By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Tim Williamson of FreedomWorks LLC held a public meeting, at Tucker County Courthouse, in regards to the proposed hydro storage power plant for Tucker County. The court room was nearly full; drawing not only residents of Tucker County, but from those outside of the county and from entities who have focus on our county as well. Commission President Lowell Moore began by asking Reverend James Snyder to open the meeting with a word of prayer followed by The Pledge of Allegiance. Prior to calling the meeting to order, Moore briefly spoke on a few house rules the meeting would following to keep the atmosphere civil. County Planner Dennis Filler served as the meeting moderator and explained to the crowd that each speaker would be limited to three minutes and stressed that this meeting was in no way serving as a decision making meeting, but rather an information discussion. Filler continued by posting the website that all the information has been made public on and can be found at https://tinyurl.com/TCPSH and an email address has been set up for all concerns and comments, not just for this project, that can be directed to TuckerCountyComments@gmail.com
Williamson took the floor where he went through several slides and maps to further explain the location and idea behind this $1.2 billion plan. He began by informing everyone how they can find the information posted on the FERC website (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) by typing in P-14889. “We are proposing two reservoirs, one located on top of Backbone Mountain, which is located in Western Pocahontas (a landowner in Tucker County) property, the other is located on approximately a thousand acres of Forest Service property down below Mill Run”, he explained. The pipelines and pump house will all be positioned underground so as to not be visible or conflicting. “The initial charge again will be from the Cheat River and we plan on installing deep water wells at the upper reservoir and recharge the reservoir from those wells as evaporation occurs”, he continued. Williamson painted a picture pertaining to the size of the structure with dimensions of one hundred foot tall and a mile and a half across with a volume of approximately thirty- seven and a half billion gallons, equivalent to one hundred and nineteen thousand acre feet.
“In reflection to some comments we received, we changed the spillway proposal”, he continued, “Obviously we are trying to respond to comments by changing the spillway configurations.” The dam itself at the lower reservoir will be approximately four hundred and fifty feet and the water level around two thousand two hundred and fifty (feet of elevation at high-water mark) during operating level and around the same volume of water as the upper reservoir at thirty- six and a half billion gallons.
“We did take a look at the reservoir with respect to the existing mine structures and we overlaid them on top of them. Obviously the underground mines are a special concern for us and the major impact to have major tunnels underneath of the reservoir. We will be taking studies to figure out whether they are there, whether there are any accommodations we need to make”, he continued, “but we believe at the present time, at least the way they’re drawn right now, most of the tunnels stop along Long Run, there seems to be some reason to believe those tunnels were flooded once they hit Long Run, but obviously we need to do some testing and further investigation to find out.” There are four private land owners that this project would affect which include Mary Mullenax, Reta Jane Harper, William and Moody Collett, and Herman Esser Trust, which have not yet been consulted. It was also noted that the project is no longer being referred to as the Big Run Project due to the name insinuating it was located in that area, therefore it is simply being referred to by the FERC title of P-14889.
Tucker County Assessor Chris Michael was the first elected official to share his findings on behalf of the tax office. He began by informing the public that Tucker County is the second smallest county based on population and has been continuously losing population since 1980 at eighty -six hundred residents with a projected loss to continue through 2020 with an estimate of only sixty- eight hundred residents. “We are losing people and have been losing people at a fairly steady stride.”, Michael confirmed. According to Michael, Tucker County has approximately two hundred and sixty -eight thousand acres, half of which is owned federally or by the state and their ownership amounts are growing thanks to projects such as Corridor H and the refuge. “The point is our tax base is shrinking”, he continued with stating the county only has three major industries, consisting of Kingsford, Hinchcliff, and Metikki Coal, “the coal will run out down the road”, he stated. “Really our county is just slowly dying”, Michael confirmed. He said that this proposed project will actually only take up about one percent of our ground within the county, and this taxable project would be worth almost as much as our entire county. “The tax paid by Western Pocahontas on their twelve hundred acres, which is managed timberland, is less than $2,000 a year. The payment in lieu of taxes from the federal government which is about nine hundred acres is about $900 a year. The total tax bill for the total four properties that were mentioned on his slide is about $2500 a year. So for all of these properties combined, we’re getting around $5000”, he informed. The state was consulted as to what the county could expect from taxes if this project would go through and become a reality. This property would be an industrial type property therefore would be appraised by the State Tax Department as such. After speaking with the state officials and using very conservative numbers, it was determined this project could generate about $5 million per year in taxes, $3.5 million of that would be contributed to the Board of Education with the remaining $1.5 million dispersed within the county. That is using an appraised value of $600 million for the project, to which Michael suspects to be a low figure which would generate even more tax revenue. “The county budget for 18-19 is about $5 million, the $1.5 million increase from this project represents about a 30% increase”, Michael explained. “This could protect our county for many years”, he said. “Half our county will more than likely never be developed since the government owns it, and they’re acquiring more land all the time”, he continued. “As far as our tax base goes, I believe this to be the single best opportunity that I will ever see. As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see it moved into a feasibility and study phase and see what comes from that.”, he concluded.
Filler moved the meeting into the public comment section of the agenda, beginning with Joe Dumire. He expressed concerns with the mines and the potential of the release of acid mine waste and the possibilities of the Cheat River being dried up. Dumire also fears for the Native Brook Trout habitat and the disturbance of potential Native American sites, therefore cannot promote the project as presented.
