Ashes to ashes

We have a number of dead American Ash trees that we have been having cut down over this summer. The Ash tree is on the IUCN Red List — Critically Endangered — due to the Emerald Ash Borer. As a result, we have a number of ready-and-waiting bonfire piles. We also added some Leyland Cypress branches left over from recent electric company trimming. Last night — the first evening in some time that was not breezy — we had a friend visiting so did a twofer with two piles that were about 40 feet apart.

These were well-constructed piles, so all it took was one sheet of newspaper, a small bit of cardboard, and one match to start each pile. In the lower left you can see our two fire-poking sticks leaning against an Ash stump.

They fully conflagrated quickly — within 15 minutes each 12-foot diameter pile was shooting flames 20-25 feet into the unseasonably warm early October sky.

They were so hot that we could get close to them for 45 minutes. Spent the next hour using our poking sticks to consolidate the outlying branches — short bursts, they were still mighty hot! A scant 2 hours later we had turned our Ashes to ashes. And embers. Hot embers. The BEST embers.

And, for those of you who can’t do bonfires where you live, we have an audio-visual tasty tidbit for you.

Goats Kids 2015, Early Edition Rounds One and Two

For unknown reasons.

For unknown reasons, our rutting season started early this year, so our 2015 crop of kids has already begun. Here are the first two, one born this morning (the tawny one in the back) and the other a couple of days ago. Both first-time moms seem to be doing OK — we have them locked ion the southern portico of the loafing shed with their kids to encourage the bonding process.

The kids are under the attentive watch of our sole remaining chicken — the rest were killed in a series of fox attacks in the early fall, and this one decided to move out of the hen house down in the obviously dangerous meadow paddock up to the loafing shed with the the goats and the dogs. She lets the goats kids play with her … well at least she tolerates it much better than when our dog Bersheba “plays” with her.

That Time Of Year Again. Sigh.

The ladybugs are back. Actually, they’re Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles. Follow the link for info about how they infest homes in the Autumn. Last year tried a new strategy — sprayed poison around all the doors and windows and used making tape to seal around all of the doors. Worked pretty well, although we still had to use the shop-vac from time to time. Trying it agin this year, but with a bit less poison this time.

They’re B-a-a-ack!

The Ladybugs. Actually, they’re Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles. Follow the link for info about how they infest homes in the Autumn. This year, we just had three nights with a hard freeze (28°F) and we were hoping this would do them in. It didn’t. Time once again for the daily ritual with the shop-vac. Sigh.

Shale Quarry Blues


Shale Pit From VerandaThere is a shale quarry just across the dirt road that is just past our barn — to the right you see the view of this quarry from our veranda, the same view as from our bedroom; note the backhoe, the grader/loader, and the bulldozer all working it this day. The quarrying has been escalating since 1999 and we believe that this quarry should be shut down as it does not meet requirements set forth in the West Virginia State Code. The enforcement agency for quarrying, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Office of Mining & Reclamation (WVDEP-OMR) has been consistently uncooperative with our efforts. We have also dealt with the Division of Water Resources (WVDEP-DWR) in trying to get this site compliant with the terms of the WV/NPDES General Permit (a requirement that any construction site of sufficient size contain runoff water).

Ultimately, we would like to get WVDEP-OMR to properly enforce the law as it pertains to this shale quarry. Their position (that it is not a surface mine needing regulation) seems two be based on two things: (a) when the law says “mineral” it really means “regulated mineral”, and (b) that since the West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH) uses it, it is therefore totally exempt as a “borrow pit” from any surface mine regulations (even though the vast majority of the quarrying has nothing whatsoever to do with highway work).


Our small slice of Almost Heaven, West Virginia is marred by one annoying problem: a shale quarry just across the dirt road that is just past the barn. The owner of this so-called “shale pit” used to own our land, too, and we had chatted with him before we made our purchase offer in 1998. He characterized the activity at the shale pit as “occasional” use by the WVDOH. We beg to differ; over the years this site has increasing use by a number of private contractors for non-highway use as well as varying use by WVDOH — anywhere from one to six dump dump trucks, up to two loaders, up to six days per week, up to six weeks in a row. This is not occasional.

