Eight Rivers Safe Development Needs Your Help!

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Eight Rivers Safe Development Needs Your Help!

Postby George Phillips » Jan 24, 2007 3:36 pm



To all cavers with an interest in West Virginia caves:

A bad situation has been developing over the past year that threatens a favorite caving area in West Virginiathe Big Spring Fork and Upper Elk River valleys of Pocahontas County.

County commissioners and developers want to build a 1.5 million gallon-per-day sewage plant on a shallow karst floodplain located on the historic Sharp Farm at Slatyfork, WV. The project plans to take possession of the land by eminent domain. The site has been owned by the Sharp Family, descendants of one of the first settlers in the area, William Sharp, for over 8 generations.

The Big Spring Fork stream drains the local watershed and sinks/resurges at several locations in the valley. There are over 68 known karst featurescaves, springs, and swallowholesin the Big Spring Fork valley.

The proposed site, a 9-acre meadow, contains numerous sinkholes, springs, and “boilholes,” where water boils up out of the ground during high flow conditions. The meadow, which is known to flood frequently, is an alluvial fan in a large bend of the Big Spring Fork and was formed by a small stream that flows off adjacent Middle Mountain. This small stream sinks in the middle of the site, at a location where the treatment equipment is to be located, and rises again a short distance down slope in the meadow, apparently following the path of an enlarged joint in the shallow limestone.

The Big Spring Fork itself is normally dry in the area adjacent to the site during the summer and fall, sinking approximately 1/4 mile upstream of the meadow for the final time and rising as a large spring complex, including several small feeder springs and a large spring pool with separate stream channels, just 100 yards downstream of the site.
The locations of the stream sinking point and spring complex is a strong indication that the underground stream of the Big Spring Fork may be located directly under the proposed facility.

In addition, the effluent line, from the plant to its final discharge point in the Big Spring Fork, is apparently to be routed across the up-gradient side of and then directly through the large spring pool resurgence – potentially beheading this beautiful and pristine spring!
All evidence points to a significant risk of site flooding by the surface stream or from below via the underground stream or boil holes or, worse yet, from sinkhole/void collapse on the site.

This creates an unnecessary risk of physical damage to the facility as well as the surrounding caves and springs in the immediate area. Failure of the treatment equipment presents the added potential hazard of contamination of the caves and groundwater beneath the site and downstream with untreated sewage.

In addition to the risks at the plant site, the raw sewage will be transported to the plant through a 5-mile PVC pipeline from the Snowshoe/Silver Creek Ski Resorts (elevation 4,800 feet) and other planned developments. This pipeline crosses the Big Spring Fork (elevation 3,000 feet) in several locations, at one point crossing directly over a location where the stream completely sinks and is pirated into the local and significant Sharps Cave.

There are numerous manholes along the pipeline, all representing a potential overflow location, especially given the high elevation change in the collection system. A pumping station is planned near, and possibly directly over, a shallow passage in a significant wild cave (Sharps Cave). The “Root Canal” passage, so named due to the roots that protrude from the ceiling, is within 20 feet of the surface at this location. The pumping station wet well is planned to a depth of 25 feet.

Any failure of the supply line or the overflow of a manhole or pumping station could result in a raw sewage spill that could then flow directly into Sharps Cave or the underground Big Spring Fork.

This potential for a spill or bypassing presents a new and significant risk to groundwater, springs, drinking wells, and caves in the Big Spring Fork and Elk River valleys, including Sharps Cave, My Cave, Elk River Cave, Left Tit Pit, and others. There are numerous species of concern and cave-adapted species in these caves and springs that could be threatened by a sewage spill.

What is planned will not work. There are cost-saving alternatives, including the best one, which is to treat the sewage where it is generated.


An independent organization headed by cavers, Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc., has been established to challenge the wisdom and safety of locating this project on karst. The name “Eight Rivers” comes from Pocahontas County, which is the headwaters area for eight significant rivers in the West Virginia.

Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc. is organized for charitable and educational purposes to encourage and advocate the conservation and protection of karst, caves, and karst landscapes, and to promote safe development on karst terrains.

We believe it is better to prevent collapse, failure, contamination, and flooding upstream NOW, before the plant is built, than to pay for expensive cleanup downstream LATER when it is too late.

We are moving forward to represent a coalition of organizations, including local watershed and fisherman’s groups, and individuals everywhere who value caves, clean and safe rivers and groundwater, and who do not want to see unsafe development.


Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc has retained an attorney to proceed with legal action to require the appropriate government agencies to obey the law. Our attorney has visited the site, reviewed the applicable law and regulations, and feels we have a valid complaint. We plan to file suit in December 2006.

We demand that a technically competent geotechnical investigation and risk analysis of the site and pipeline be performed. Geotechnical surveys conducted by the project are, at best, incomplete and inconclusive.


In order to be successful, we need to raise significant funding through contributions from the caving community and other concerned citizens and groups.


Please send your contributions to:

Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc.
EIN: 87-0784804
P.O. Box 114
Cass, WV 24927

8-Rivers Safe Development is a non-profit, tax exempt corporation in West Virginia. We will soon apply to the IRS for 501-(c)-3 status. Based on current backlog we estimate it will take 7 months before our federal nonprofit status is granted.

Look for updates on our progress at:


A partial list of Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc. organizers include: Roger Brucker (NSS 1999/KarstEEP - Karst Environmental Education and Protection), George Deike (NSS 2402), Bob Handley (NSS 1002), Hilary Lambert (NSS 31439/KarstEEP), Bill Liebman (NSS 11970), George Phillips (NSS 27623), and Carl Pierce (NSS 33921).
George Phillips
Occasional Poster
Posts: 40
Joined: Jan 24, 2007 3:20 pm
Location: West Virginia
NSS #: 27623
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Charleston Grotto

Update on Eight Rivers Safe Development

Postby George Phillips » Mar 8, 2007 8:23 am

Hi folks,

Please visit the Eight Rivers Safe Development website at EightRiversSafeDevelopment.com for updates on the proposed sewage treatment plant at Slatyfork, West Virginia.

The proposed site is located on a shallow karst floodplain which contains numerous springs and sinkholes. There are over 68 karst features - caves and springs - located near the proposed site and along the pipeline routing.

This project presents a significant threat to the karst, groundwater and headwaters stream in the Upper Elk River watershed.

Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc. is a West Virginia nonprofit corporation organized for charitable and educational purposes. We encourage and advocate the conservation and protection of karst, caves, and karst landscapes, and promote safe development on karst terrains.

Eight Rivers Safe Development filed a complaint against the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) in Dec 2006 for not completing an Environmental Impact Statement for the project as required by West Virginia State Code.

The WVDEP responded to this complaint in February. Eight Rivers Safe Development is pressing forward with our efforts to require the WVDEP to conduct an EIS.

Copies of the complaint, WVDEP response, public comments to the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) as well as other related news items are available at the website.

Our most recent post is a photo tour of Sharps Cave - a significant cave local cave which could be negatively impacted by the sewage plant pipeline.

http://www.8RiversSafeDevelopment.com/c ... psCave.php

These images of Sharps Cave are from the NSS A/V Library slide show "Sharps Cave, Pocahontas County" (Dasher 1985) and are used with permission from the NSS.

Eight Rivers Safe Development greatly appreciates the cooperation and permission from the NSS in using these images to promote awareness of the unique and fragile cave and karst resources in the Upper Elk watershed.

George Phillips
Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc.
George Phillips
Occasional Poster
Posts: 40
Joined: Jan 24, 2007 3:20 pm
Location: West Virginia
NSS #: 27623
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Charleston Grotto

Update on Eight Rivers Safe Development

Postby George Phillips » Mar 29, 2007 7:25 am

Hi folks,

Representatives from West Virginia Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen Association and Eight Rivers Safe Development met with West Virginia lawmakers on March 14th to discuss the proposed regional sewage treatment plant at Slatyfork.

The meeting included an overview of the karst features in the Upper Elk and Big Spring Fork watersheds, specific concerns related to the karst and the project and a recommended alternatives to a regional plant located on karst.

The following article from the March 28th Elkins Intermountain summarizes this meeting.

http://theintermountain.com/news/articl ... leID=11802

Please visit our website at eightriverssafedevelopment.com for more information and updates.

Best Regards,
George Phillips
Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc.


Groups Share Concerns with Lawmakers Over Sewage Plant Site

Wednesday March 28, 2007
The Inter-Mountain
By Cathy Grimes

For more than two years, the issue of the proposed sewage treatment plant being located on the Sharp Farm in Slatyfork has generated fierce controversy in Pocahontas County.

The reasons are twofold: Environmental hazards, the dangers of placing the plant on karst terrain; and the use of eminent domain to take private property.