Judy Rodd, part of Friends of Blackwater, also came forth to state three agencies won’t allow for the project to go forth where it is located due to several reason, and if they do the studies will be laid out and conducted by these agencies, not by FreedomWorks, LLC. Rodd held up a map provided by the Department of Environmental Protection outlining the abandoned mines below the surface, and stated “this is a very bad location for a giant reservoir.” “I think on the Mon Forest, the trout streams, the endangered species, the taking of hunting and fishing land will also not pass muster”, she continued. Rodd stated the Friends of Blackwater has also filed with FERC an intervention to go up against the project.
Mike Rosenau chimed in asking how many permanent jobs this facility could provide to Tucker County. Williamson explained about fifty, full time jobs would be made possible with this facility with the higher paid, engineer careers offering about $100 thousand in wages, and with the estimated average pays overall the remaining jobs including personnel, human resources, payroll, etc. averaging $65-70 thousand annually. It was guessed the average Tucker County employees salary to currently be approximately $30,000 during this brief discussion.
Local engineer Kermit Bennett, resident of Red Creek, stated, “This project is one of the best things that we can do right now.” “This is providing a clean, green energy”, stated Bennett. He continued, “They (Bath County, VA) got our jobs, they got the money we could have had”, and he is in strong support of the project.
Kim Mullenax came forth asking questions about the lower reservoir and the land that surrounds them, which includes one of their farms, and what the land owners can expect. Williamson responded that they will be compensated accordingly and that they have no intentions to purchase, but to only to lease land. Several other residents stated they retired and moved to the Canaan Valley and will do everything in their power to prevent this beautiful land from being spoiled. It was also mentioned that this project uses Forest Service land and that contradicts what their mission is. Larry Thomas, President of WV Highlands Conservancy, too is in strong opposition of the project and doesn’t even want to see the project enter the study phase, “due to unacceptable environmental impact and we urge FERC to deny the preliminary project”, he suggested.
Keith Collett, one of the landowners who will be directly affected by this project, stated “I’m for it, why not bring something to the county.”, followed by an abruption of applause. “I don’t understand why they’re fighting against something that can help everybody else”, Collett continued. A member of the crowd replied with, “They (those who are in opposition) don’t have to make a living here, we do!” to which Collett and several in the crowd agreed and Filler had to step in and restore order.
As the evening wore on, several more spoke their piece regarding the damages this project could result in, such as mud flats. The Sierra Club is staying neutral in this matter until further studies are conducted, and Friends of the Cheat representative Amanda Pitzer, also stated they think this project needs a new location. Cory Chase, a lifelong resident of the county, gave a very detailed and informative talk on the pros and cons of such a project. At the end of his time allotment, the main goal Chase arrived at was requesting an informed decision be made and all options weighed.
Okey Eye came forth to present his approval for this project based on jobs and tax dollars to be used to better our education system and bring back some of the vocational classes. He pointed out how much this would help those who aren’t college bound upon graduation. At the same time, Eye encouraged everyone to consider all options and pay attention to the details to ensure the most is gotten from the project to benefit the count.
Matt Hauger explained his stance on the proposal. “Years ago I quit my job in D.C. We were tired of traffic, we were tired of no green space, and tired of people who did not love where they lived,” he explained. “So when we were blessed with the opportunity to seek a new home, we looked for a beautiful place with great outdoor recreation opportunities”, Hauger described. “If this station had been here when we were looking for a spot to live when I quit that job in D.C., when we were trying to find a place to raise our family, to build connections to a community, to explore the outdoor environment, it would’ve been ruled out. We wouldn’t have come, it would have been ruled out, and we wouldn’t have made Tucker County our home.”, he said.
The evening continued with both those banking for and those standing against the continuation of this hydro plant. Staff Scientist with WV Rivers Autumn Crowe chimed in stating they are on board for renewable energy, however they are unsure if this truly is one hundred percent renewability and in a questionable location. The effect on Hile Run, one of the area’s most pristine water ways, is also a major concern of this entity. Debbie Stevens commented how her daughter, wishing to stay in her home county, had extreme difficulty getting a decent job. “My daughter graduated in 2005 from Marshall and it took her until three years ago to get a good paying job and she is now working at Kingsford as a trainer”, she explained. Stevens also announced that the PRO organization is also scheduling a trip to the Bath County, Virginia project that will resemble the potential facility in Tucker County, therefore anyone who is interested can contact Stevens or Digger Adventures.
Williamson has since provided a comparison of the Bath County, VA facility and the proposed Tucker County Site. Below is a comparison of the two.
Bath County PSH Project
Tucker County PSH Project
|Penstocks||3 penstocks feeding 6 pump-turbines
11 hour run-time per day
|4 penstocks feeding 4 pump-turbines
Continuous run-time, 24 hrs x 365 days per year
|Reservoirs||35,559 acre-feet water upper reservoir||119,000 acre-feet water upper reservoir|
|Storage||11 hours/24,000 MWh at 3 GW||Days at 1 GW ; Weeks at 500 MW|
|Water Flow||Near equal pumping and generation||25% larger pumping to maintain water level and static pressure at upper reservoir|
|Electricity||935-950 GWh per year||Greater than 3,600 GWh per year|
Note: PSH = Pump Storage Hydro; MW = megawatt; GW = gigawatt; MWh = megawatt-hours; GWh = gigawatt-hours.
Once the last crowd’s member spoke, the group was reminded to direct further comments and concerns to the email before mentioned and to keep up to date with the information on the project at the website. Prior to closing the member, Moore stated, “I maybe shouldn’t say this, but as a commissioner, I support this until I’m convinced it’s a bad practice and I am open to that”, and the meeting was adjourned. Several of those in attendance stuck around sharing thoughts and further seeking information and answers. The Parsons Advocate will be following this project throughout its entirety and any public meetings and sessions will be advertised as well.