We approached the owner in late 1999 about the level of activity at the quarry and he seemed quite indifferent to our concerns. We then
contacted the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about it, and over five years later we are still getting the run-around from them.

We’ve been handed a variety of excuses as to why DEP isn’t going to do anything about this quarry. Over the years we’ve been told, on different occasions, by employees of DEP:

  1. That this shale quarry does not have a permit but the law “is about to change” and that this change would allow this particular operation to be allowed without a permit
  2. The State Department of Highways (DOH) could do anything it wanted at any site without a permit
  3. That the operation was under one acre in size and so is allowed under a quarry personal use exemption
  4. The owner and an excavating contractor had signed affidavits attenting that the shale was all being used on the owner’s property so this falls under the quarry personal use exemption
  5. The owner isn’t charging money for the shale so this falls under a non-commercial quarry exemption
  6. The DEP has “interpreted” the law such that this operation isn’t a quarry at all, it’s a “borrow pit” and “We [WVDEP] don’t regulate borrow pits”

Pictures – Newest First

Tracking Mud Tracking Mud 11-Jan-2006
There are now at least 2, perhaps 3, different contractors quarrying shale. Here is the road in front of our house after only 1 day of this activity.

Muddy Runoff 18-Dec-2005
… They suggested that we could sue the owner; we suggested that they should fix their ‘features’.
Muddy Runoff

Muddy Runoff Muddy Runoff 18-Dec-2005
We called the 800 number on the NPDES Storm Water sign to complain about the muddy water coming off this site, running down the road, and depositing road gravel onto our pastures. …

Runoff 04-Dec-2005
In the fall of 2005 activity picked up. For about 6 weeks, 5 or 6 days a week, 1 or 2 trucks, for 6 – 8 hours per day they have been quarrying shale. Here you see erosion that has been caused by storm water runoff coming out of this site. So much for their ‘features’.

Storm Water Compliance 'Features' Storm Water Compliance ‘Features’ 27-Jul-2005
Here are two signs they added. Note how even though they are only 100 feet apart they refer to this shale quarry by two different names.

Storm Water Compliance ‘Features’ 27-Jul-2005
In early 2005 the shale quarry owner, with the assistance of WVDOH, submitted a Notice Of Intent to WVDEP to work under the Construction Storm Water WV/NPDES General Permit. This was granted by WPDEP with the required contacting of WVSHPO. As part of this they added the detention pool ‘feature’ seen here. Note that prior to this there had been about a year of very little quarrying activity at the site.
Storm Water Compliance 'Features'

WV DOH Shale Use WV DOH Shale Use 26-Apr-2002
The DOH used the 200 truckloads of shale that they took February 25 – March 1. It is our contention that this use is not simply “unspecified materials used as fill,” as DEP contends, but rather this shale is being used specifically because the properties of shale make it suitable for use as roadbed and as road surface.

Shale Quarry 18-Apr-2002
This is the view from our upper veranda. It gives a good overview of this shale quarry and how much of the mountain they are removing. The area being quarried has expanded in the last several years.
Shale Quarry

Contractor Use Contractor Use 18-Apr-2002
This is one of the several individuals that have taken shale recently. The area he is taking from has “blue shale” that is desired as a nice-looking driveway surface.

WV DOH Equipment 03-Apr-2002
The DOH dropped off this dozer after they had taken about 200 truckloads of shale for use on Kump Road (see next picture). DEP used this dozer and one truck for several days to dump shale elsewhere on the owner’s property. It is our understanding that DOH dumps 1 load for the owner for every 4 that they take.
WV DOH Equipment

Documents and Correspondence

Click or Rght-Click on any file name below to view or download that file. Most files are pdf format and require a pdf viewer. We recommend the free Foxit PDF Reader.

The names of files representing correspondence are in the format: “[date]–[originator]–[recipient].pdf”; they are listed oldest to newest.

31-Dec-1969 _WVCode_22-4_(QuarryAct).pdf

West Virginia Code Chapter 22, Article 4 – The Quarry Reclamation Act.
This is the section of WV law that deals with surface mining — essentially all mining that is not coal mining. Relevant portions:

“Quarrying” means any breaking of the ground surface in order to facilitate the extraction of minerals.

