Dear Editor:

I would like to thank Ohio University for bringing Speaker Newt Gingrich to address the graduating class of 1998. Although he never mentioned the topic, Mr. Gingrich's commencement speech was one of the best arguments for campaign finance reform I have ever heard. In espousing the desirability and inevitability of mega-technology, he valued his allegiances to wealthy political action committees over democratic campaign finance rules and reinforced the need for rigorous campaign finance reform.

Although Mr. Gingrich presented his vision for the future as a series of predestined facts, he avoided entirely any mention of the path to arrive there. He described the future as a technological utopia, presumably where we could seek equality across races, genders, and sexual orientations. In the meantime, his logic suggests, we have better things to do. (Besides, corporations can get very impatient with their governmental employees.)

I believe that commencement ceremonies should be celebrations of education and diligent work. The graduates deserved and needed this. However, in awarding Mr. Gingrich with an "Honorary Doctorate in Public Service," Ohio University celebrated only an elite access to power through higher (read: hire) education. Who did Mr. Gingrich serve to earn this accolade? He served those with money, defending their political access and stymieing real campaign finance reform.

Mr. Gingrich failed to explain to the Convocation Center crowd that his plans for economic development require 5-6% growth in the US gross national product every year. This necessary rate of growth would double our current annual rate (averaging about 3% for the last 15 years), and promises twice the rate of ecological and cultural loss of the current day. Unfortunately, what should have been an empowering address to accomplished students was merely a paid advertisement for technological industries.

However, to his credit, Gingrich unwittingly sends us an important message: to live in a democracy, we need to create democratic campaign finance rules that hold the good of the public over continued profits for campaign contributors.


Than Hitt

Athens, Ohio June 14, 1998 ¨


Editor of the Voice

The June issue of the Highlands Conservancy Voice is impressive -- and so are its stalwarts. I’ve been getting The Voice for a year but have a new understanding of the issues and dedicated environmental extremists and go-getters who make up the conservation population of West Virginia.

I qualify proudly as an environmental extremist myself -- here in Florida where we realized only too late that the interface between burgeoning population, and our wilderness lands left us with only islands. In New York City these would be known as "pocket parks." But I mostly get to hide my "extremism" behind a nameplate identifying me as a city appointed board member overseeing pretty trivial (by your standards) protection and development issues. Having such scenic natural places such as those I visited on my recent trip to West Virginia -- Grandview, Cranberry Bogs, Hills Creek Waterfalls, Tea Creek, Beartown, Seneca Rocks, Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods, the beautiful Canaan Valley and the Blackwater Canyon and Falls -- it was hard for me to realize that in your state you don’t have much of an array of regulatory bodies as we have here in Florida. Where you do have them, these agencies, supposedly the protectors of the domain, are only too often part of the plot to cut or mine.

My heart and spirit are with you all as you pursue every avenue to preserve and protect those special sites you have come to rely on as the backbone of national enthusiasm for your green hills and rushing waters . It was my good fortune to be a part of your Spring Review and to have become aware with such fine examples for protection -- Lindy Point and Blackwater. These are special places, surely, along with the rest of West Virginia’s well-known astounding sites, and as yet uncelebrated backyard wonders.

Betsy Hoffman

Boca Raton, Florida June 1998 ¨



I go to a really wonderful conference annually in Eugene, Oregon called the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. I highly recommend it to anyone. It's in March at University of Oregon Law School, has over a thousand attendees, and is practically free if you can get there (you can get free housing with local students, and Bread Not Bombs gives away lots of free food).

Anyway, I went to a really fascinating seminar on non-intentional introduction of non-indigenous species and world regulation. It mostly focused on the maritime stuff ( like ballast water carrying plants and fish all around the globe).

But an important point made there was that non-intentional introduction is pretty difficult to get countries to agree to regulate, but intentional introduction is nearly impossible. For example they talked about multiflora rose, zebra mussel, gypsy moth. Some of the effects were astounding. They said the Mississippi River was host to the largest variety of mussels in one river in the world, until the introduction of the zebra mussel. Now there are only 3 kinds of mussel left in the river. They also said that in the San Francisco Bay over 60% of the species, both plant and animal, found in an inventory done over 5 years ago were non-indigenous. They said the hardiness of Japanese and other critters was stomping out the sensitive local species.

This is seriously scary stuff. Like some smart guy (Aldo Leopold maybe?) said: the first rule of intelligent tinkering is save all the parts.

Cathy McConnell June 1998 ¨


Dear Editor:

In the April issue of The Highlands Voice you published an article "An Essential Fast Transition from fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy" by Ross Gelbspan.

As an engineer, I found the article to be superficial and full of holes. Gelbspan’s knowledge of science would qualify him for a job in politics, but not much else.

I doubt if you would be interested in a list of faults in the article, but I have enclosed a couple of reprints that you might find interesting.


Albert W. Stewart

Roanoke, VA 11 June 1998 ¨


Dear Editor:

Who's canyon is it?

The Blackwater Canyon is not pristine virgin forest; no argument there. The predecessors of Allegheny Wood Products and the Society of American Foresters sure took care of that!

The timber and wood products industry of West Virginia take particular pleasure in pointing out that forests have recovered from the wholesale pillaging that occurred in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Here in West Virginia, forests are struggling back, fighting the effects of the original gross cutting, plus the modern industrial effects of acid rain, soil nutrient degradation and human introduced plant, animal and bacterial infestations.

I would be remiss if I let all of us and our parents and grandparents off the responsibility hook. We as a purported intelligent, sensitive and rational species earn no prize or credit. Does consumer/user ring a bell and fit? No doubt that it does.