In an effort to raise awareness to the dangers of the proposed location, The Sierra Club, West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen, Eight Rivers Safe Development Inc. and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy met with Sens. Walt Helmick, D-15 District, and Clark Barnes, R-15 District, and Delegate Bill Proudfoot, D-37th District, in Charleston earlier this month.

George Phillips, president of Eight Rivers Safe Development Inc., gave a presentation which included photos and images showing prominent karst features, caves, sinkholes and springs of the Upper Elk and Big Springs Fork valleys.

The photos illustrated the dangers of placing million-pound sewage tanks over a karst honeycomb where the risk of collapse of an underground void or cave passage could significantly damage the plant equipment or result in a spill of raw sewage to the surface and underground streams.

"We expressed our concerns with the site and pipeline location," Phillips said. "We also stressed to the senators and delegate the project would not be in the present situation, located on an unsafe and unstable site, had a proper Environmental Impact Statement been prepared as required by West Virginia State Code.

"The lack of the proper EIS is the basis for Eight Rivers Safe Development's legal complaint against the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection," Phillips said.

Regina Hendrix, political chairwoman with Sierra Club and organizer of the meeting, said, "People are just beginning to realize that the proposed sewage treatment plant placed on karst on the headwater of the Elk is a concern of all of us."

The presentation pointed out that underground sewer lines ultimately leak. When the underground line lies below the water table, any leaks at piping joints or manholes result in groundwater entering the system adding to the plant's hydraulic load. This leakage, called infiltration, is so common that design guidelines in the West Virginia State Code -CSR-47-31 recommends that 200 gallons of infiltration per day, per mile of pipeline be factored into plan design capacities to allow for leakage of ground water into the collection system.

In karst, however, the water table is typically below the pipes and the pipes are often exposed to voids and caves which increase the risk for failure. Any leaks from the system will result in raw sewage seeping out and entering the karst groundwater system.

In karst, any contamination is rapidly transported by the water flowing through the underground conduits of caves and underground streams.

"Residents who live in the valley get their water from wells which are part of this underground system," Phillips said. "Any leak from a failed piping joint or any one of the many manholes will result in raw sewage immediately entering and being transported into the underground streams and caves and will have an immediate and lasting impact on these drinking water sources and public health," Phillips said.

"The whole point of the meeting was to make the senators and delegate aware of other options and to make them aware that these organizations are in full support of Tom Shipley and his efforts," Hendrix said.

Hendrix and others in the delegation including Amon Tracey, president of West Virginia Outdoor Sportsmen; Julien Martin, vice president for State of Affairs with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy; and Phillips indicated the senators and delegate expressed quite a bit of concern with the dangers of placing the plant on karst terrain.

"Delegate Bill Proudfoot didn't like the idea of putting pipelines through five miles of that terrain," Tracey said.

"The senators seemed very concerned about the situation," Julien said.

Helmick told The Inter-Mountain, "the presentation was very enlightening and the knowledge valuable. We knew about the area, but we hadn't known the details in depth."

Helmick said he had been asked by the Pocahontas County Public Service District for help in obtaining funding to be used to evaluate alternative sites and also hire a project coordinator. Helmick indicated they would help with the request, but added, "At the end of the day it's the PCPSD's call; legally we can't do anything with it."

Possible Relocation

One possible solution discussed was moving the plant beside the Elk River, if all the environmental studies were performed and the geology proved stable. However, with this option there would still be the risk involved with transporting 2 million gallons per day of raw sewage up, over and down Cheat Mountain and through five miles of karst terrain.

"A treatment plant down beside the Elk River off the karst in a safe location would be acceptable to my family," said Tom Shipley of the Sharp farm and guest of the conservation organizations "However, even with the plant down beside the Elk River, experts and Pocahontas County citizens still have concerns with the pipeline on karst and related health and safety issues.

"If there is a better proposal by conservation groups and their experts which would alleviate the risk of millions of gallons of sewage being piped through miles and miles of karst and problems of inter-basin transfer which is never good for the environment, my family would support it," Shipley said.

Alternatives to Regional Site

According to Phillips, there are alternatives to a regional plant that are less expensive and would have a positive impact on the karst and groundwater in the Big Spring Fork.

The delegation came to the meeting prepared with one such alternative proposal, one which is endorsed by all the groups represented as well as many other conservation groups.

"This was the first time the senators had heard there were other options out there," Phillips said. "There is a lot more opportunity than what's on the table now."

