A bill to expand Virginia's protected wilderness area by 25,167 acres will be introduced tomorrow by Reps. Frederick Boucher (D-Va.) and James Olin (D-Va.), after a decision by a major paper plant to end its longstanding objection to the proposal.
Congress set aside 56,000 acres in Southwest Virginia in 1984 as protected wilderness, after more than a decade of lobbying by conservationists.
The proposed expansion would include four sites in Southwest Virginia managed by the U.S. Forest Service that have been under consideration for wilderness designation for three years: Rough Mountain (9,300 acres), Rich Hole (5,600 acres), Barbour's Creek (5,800 acres) and Shawver's Run (4,467 acres).
Rough Mountain is a rugged terrain with steep slopes. Rich Hole has large stands of timber with some trees up to six feet in diameter and more than 200 years old. Barbour's Creek and its tributary, Lipes Branch, are popular fishing streams. Black bear are found in the upper reaches and wild turkey in the lower reaches. Shawver's Run is a recreation area with popular trout streams.
Westvaco Corp., which employs 2,000 workers at a paper plant in Covington, Va., opposed the proposal until now, fearful that the wilderness designation of nearby Barbour's Creek would bring with it more stringent air quality standards that would hamper its mill operations.
However, Jack A. Hammond, Westvaco vice president and manager of the Covington mill, said yesterday that his company is now convinced that the proposed wilderness areas would not be reclassified Class I under the Clean Air Act, a change that would severely reduce allowable plant emissions.
"We have concluded that, based on current laws and regulations, wilderness reclassificaton of the four study areas will not be a limiting factor in our growth plans and on this basis feel that we can temper our original position," Hammond said.
He said Westvaco had received assurances from Virginia's congressional delegation that the proposed wilderness areas, currently designated Class II under the clean air legislation, would not be reclassified Class I.
The bill, which would forever protect the land from timbering and development, would not require additional funding, according to Boucher. The proposal also would designate 2,500 acres in nearby West Virginia as wilderness areas.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) will sponsor the legislation in the Senate, according to Boucher.