CALHOUN'S LAST HURRAH - Where Do We Turn For Help?

(08/14/2001)

Bob Weaver

Where do you turn for answers and help? A burning question as Calhoun County appears to be a significant player in the resurgence of natural gas production by deep well drilling. It may well be the counties last hurrah to seek some benefits for its citizens, royalty holders and small producers. Last night the Calhoun County Board of Education endorsed the resolution passed last week by the Calhoun Commission, advocating for local interests.

While wanting a fair shake for the large companies who take business risks to extract West Virginia's natural resources, the historic facts are dismal. Starting with coal, McDowell County West Virginia has been the largest producer of coal in America for many years.

Repeatedly we are told that coal has been good for the mountain state. Tax concessions and economic development dollars for "King Coal" help the economy and provide needed jobs.

One only has to travel to McDowell County to get the answer. Riddled with joblessness, loss of population, property and lack of infrastructure, one would never believe this has been America's center for coal extraction. No amount of public relation spin by government and the coal industry can remove the sense of hopelessness and depression I have felt when spending time there. A sense of injury and abandonment for my fellow West Virginians.

It is understandable why a few thousand remaining miners fight to keep their jobs, but one needs to be reminded of the tens of thousands who are no longer employed because of quick, dirty and environmentally unsound mountain top removal. We are told it is good to have mountains flattened.

The public relation folks say it leaves "a field of dreams." More recently the devastating floods in southern West Virginia renewed the ominous defense used by Pittson Coal after the Buffalo Creek disaster in 1973 - it was an "act of God."

The coal companies have been effective in putting out statistics regarding the amount of rainfall. It would have caused a flood anyway, which may be true. But it disallows the totality of the problem caused by messing with natural creation.

Many of us who are native Calhouner's, fourth or fifth generation, know well how oil and gas interests impressed our grandfathers with their offers and leases. Many of them are still locked-in. Pennies for thousands of dollars of production. Roane counties early 20th century monster well "The Big Abbott" netted the royalty owner $50 a year.

While pricey lawyers and lobbyists continue to convince members of the West Virginia Legislature, many of whom have vested interests themselves, that extractors of natural resources need special deals and concessions, it is difficult to find a voice for citizens and the counties who suffer loss in the negotiations. No one has invited presidents of county commissions to be seated at the legislative table. We learn of the decisions later, when it's too late.

From Wirt County receiving 80 cents an acre in tax from Westvaco (who own about 1/3 of the counties surface) to Underwood's sold-out deals over extracting coal under state parks or excusing millions of dollars owed by coal companies to Workman's Comp, well, the list goes on and on.

With Calhoun County having 62 deep well permits, there is the promise of receiving some taxes to develop infrastructure and provide some jobs, besides providing better services and education for our citizens.

That promise is quickly shattered with the review of history and the ongoing discussion of formulas, tax breaks and uncertainties regarding the taxation of deep wells.

Who will stand for our people and our interests? Please, I would like to know.


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