“Minerals” means natural deposits of commercial value found on or in the earth, whether consolidated or loose, including clay, flagstone, gravel, sand, limestone, sandstone, shale, chert, flint, dolomite, manganese, slate, iron ore and any other metal or metallurgical ore. The term does not include coal or topsoil.

“Borrow pit” means an area from which soil or other materials are removed to be used, without further processing, as fill for activities such as landscaping, building construction or highway maintenance and construction.

Exemptions [include:] activities of the West Virginia department of transportation … or borrow pits owned, operated, or maintained solely in connection with the construction, repair and maintenance of the public roads system or other public facilities… [or e]xcavation or grading conducted solely in aid of on-site farming or on-site construction for purposes other than quarrying

31-Dec-1969 _WVRules_38-03_Quarrying_and_Reclamation.pdf

West Virginia Legislative Rule Title 3, Series 38: Rules for Quarrying and Reclamation.
Relevant portions:

Storm water means any water flowing over, around, or through the permitted area in response to a precipitation event. This includes all surface run off.

03-Apr-1996 1996-04-03–OWNER–WVDOH.pdf

This is orginal agreement between the shale quarry owner and WVDOH to allow WVDOH to “get bank shale for the purpose of fixing roads. (At no cost to the Department of Highways).” We obtained a copy of it as part of our 04/24/2002 request to WVDEP.

27-Oct-1999 1999-10-27–WVDEP-MR-35.pdf

Before we made an offer to buy this place, as part of our ‘due diligence’ we sopke with the owner of the shale quarry (the son of the long-time owners of this place). When we asked about the shale quarry he allowed as how the state highway department ‘occasionally’ took shale from it. After a year living here we observed that the use was more than ‘occasional.’ We spoke with the shale pit owner about it and he dodged the issue entirely. After some poking around, we called WVDEP to enquire about any relevant laws or licensure requirements. They sent a Mr. Combs out to investigate, and this is the ‘MR-35’ form that must be completed for each and every investigation.
Since we were really only trying to find out what laws might apply in this case, we remained officially anonymous on this report. This report concludes:

Complainant enquired as to whether a small shale pit … was legal…

Located shale pit … No one on site. Took pictures. Disturbed area approximately one (1) acre. Landowner will be sent a Disturbed Land Inquiry letter.

06-Dec-1999 1999-12-06–WVDEP-OMR–OWNER.pdf

The letter sent to the shale quarry owner by WVDEP as a result of our inquiry. A boilerplate letter asking for “convincing documentation” that the operation is not subject to Chapter 22 Article 4 (the Quarry Act), or get a permit under this article, or “cease and desist.”

08-Dec-1999 1999-12-08–WEIBLEN–WVDEP-OMR.pdf

Our letter to investigator Combs reiterating our desire to see this quarry closed. At this point we had received no official feedback from DEP.

20-Jan-2000 2000-01-20–WVDOH–WVDEP-OMR.pdf

A letter from WVDOH to WVDEP saying that DOH “has for several years used the material, at no cost from this pit, … and continues to do so.”

23-Feb-2000 2000-02-23–WVDEP-OMR–OWNER.pdf

DEP to owner: “As part of your response, I received written information dated 20 January 2000 from the WV Division of Highways on 16 February 2000. I have relied upon this information to determine that your activity at this time is associated with pursuits other than mining and in conjunction with the WV Division of Highways. Therefore, the Office of Mining and Reclamation (OMR) plans no further actions in this matter.”

16-Mar-2000 2000-03-16–WVDEP-MR-35.pdf

Again we complain, this time over over 125 truckloads of shale that had been used on a neighbors property. As soon as that project seemed to be done the WVDOH rolled in. This report states:

State road equipment on site hauling today. Talked to [neighbor] who lives near by & he said he was having some of the shale hauled to his residence part of which was going to be put on a road that crossed [owner’s] property.

Actually, none of the 125+ loads went onto theowner’s property; it seemed to us that WVDEP was actively trying to force this quarry into one of the exceptions listed in the Quarry Act.

27-Feb-2002 2002-02-27–WVDEP-MR-35.pdf

After several years of spratic, relatively small jobs, the quarrying heated up again. This time it was a massive, week-long operation taking 200 loads of shale. “DOH hauling today from shale pit to Mt. Airy Rd (23/9) & Kump Rd (23/10)”.

