “I’m convinced more than ever this thing is viable.” Williamson stressed again, this was just a permit to study feasibility, not to begin any construction or final plans. He elaborated more on the benefits it could serve in the instance a flood were to hit the Cheat River. In a follow up email, he shared statistics from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the detrimental “Super Storm Sandy” as an example. He stated the NWS knew on October 22, 2012 that the barometric pressure reading from this storm was at the lowest point ever recorded on earth, which was seven days prior to the storm making land fall. “What if a similar Cat5 storm event like Sandy or Camille were to occur in the future, but set its sights on the Cheat River, instead of New York like Sandy did in 2012, or the James River, like Camille did in 1969? If the proposed Tucker County PSH project were specifically designed and built to make electricity and address flood control, it might be available to address such an extreme flooding event on the Cheat River,” he exclaimed. Williamson continued, “Because with seven days notice and the proper build-outs, there would be ample time for proposed TC-PSH project to gradually release water into the Cheat River, before recharging the reservoirs with flood waters whenever a declared emergency flooding condition exists. The current proposed TC-PSH project turbines are already sized large enough to handle potential dual-duty, if the section from proposed lower reservoir spillway to Cheat River was designed, funded, and built to siphon emergency flood water from the Cheat River.”
As of now, this is where the project stands. Without access to the property to construct the facility, the project can go no further. Williamson is on the search for support for this proposal and is making the necessary contacts to do such. The Parsons Advocate will continue to report on the topic matter as it progresses.