/* Begin Common Code>
/* End Common Code> October 25, 2000
P.O. Box 3012
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
Division of Environmental Protection
105 Railroad Street, Suite 301
Philippi, West Virginia 26416
To whom it may concern,
I am writing in regard to Quarry Article 4 Application No. 0-2036-86 recently submitted to your offices by Greer Lime Company. I would like to make you aware of the some critical issues associated with the requested permit that need to be addressed.
I work as a Biological Statistician for Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey in West Virginia, and consequently have become familiar with the Endangered Species Act and how it affects issues such as the one associated with this permit application.
As you know, Greer Lime Co. is currently leasing land and operating a large limestone quarry in Pendleton County near Riverton, WV. Their lease also extends to include the entrance to Hellhole Cave which has been recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a critical habitat for 2 species of endangered (and federally protected) bat, the Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis) and the Virginia Big Ear ( Plecotus Townsendii). The Fish and Wildlife Service has made Greer aware of their responsibility to avoid damage to this critical habit and they have complied to date by maintaining a 250 feet buffer zone and an additional 250 feet restricted blast zone from the nearest known passage in Hellhole.
Unfortunately, Greer management has been uncooperative in allowing qualified cave researchers to complete exploration and mapping of Hellhole cave. There is substantial documentation that Hellhole extends far beyond the currently known passage and in all likelihood extends into the area in which Greer would like to expand their mining operations. Approving Greer’s permit request, without first requiring that they allow the completion of a survey in Hellhole, would put the company at risk of violating the federal Endangered Species Act and open them and the state of West Virginia up to the possibility of expensive legal troubles for years to come. Although the quarry and Hellhole cave are on private property and leased by Greer, which receives no federal funding, they are still bound by federal law to comply with the ‘Habitat Conservation Planning’ section of the Endangered Species Act.
This section of the Endangered Species Act was designed to protect landowners and encourage them to comply with the law. It states that a Habitat Conservation Plan must be developed and submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for approval before any otherwise lawful activity that might result in ‘taking’ of endangered species can be implemented on private property. In this context, take is defined as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect or any attempt to engage in such conduct.
As you may know, Hellhole is a unique cave environment providing the ideal conditions for a hibernaculum for the endangered bat species mentioned above. This is true because of it’s exceptionally low ambient temperature of 47 degrees created by a unique set of conditions including its location in the middle of an enclosed valley and the fact that there is no lower entrance outside of the valley which would allow the cold air to escape. In contrast, most caves in West Virginia have an ambient temperature of 57 degrees. If a Hellhole cave passage is breached by the quarry development, the cold air trap will be breached and this critical endangered species hibernaculum will be destroyed. This act would certainly constitute harassment and harm of endangered species and require an incidental ‘take’ permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Greer Lime Company and the State of West Virginia can easily avoid the additional delays of involving the federal government by allowing Hellhole to be fully surveyed and mapped so that risk of breaching this important hibernaculum is minimized and hopefully prevented. I fully support Greer Lime Company in their quest for further development and I realize they are a vital economic resource in Pendleton County. By allowing this research to be completed before extending their development, they will be potentially preventing critical habitat loss and avoiding the costs and fines of violating federal law.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration of this urgent matter.
Penelope S. Pooler
U.S. Geological Survey - Biological Resources Division