Hot Springs – In stark contrast to meetings held in Hot Springs in March 2007 and in Woodstock two weeks ago, the future of wind energy in the George Washington National Forest was only briefly touched upon, and then in general terms, Monday night. The forest service met with citizens in Hot Springs to gather ideas about how the GWNF will be managed during the next 10 to 12 years. People who attended came from up and down the Shenandoah Valley, the Allegheny Highlands and the mountains of West Virginia. There seemed to be few representatives from Bath County, and none asked about the future of wind energy on national forest land in Bath. Karen Overcash, of the GWNF planning office in Roanoke, was surprised the topic was not brought up. “We were wondering that, too,” she said. “We expected it to come up. It’s come up in the other meetings.” Kathy Spurgeon of the Warm Springs Ranger District office was surprised more people from Bath did not attend. A person from Hot Springs attended the opening session but left afterward, saying she had gotten all the information she wanted. Several hunters from Bath attended to express their concern about bobcat hunting. The workshop was divided into three sections. During the middle section, everyone broke off into eight small groups to look through GWNF maps and mark areas of concern or interest. The forest service facilitated the groups and during the closing session, presented all the topics discussed during the two sessions. According to David Hannah of Wild Virginia in Charlottesville, the topic of wind energy came up in his small group only when someone brought up the idea of national forests supplying the country with energy. While wind power would be one component of this plan, the person’s focus was more on bio-mass fuel gathered from the forests, Hannah said. In another group, Bruce Richards of Rockingham County expressed concern over possible wind turbines built on private land near Criders on Church Mountain. “To quote my granddad,” Richards said, “wind turbines – he would call a fart in a windstorm, because we are not conserving energy, but are wasteful and gluttonous. This (wind energy) is not going to get us where we really need to be compared to real conservation.” Ken Landgraf, GWNF environmental planning staff officer, summarized the participants’ interests and concerns into three categories: habitat management, back country and wilderness management and access issues. “These are the three areas that we will dig deeper into in future meetings,” he said. When asked why wind energy on national forest land was not mentioned, Landgraf said, “I’m not sure if people in the Hot Springs area who were interested in wind felt that they had given their comments last year or if the concern had died down a little bit. I’m not sure why we didn’t hear about it.” Landgraf said the topic of wind energy was not brought up by the forest service because they were trying to hear from people rather than tell people what to discuss. “Last year when we did our comprehensive evaluation report, which is our look at what needs to be changed, we recognized that wind was an up and coming concern and something that we probably need to deal with in the forest plan. It was not something we needed to bring up further, because we do think we need to do something as far as presenting it in the new plan.” When asked which of the three categories wind energy would fall into, Landgraf said, “Wind is one (category) we’re going to have to think about a little bit further, about whether we want to have a meeting. We’ve tossed that around a little about having a meeting just about wind. But on the other hand, we’ve heard an awful lot about what people had to say, at least up in Woodstock about it. So whether we need to have a meeting about wind, I’m not sure. We might have enough information now to go out with something in the draft plan. And once we put out that draft plan, we’ll have further meetings so that if people don’t like how we address wind in that draft plan, we would discuss it further. That’s one (category) that’s kind of on the edge of whether we’ll dig into it more or whether we’ll just put something in the draft plan.” In the comprehensive evaluation report, which is online at www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/forestplan/ revision/plan-home.shtml, the forest service has identified areas in the forest that would not be suitable for wind development. If no further meetings were held on wind energy development in the GWNF, the forest service would use the current information in the report.
By Cynthia B. Coleman
31 July 2008