The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 23, 2013

Scouts help return life to Morris Creek

MONTGOMERY — Scouts from Troop A401 of the Miami Valley Council in the Dayton, Ohio, area got more than they bargained for when they joined volunteers from the Morris Creek Watershed Association on Monday.

“This is much more than spending all day on the end of a shovel,” said Scoutmaster Jody Malone. “They’re getting an education. We’re seeing some of the effects of mining. It’s more than just the work.”

Since 2002, the Morris Creek Watershed Association has been working, as a group of volunteers and with other conservation groups and state agencies, to clean up the effects of mining on the water of Morris Creek, a tributary of the upper Kanawha River.

“This creek was dead,” said Mike King of the MCWA. “There was no life in it.”

Today, the creek boasts brown trout throughout its length, and brook trout in one portion.

Monday the Scouts of Troop A401 were aiding in the effort to bring the creek back to its former vibrant state.

Scouts worked first on maintenance of native trees like American chestnut planted along Morris Creek, then moved on to watershed restoration projects including placing limestone fines into an acid mine drainage site, placing rocks along the creek, and repairing K-dams with new support logs.

The work at the series of five MCWA settlement ponds seemed more like fun to some of the Scouts.

“Is this really helping?” asked 14-year-old Jimmy Basner as he and his fellow Scouts tossed limestone into the creek.

When told the limestone helped leach the metals, mainly iron and aluminum in this section, from the water, he and his mates redoubled their efforts.

The Scouts earlier had inspected a hydro generator and set up a bucket brigade to dump in the limestone. One thousand pounds of limestone is loaded into the generator, powered by the outflow of old mines, every two weeks. Once in the water, the limestone does its work, causing the metals to drop out into a series of five polishing ponds. “It’s just a chance for the metals to fall out before we put (the water) back in the creek,” said Rob Jackson, MCWA VISTA worker.

Upstream of the polishing ponds, the water bears a distinct orange hue, a testament to the large amount of iron remaining from the abandoned mines. After the limestone does its work, however, the water emerges looking clear and sparkling.

The hydro generator itself, driven by the water from the abandoned mines, also completely powers a mobile command center onsite, donated to the MCWA by Homeland Security.

“It powers everything in here,” King said from the center. To prove his point, he offered to charge a Scout’s cell phone.

When he got the phone back, Scout Craig Iannacchione, 17, was surprised. “It was at 31 percent charged and it’s up to 65 percent in 20-25 minutes! That’s crazy,” he said, and then added, “I want one (of the hydro generators)!”

Iannacchione said his phone would have taken 2 to 21/2 hours to charge similarly at home.

“If we were going to be here for another half hour, my phone would be fully charged,” he said, as he walked away to tell other Scouts about the strength of the water-powered generator.

Jackson told the Scouts similar abandoned mines exist all over southern West Virginia.

“This is an untapped resource right here,” he said. “They could be putting power back into the grid all over southern West Virginia.”

The hydro generator is a joint project of MCWA with Marshall University, WVU Tech and the Department of Energy.

Boz Howard, 14, was among the Scouts who enjoyed the educational aspect of his service project.

“It’s very interesting,” he said. “I really expected just to be working, but it’s very educational as well.”

— E-mail: ckeenan@register-herald.com

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