Germany Valley Karst Survey, Surveying Caves, Karst and Karst Features of Germany Valley, West Virginia

Reported by Gordon Brace, Founder, Germany Valley Karst Survey
On Friday January 5th, 2001, a meeting was scheduled by Greer Lime Company to discuss their three quarry renewal permits. All main parties associated with the renewal were present: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), Cavers, Local Landowners, and the Greer Lime Company. A neutral arbitrator facilitated the meeting.
Unfortunately, the day started out on a sad note. I met Mr. Chuck Hemple (who was contracted as a Professional Geologist by the lawyer for select local landowners) at Seneca Rocks around noon, and was immediately informed that Ms. Christine Hamilton (the lawyer representing select local landowners) would not be able to attend the meeting. At 7:00 a.m. that morning, Mr. Pat Stump (Ms. Hamilton's husband) had a heart attack. Rightfully, she would be by her husband's side on an emergency flight down to Charleston, West Virginia for medical treatment. In the absence of the only lawyer aware of landowner and caver concerns, Chuck Hemple and myself put together a list of “talking” points, to be discussed at this meeting. These included various environmental concerns associated with the proposed renewal permits, as well as the issue of the necessity of a complete Hellhole survey. Chuck and I met with Ms. Honey Harmon, one local landowner, prior to the meeting and confirmed her concerns regarding the proposed renewals. As Chuck surmised, this meeting was not set up to resolve the concerns of the local landowners or the cavers. This meeting was requested by Greer Lime Company to discuss these issues only. No promises, contracts, or compromises were made during the meeting. In summary, discussions regarding the Hellhole concerns relating to the renewal permits included the following:
1. To completely understand the nature of the Hellhole cave system, and to fully protect the cave, the WVDNR, USFWS, and the cavers requested the cave be surveyed.
2. Greer Lime Company quarries approximately five (5) acres of limestone per year. The approval of these current renewal permits will allow Greer to quarry approximately four years worth of limestone. Once the limestone associated with these renewal permits is mined away, Greer would either have to modify the existing permits to allow for deep mining activities, or apply for a completely new permit to head north onto the Marblehead Quarry property that they recently purchased.
3. The issue of cavers “digging” in caves has been brought up at past meetings with Greer. This issue seems to have been resolved at this meeting. It was demonstrated to Greer that any digging in this particular cave system by cavers would have little to no effect on the air movement in the cave, and, thus, would not impact the endangered bats who inhabit this cave. This was accomplished by differentiating between a “closed” system and an “open” system. (I.E., anything cavers would do in the cave would be done within a “closed” system; any major breaks in the cave by the quarry would in effect change the cave from a “closed” system to an “open” system. Mr. Craig Stihler, of the WVDNR, and Mr. Bill Tolin, of the USFWS, both concurred on this point.
4. The WVDNR maintains temperature data loggers within Hellhole to continuously monitor the cave temperature. A major fluctuation was reported in December 1997. It had been previously mentioned that cavers digging in the cave could have caused this fluctuation. However, cavers are not granted access to the cave at this time of year and were not working in the cave at that time. It was resolved at this meeting, that due to the time of year, cavers could not have been associated with this fluctuation. It was also resolved that due to the limited amount of data collected to date from the data loggers, this fluctuation could not definitively be linked to quarrying activities. This could be a natural yearly phenomenon. Only further temperature studies by the WVDNR will be able to tell.
5. At the present time, we cannot show that the quarry's activities within the permitted area will have an impact on the cave. Greer's plan for expansion to the east is only a 100-foot expansion of the current headwall. Anything beyond this limit would require them to start deep mining because the overburden gets too thick. In effect, this means that the active quarry wall will not get much closer to the Germany Valley Road, or Hellhole, than it already is. In the event Greer plans to start deep-mining, or wishes to expand the quarry to the north, toward the Wildcat Hollow fracture zone, Greer would be required to apply for a new permit, rather than a “renewal” permit. According to Mr. Joe Dean of Greer Lime Company, Greer currently has no plans for this type of expansion.
6. All parties involved, including Greer, are relying on the cave survey data collected by the Potomac Speleological Club (PSC).
7. Chuck Hemple obtained a copy of the quarry map, which indicates the areas up for renewal. This is a large 3' x 3' map, and is currently being stored by the Germany Valley Karst Survey.
8. Greer and their lawyer raised a legitimate question about surveying under private property. Even though Greer controls access to the cave, most of the cave is under property not under Greer's control. No one at the meeting offered opinions on whether cavers have permission to survey beneath private property. Individual landowner rights are very strong in the state of West Virginia. No one knew whether or not the Kentucky Cave Laws would apply. (I.E., He who controls the entrance to a single entrance cave controls the whole cave.) We may have to get permission from the individual owners effected before a survey can commence. This issue will have to be addressed prior to any future survey trips into Hellhole. Discussion regarding environmental issues relating to the renewal permits included the following:
1. Noise pollution, which has historically been associated with blasting, as well as limestone grinders, which operate continuously. 2. Dust pollution, which is associated by blasting and the constant truck travel. 3. Water pollution in Mill Creek (Judy Spring). Greer reports that native trout are alive and happy in Judy Spring and Mill Creek. 4. According to one of the WVDEP Inspectors present at the meeting, some of the issues raised by Ms. Harmon and Mr. Rafe Pomerance (local landowners) have already been remedied. These relate to run-off issues and sedimentation ponds.
Currently, Hellhole DOES NOT appear to be in any danger of encroachment by the nearby quarry. The letter writing campaign was a success in that it got the attention of the local regulatory authorities, and also let them know that cavers are, and will be alert and vigilant to the protection of Hellhole. The current renewal permits have been approved by the WVDEP. However, we must continue to be alert for new permits, which will likely be requested by Greer Lime Company in the future. New permits are scrutinized on a completely different scale than that of renewal permits.