The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 2, 2012

Explore the options

The Register-Herald

— The idea of creating an additional stretch of 5.3 miles of whitewater in Fayette County has been put on the table for consideration as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) prepares to conduct hearings on the relicensing of the hydropower facility at the Hawks Nest Dam.

A coalition has been formed in support of an initiative called “Wet the Dries” that refers to a stretch of the New River that currently has extremely low flow levels due to the current water flow release protocol.

Under the group’s plan, the water flow would be increased from Memorial Day through Labor Day in order to create a new rafting experience, on slower Class III water, that would be more suited to families, especially those with younger children.

It is the one area of the rafting business, which has been suffering a national decline, where there is a significant growth being experienced.

The Hawks Nest Hydropower plant provides power-generating for a smelting facility at Alloy. Proponents of the “Wet the Dries” plan say it won’t negatively impact that process and they would not support the movement if it would negatively impact jobs at that site.

Another group, “Keep the Dries Dry,” opposes the new plan, claiming there is plenty of whitewater already available and that hydroelectric power needs outweigh the needs for additional recreational opportunities.

There are two sides to every issue and on Friday the Fayette County Commission did the prudent thing by not taking a position one way or the other but agreeing to send a letter to FERC in support of a study.

Exploring all of the options has to be the way these types of issues are handled.

The public needs to have as many of the details as possible in order to decide whether to support or oppose.

Two public meetings have already been scheduled by FERC. One on Oct. 17 at Hawks Nest State Park Lodge at 7 p.m. is primarily being held to accept public input. On Oct. 18 at 10 a.m. at the same site, a hearing will focus on resource agency, Indian tribes and non-governmental organization concerns.

FERC is encouraging everyone interested to attend to help identify particular study needs and to identify environmental issues that need to be considered.

The process is open to the public to get involved and a study is certainly warranted.