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Report: WV’s Blackwater River among America’s most endangered

Nadia Ramlagan

The Blackwater River, which flows more than 30 miles through West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, ranks among the top 10 most endangered rivers in the nation, according to a new report.

The river is threatened by a proposed four-lane highway construction project which would cross all of its headwater streams.

Judy Rodd, executive director of the group Friends of Blackwater, said Corridor H would involve building a bridge in an area honeycombed with old mines and explains the construction could compromise decades-old work to actively treat the water in the North Fork of the Blackwater impacted by acid mine drainage.

She is worried the highway could be a major environmental setback for the region.

“We expect in the next year to really clean up this river and bring back a trout fishery that used to be there,” Rodd explained. “However, if they start building this bridge, they could be opening up old coal mines, old tunnels, which are filled with acid pollution.”

Rodd noted a draft environmental impact review of the proposed project, required under federal rules, is expected to be released in the coming months.

Small businesses and the local outdoor recreation economy depend on the scenic views and wilderness surrounding the towns of Thomas and Davis. Rodd argued a four-lane highway, with accompanying construction, light and noise pollution, would drastically alter the landscape.

“It’s tranquil, it’s dramatic,” Rodd observed. “You got bald eagles soaring overhead, you got rushing water, you got fishermen in the Blackwater Falls State Park area.”

Olivia Miller, program director for the Highlands Conservancy, said the highway could be rerouted to avoid the Blackwater Falls area, and pointed to an online petition which will allow concerned residents to voice their support for a Northern route to the Federal Highway Administration.

“Right now, we are asking folks to go to the American Rivers website and fill out the action alert to send a letter to highway officials,” Miller stressed.

The Blackwater River is home to the endangered Cheat Mountain salamander, eastern brook trout and many other native species.