According to Phillips, one alternative would be to retrofit with state-of-the-art technology the existing wastewater treatment plants at Snowshoe/Silvercreek with a technology called Immersed Membrane, which are micro filters that extract ultra-pure water from the aeration basins of a wastewater plant.

"Often these retrofits result in a two-to-five fold increase in treatment capacity with no increase in plant size," Phillips said.

The immersed membrane system would also eliminate the problem of inter-basin water transfer from the Shavers Fork to the Elk River that would occur if the proposed regional plant is built at Slatyfork.

According to Phillips, "Water from the Snowshoe/Silver Creek systems could be returned to the Shavers Fork Basin, improving the flow and quality of water in the headwaters stream, which is also a premier trout fishery."

The immersed membrane retrofit would cost considerably less than the $20 million to build the proposed Slatyfork plant and "recycling water from wastewater effluent is encouraged by the federal government through grants/tax credits to projects which implement this technology," Phillips said.

According to Phillips, a Pittsburgh-based engineering firm has estimated an immersed membrane retrofit of Snowshoe's facility would cost between $5 million and $8 million, a fraction of the cost estimate for the proposed regional plant.

"Membrane systems are the recommended sewage treatment technology option for environmentally sensitive areas," Phillips said. "The Upper Elk and Shavers Fork Headwaters are world class trout fisheries. In the Big Spring Fork, there are reproducing Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout and pristine caves and springs. If that does not qualify as an environmentally sensitive area, I don't know what does."

For future development in the valley, Phillips recommended small clustered treatment systems rather than the regional plant approach. Here, small treatment plants are built as development occurs. These plants would only be built as local growth and demand required, saving millions of dollars.

The management and operation of these plants would create additional jobs in the area, such as operators, technicians and engineers.

In addition, according to Phillips, the clustered system approach does not require project funds to be spent on unnecessary and expensive collection/transport systems, the pipeline, manholes and pumping stations required to move the sewage down the valley.

This not only reduces the risk of leaks/contamination in the karst valley, but also allows more of the publicly funded project monies to be spent on treatment capacity/technology where the sewage is generated.

The clustered systems approach would allow development to occur anywhere and not just restricted along a narrow corridor that follows the pipeline in the Big Spring Fork Valley.

"Clustered systems are recommended over regional plants by several groups who work to develop wastewater solutions for rural communities," Phillips said. "Locally, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition recommends clustered systems for rural, dispersed communities."

"I'm very pleased with the interest and knowledge these groups and individuals have with the issue," Barnes said of the presentation.

Barnes indicated he also was very aware and concerned with the potential danger to the underground water supply.

"It behooves us to back up and take a second look and it's unfortunate that Thrasher Engineering and Region IV people want to move ahead full steam," Barnes said, "because what's done needs to be done right."

Barnes said he isn't a fan of small cluster systems, "because there are no requirements, the state doesn't have control." But he added, "It could be the solution if the Public Service Commission and state of West Virginia required greater long-term accountability and long-term financial viability by the developers."

According to case studies of Economic Analysis and Community Decision Making for Decentralized Watershed Systems, a study prepared for the National Decentralized Water Resources Capacity Development Project, Washington University, by the Rocky Mountain Institute, "Using small clustered treatment systems is beneficial financially for communities because of the incremental investment in small systems compared to large upfront investments in centralized capacity systems."

The cluster systems, widely viewed positively by developers and homeowners, according to the study, cites the systems as being a good match with its objectives of avoiding large capital expenditures, avoiding political battles over a new treatment plant, providing cost-effective service to developing areas and providing environmental stewardship through higher levels of treatment than other systems.

According to Phillips, the Canaan Valley Institute, a nonprofit, nonadvocacy organization that is committed to providing high quality wastewater treatment at affordable costs to small, rural, often low-income communities, has said it would be happy to work with the Pocahontas County community to develop a comprehensive wastewater plan.

The plan typically focuses on four components: Community engagement, assessment, identifying options and assisting and coordinating design and implementation.

According to information published by CVI, "The answer for many rural communities lies in managed decentralized systems. Treatment systems that are small and dispersed to serve local needs without relying on expensive sewers to collect sewage."

It further states, "These systems can provide an economically viable, environmental sound alternative to municipal sewer systems and treatment plants."

http://www.8riverssafedevelopment.com/n ... hLawmakers
George Phillips
Occasional Poster
Posts: 40
Joined: Jan 24, 2007 3:20 pm
Location: West Virginia
NSS #: 27623
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Charleston Grotto

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