Commissioners to be commended for careful document search

    Archivists digging through documents at the Harrison County Courthouse made an interesting find this week.
Under a pile of otherwise insignificant papers, crews found a document signed by Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia. The document dates back to 1786.
    Henry, if you will recall, was known as a fiery orator in Colonial America. He is largely remembered in history books for his speech urging the arming of the Virginia militia on the eve of The Revolutionary War.
    Most of the document is handwritten in the flowery script of the day, so nobody has been able to read it yet and figure out what it says. It appears to be some sort of deed dealing with a land transfer. What the document contains isn’t as important as the fact that it was found.
    Harrison County Commissioners ordered an inventory of the old records after a pressing need surfaced to find additional space and meet fire code regulations in the county’s record room. But instead of telling crews to just go in and throw everything out carte blanche, commissioners asked that each document be inspected.
    Last year, Marion County Commissioners weren’t so smart. They just threw out records and received criticism from the public for their actions. Who knows what historically significant piece of paper might have been tucked under some of those piles of otherwise useless looking documents.
    We commend the Harrison County commissioners for their handling of this situation. Because of their even minded response to a problem, they have been able to preserve a small piece of history in Harrison County.

That nagging itch of athlete’s foot

    When I first started whitewater boating in West Virginia during the late 1970s, the raft guides down at the New River used to talk a lot about their problems with athlete’s foot.
Yes, athlete’s foot — nasty cases of that itchy stuff between the toes.
    I guess the combination of wearing soggy sneakers day in and day out and the warm water temperatures of the New during the summer months created a veritable breeding ground for fungus on the feet of many of the Mountain State’s early river guides.
    No amount of Desenex powder, spray or ointment seemed to help. So, being generally resourceful people, and lacking health insurance of any kind, the New River guides were forced to find their own cure.
What they came up with was temporary job transfers. They would move from Fayetteville up to Preston County for a week of taking customers down the mighty Cheat River.
    Yep, the Cheat was a sure cure for those troubled dogs, my guide-friend Greg Kump used to tell me. Because of the runoff from coal mines, he said, the Cheat was so full of acid that nothing could live in it — nothing, not fish, not crawdads, not even those super strains of New River Gorge Athlete’s Foot Fungus.
    Of course, I didn’t believe Greg. He was a raft guide. And as the old joke goes: How can you tell when a raft guide’s lying? The answer: His lips are moving.
But then, in the early 1980s, I floated the Cheat for the first time.
    Rocks along the banks of the magnificent gorge were orange, bright orange — stained by the acid from mines. The water, although clear, stung and burned my eyes.
    Sure enough, Greg was right. The river was full of acid, created when air and water come in contact with pyrite (iron sulfide), a mineral exposed during the coal mining process. And yes, the Cheat guides assured me, folks who typically worked the New often came north to rid their feet of fungus.
Furthermore, the Cheat guides said, the treatment always seemed to work.
    Anyhow, I suppose those early boating experiences are to blame for my keen interest in such topics as the health of our rivers, acid mine drainage and mining methods like mountaintop removal. And a series of recent events has made me remember my friend Greg, the other New guides and their feet.
    My first flashback occurred the other day when the West Virginia Legislature passed yet another lame mountaintop mining bill. I remembered Greg’s stories again on Friday, when thousands of people who work for the mining industry turned out to protest a federal court ruling that blocked development of the largest proposed mountaintop strip mine in West Virginia history.
    I found myself wondering: Do you suppose our legislators, governor and all those protesters suffer from bad cases of athlete’s foot?
Perhaps a trip to the Cheat would help.
    Dave Bassage, director of Friends of the Cheat, a Kingwood-based river conservation group, says the health of the Cheat has improved considerably in recent years. However, too much acid runoff from coal mines still finds its way into the river.
“Let’s put it this way,” Bassage said, “There’s a lot more (reclamation) left to do than has been done.”
In other words, there’s probably enough acid left in the Cheat to cure a good case of athlete’s foot.
    Then again, maybe all this recent chest pounding in support of mountaintop mining and the coal industry is just a sign of laziness. People don’t want to try anything different — something really wild like responsible resource extraction.
I think the governor and our legislative leaders are especially guilty of this charge. If they were serious about fixing the problems with the mountaintop mining bill passed last year, they would have invited people like Bassage, the U.S. EPA and the residents of proposed mountaintop mining sites to sit down with coal company executives and state environmental officials and hammer out a solution.
    It could work. I haven’t heard one responsible conservationist propose an end to all coal mining in West Virginia.
Instead, our political leaders seem to want to continue addressing this issue in smoke-filled, back rooms, where anyone with environmental concerns or concerns about the human impact of mountaintop mining is excluded. Or they prefer to deal with it on the steps of the state Capitol.
    Wouldn’t it be great if someone in state government really tried to find a solution to this issue instead of just cowering, as usual, to the Arch Coals of the world?
    But that’s probably too much to ask — especially if their feet itch.

Bill Sedivy is executive editor of the Exponent and Telegram. His column appears every Saturday.

Strong open-meetings law would keep close
eye on office-holders

    Journalists, who make their living collecting and disseminating information, can be expected to argue for a strong open-meetings law. But journalists aren’t the only ones who should favor such a law. Every citizen should.
    Councilmen, county commissioners, delegates and congressmen promise to serve those who elected them. Human nature being what it is, that promise is often broken. So, citizens need to keep a close watch on office-holders to make sure they are indeed serving the people and not themselves. A strong open meetings law can help citizens do that.
    West Virginia already has an open meetings law on the books, but it can be made stronger. How? By making it more specific. A bill already passed by the House and now before the state Senate would do that.
    The current law outlines broad rules that let officials close meetings to the public for a variety of reasons. The bill is more restrictive. For example, the current open meetings law allows governing bodies to meet in private to discuss personnel or personal matters. Under the bill, however, governing bodies would not be allowed to meet in private to discuss personnel policy in general, or to review the performance of a member of the public body, or to fill a vacant seat on the public body.
    The bill also would set up a open-meetings advisory committee under the Ethics Commission. Governing bodies could turn to the committee for an opinion on whether a meeting should be open or closed to the public. Such a committee is a good idea because, we believe, most public officials do strive to serve the public. More often than not, they close meetings because of ignorance of the open meetings law.
    Still, there are times when public officials close meetings to try to hide their shenanigans. That is why West Virginia needs a strong, specific open meetings law. With prompt action today, the state Legislature can ensure the state has  such a law.
 Tim Langer
Telegram editorial board member


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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999