As property owners in Douglas, WV, we are extremely concerned about the proposed section of Corridor H that would bisect Davis and Thomas, crossing the Blackwater Canyon and Douglas Road. This proposal is very likely to damage the natural environment, the charm of the small towns of Davis and Thomas, and many historic sites making up the Blackwater Industrial Complex.
In the years since the original plan for Corridor H over the Blackwater Canyon was first devised, the area that it would threaten has become a tourist destination, attracting many visitors from in state and out of state. Blackwater Falls State Park receives more than 1 million visitors every year. The towns of Davis and Thomas have become a pair of destinations in themselves for tourists looking for natural beauty, outdoor recreation, a lively arts scene, and a wealth of local historical artifacts. The towns complement each other nicely, and continuing efforts have been made to connect them with bike and foot trails. It is a bad plan to divide them with a giant cloverleaf.
The proposed route over the Blackwater Canyon would destroy much of what makes the area so attractive. Blackwater State Park’s unspoiled views would be seriously marred by light pollution from the highway. Noise would also be a problem.
In Thomas, the historic coke ovens would be overshadowed by the enormous bridge. In addition, the massive piers for the bridge would have to be built on top of a rather fragile honeycomb of underground mines; if disturbed, this would very possibly lead to hazardous acid mine drainage, endangering vulnerable wildlife.
The residents of the area have been assured that engineering/amelioration work would avert environmental catastrophe. This is not reassuring, especially when one sees the section of Corridor H currently under construction near Parsons, where gigantic piers just built are already beginning to list and slide. Reassurances had also been issued to the public about the safety of that venture.
There is a very sensible alternative to this catastrophically bad idea. The Northern Route, which would join Corridor H to Route 219 on the other side of Thomas, would avoid all these pitfalls. It could be built to bypass Thomas Park. Another benefit to this option would be that it would allow trucks to avoid going through the town of Thomas, with their noise, disruption, and structural stress to the upper road in town.
Some concerns have been raised about the Northern Route, relating to the nearby reservoir and to noise from the route disturbing the businesses on Front Street in Thomas. These concerns need to be addressed. Representatives of the Federal Highway Administration assert that funds from the federal infrastructure bill will be available to work on solutions.
The Blackwater Canyon area is a jewel that attracts visitors and tourist dollars to our state, providing jobs and adding to the economy. To recklessly trash it would be a serious, and perhaps irreversible, mistake.
Tom and Sarah Hammack