But history is not just an exercise in memorizing dates and promoting the perceived positive (and conveniently ignoring the negative) effects of our society’s past actions. Instead of pretending nothing has been changed or lost, and that all is well, the officers of the WV Division of the Allegheny Society of American Foresters would serve the people and state better by dealing honestly with the issues.

Whatever the condition of the Blackwater Canyon's forest is or was, extraction of wood fiber will preclude the Blackwater Canyon from developing into a mature old growth forest. And a mature old growth forest is what the human eye beholds as beautiful, and is proving to be the most diverse biologically as well. Beauty and health almost always go together.

The truth is that Allegheny Wood Products sees the Blackwater Canyon as just more sustainable wood fiber to be cut as it grows useful to the company and to the society that consumes and pays for it. The Allegheny Division of the Society of American Foresters apes the company line. They say "forest" but mean wood fiber and profits for the wood products companies.

Blackwater Canyon is more that just another tract of mountainous timberland. I saw that twenty years ago while working on the track gang repairing rails on the now abandoned railroad that runs through the Canyon. It should not be treated like a cornfield to be harvested repeatedly as the market dictates. To view the Canyon as such is incredibly short-sighted, seeing only wood fiber and profits where beauty walks and the human spirit can find a needed and vital connection to truly wild nature.

Those who would cut the Blackwater Canyon deny the economic realities of the recreation based industry that will, with proper attention, sustainably produce jobs and income for Tucker County and the rest of West Virginia. They deny, self-servingly, the truth in dollars and jobs to the citizens of West Virginia. Comparing timbering the Blackwater Canyon to preserving and developing it into a "Wild and Wonderful" recreational destination is not even close. The dozen jobs occasionally created to timber the Canyon cannot begin to compete with the steadier tourism/recreation based jobs for Tucker County. And since when did timber cutters get union coal miner or railroader type wages? West Virginia woods workers are - industry wide - in the lower levels of the wage scale and at a high risk of severe injury on the job to boot!

The resource extractive timber/wood products industry fears and despises the growing recreational and tourism industry, and it is they that refuse to adopt to change and consider anything less than down and dirty West Virginia business and politics as usual. Please! Look at the history of West Virginia and tell me that extractive industries, primarily coal and timber, have not done all that they can to keep the land and its people virtual slaves to their designs. You will see a sad history of a proud people and a great land kept poor. Attacked and divided first and foremost by industrial processes and corporate greed - a sacrifice to the god of the almighty dollar. Enough!

Enough, since in the case of the Blackwater Canyon the people of West Virginia already should own the 3,000 acres in dispute. I believe that the sale of the Allegheny Power Company held Blackwater Canyon was illegal! Therefore, Allegheny Wood Products does not own the Canyon and they are cutting timber where it really has no right to so. There is a case pending before the WV Supreme Court of Appeals which will decide this issue, hopefully soon.

The monopolistic but regulated corporation that is the "Power Company" has enjoyed the benefits and profits of its privileged position in West Virginia. The people of West Virginia have paid iys electric bills for many, many years. Now the Canyon should belong to the people in common, to be sustainably preserved in the best interests of the people.

The answer to "whose canyon is it?" is that the Blackwater Canyon belongs to all of us.


Chuck Merritt June 2, 1998 ¨



Please convey my thanks to John McFerrin for the personal Thank You note. It was sincerely appreciated.

I am also very upset with Underwood’s mountaintop removal. It should be called rape of the Earth. Please let me know how I can help to combat this crime. I live in Tyler County not far from Underwood’s old homeplace. I wonder what he would think of a little mountaintop removal out on Ross Run? Better yet, why don't they remove that "offending" hill in Charleston at the capitol, across the river from his temporary home.

Thanks for the work you do. Richard diPretoro is an old friend of mine. I wonder what he thinks of mountaintop removal.

Thanks again,

Tom Spry July 2, 1998 ¨



The community of Riffe Branch in Mingo County, WV, has depended on mining as their means of earning a living for years. In the past, mining consisted mostly of underground mines with a few small strip mine operations here and there. In the past few years, the practice of mountain top removal has all but replaced the traditional underground mines.

After serving my country in the military for twenty-five years, I moved back to Riffe Branch. I move with thought of building a home in an area where I could enjoy the beautiful mountains, the slow pace of life and the safety that this area offers.

In 1995 Magnet Coal Company started mining coal, using the mountain top removal method within 1500 feet of our homes. This included blasting daily for a two year period. The only day we had silence was Sunday. Prior to the blasting, all families within a half mile of the mining were offered a pre-blast survey of their homes. As trusting citizens, we thought this action would protect our homes and way of life. We would soon lean that these surveys were not intended to protect our homes. It was just a part of the permitting process that allows the company to mine coal. Shortly after the blasting started, our homes were slowly being torn apart by the shock waves that came down through the rock structures in the valley. Fly rock as large as thirty pounds was landing in our yards – water wells were being sunk and foundations were being cracked.

During the time of the mining we made numerous complaints to the coal company and the Department of Environmental Protection. These complaints were always addressed with the answer that the company was operating within the law and that the blasting could not be responsible for the damage to our homes. They even suggested that ten homes were "settling" at the same time.

After exhausting all efforts to be compensated for damages to our homes, we were forced to hire an attorney and go to court. We know that we may never be compensated for our losses and that the mining will go on as usual. In conclusion, we have learned to use the media to express our concerns and to not trust the Department of Environmental Protection and coal operators.

Ralph Preece

Delbarton, WV June 18, 1998 _