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April 2020

It seems like spring is almost here, although they say “March comes in like a lamb, and out like a lion”.  One thing for sure, we don’t need any more rain.  The thru-hiker season is in full swing.  This season it appears we are about 110 starters ahead of last year.  Bob Sloan at Basecamp suggests this increase is from international hikers.

Cowpasture Pipeline

Perhaps you are familiar with a case concerning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) crossing the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest (GWNF) in Virginia.  This will carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia to the east coast of Virginia and North Carolina. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is among those challenging a permit issued by the Forest Service, contending that the USFS did not have the authority to issue a permit because the Trail, even on USFS land is “land in the National Park System”. The fourth circuit sided with SELC and revoked the permit. The appeal was heard by the Supreme court on Monday, Feb 24th.  

The question is whether the Forest Service (FS) has the authority to issue such a permit.  The Mineral Leasing Act (1920), which addresses energy development on federal lands and allows for the USFS to permit pipelines except on National Park lands.  The Appalachian Trail at this point is on a ridge, the pipeline would enter and exit on private property, 2,000 feet off either side and 600 feet below the trail. This involves a 42” hole drilled through rock for a mile which could take 12 to 18 months.  There is the possibility that the noise generated could be heard on the trail.

Additionally, there would be an area clear cut to facilitate burying the pipeline which could also affect the view shed.  While this part of the trail is not particularly “wild”, it is about 100 yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway where cars can be heard. The view shed also contains houses roads and fields.

If the petitioners lose, the pipeline may not happen due to the expense of rerouting. Even if they win, the future remains unclear because there are seven other permits, not related to this case, that were revoked by the 4th circuit.

Federal lands are owned by the federal government and managed by specific agencies, depending on the type of property. The case isn’t about who “owns” the trail but who has jurisdiction over the federally owned land the trail traverses.  The National Trails System Act (1968) confers administrative responsibility of the Appalachian Trail to the Park Service while specifically stating that the existence of the A.T. does not transfer underlying management authority.  The question is how far does that extend? 

Of particular concern is the affect the decision could have on the Cooperative Management System (CMS) that has been successfully used for over fifty years. If the 4th circuit decision is upheld, the role of the USFS in managing the Trail on USFS land becomes uncertain. Due to that uncertainty, the Forest Service is putting a halt to new and existing trail projects until this is worked out.  This will affect our upcoming trail relocation on Poor Mountain with the Konnarock crew coming this summer for four weeks.

I hope the court’s decision insures the CMA remains intact.  Our country has an increasing appetite for energy, certainly pipeline and infrastructure projects will continue and hopefully be permitted with local community and the public’s interest as well as other environmental issues primarily considered.

Board Meetings and Openings

To insure a strong future for our club I believe is important that more members become engaged with committees and activities.  Attending board meetings is a good place to start this process.  As such I would like to extend an open invitation to all members to attend a board meeting.  This is a good way for people to become familiar with club management and hopefully find some place to get involved.