09-Apr-2002 2002-04-09–WVDEP-MR-35.pdf

They keep quarrying, we keep complaining.”State road (WVDOH) hauling from property today. [Owner] on site today. [Owner] says he does not sell the shale. Neighbors use it. Our (WVDEP) policy this date is that since the material is being used for fill or “borrow” as unspecified materials then it is not quarrying by definition. It is a borrow pit. We don’t regulate ‘borrow pits’.” Funny, though, the Quarry Act only exempts “borrow pits owned, operated, or maintained solely in connection with the construction, repair and maintenance of the public roads system or other public facilities.” [emphasis added] And, again, who cares that the owner does not charge money for the shale, unless one is trying to force this quarry into a exempt category.

24-Apr-2002 2002-04-24–WEIBLEN–WVDEP-OMR.pdf

During the timewhen the quarry was sporatically used, we kept up our pressure. We followed some of the contractor loads to non-road, non-owner sites. We spoke with the operator who naturally resented our interference in his work but who in turn saw no problem with his interference in our life and work (we both worked part-time from home during this period). We wrote to our elected representatives who in turn wrote to WPDEP, who in turn wrote back with some more detailed information on this quarry. Up until this point the only offical info we had was what Mr. Combs wrote in the MR-35’s. So we wrote this FOIA letter requesting “1. A copy of the permit for the quarry site at the junction of Hooks Mill Road (13/3) and Cacapon River Road (14) as specified in Article 4 ‘Quarry Reclamation Act’, §22-4-5 of the West Virginia State Code, including the supporting items 1 through 11 enumerated in that section,” and “2. The Reclamation Plan for this site as specified in §22-4-17 of Article 4.”

01-May-2002 2002-05-01–WVDEP.pdf

A coincidence, I am sure, that WPDEP revised their “Wildcat Operations” policy between the time of getting our FOIA request and responding to that request. Relevant sections:

Breaking of the ground surface in order to facilitate the extraction of regulated minerals .. requires a quarry permit from DEP … An area from which soil, non-classifed minerals or other materials are removed without further processing is a borrow pit and does not require a quarry permit. Non-classifed minerals means the mineral being extracted is not required to meet any standards or specifications (such as site specific construction or ASTM Standards. [Emphasis added]

Note that they refer to “regulated minerals” whereas the law (the Quarry Act) refers only to “minerals” and they further explicitly state that no borrow pit needs a permit whereas the law only exempts borrow pits used “solely” for road maintenance (and why exempt a specific class of borrow pits if you did not intend for all others to be regulated?).

06-May-2002 2002-05-06–WVDEP-DMR–WEIBLEN.pdf

WVDEP’s formal response to our FOIA request. They included several of the documents listed above, and summarize:

The site has historically viewed as an exempt activity both under the old quarry law and the new (June 2002) quarry law at 22-4-29.

As we read 22-4-29 of the the Quarry Act we see none of the listed exemptions fitting this site.

24-Mar-2004 2004-03-24–WVDEP-MR-35.pdf

After several years of relative quite following our flurry of correspondence in 2002, quarrying activity again picked up so we once again complained. We were told that “shale from borrow pits not subject to WV code 22-4.” Mr. Combs suggested that we “contact Fleishman WVDEP Romney” about whether this quarry is in complaince with construction site stormwater management regulations.

20-Jul-2004 2004-07-20–WVDEP-EE–OWNER.pdf

In response to our telephone enquiry, WVDEP-EE in Romney sent the owner this letter, which states, in part:

This property has been used as a shale pit and no sediment and erosion control has been installed. The West Virgina department of Environmental Protection requires land disturbances of 1 acre or greater to be covered under a Construction Stormwater Permit.

16-Feb-2005 2005-02-16–OWNER–WVDEP.pdf

The own responded with this Notice of Intent to apply for resigistration to work under the general permit; it includes the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) which was prepared by D. A. Jennings of WVDOH in Romney. We did not get a copy of this until later, after a round of frustrating phone calls to WVDEP-EE and WVDOH.

01-Mar-2005 2005-03-01–WVDEP-DWWM–OWNER.pdf

The notice from WVDEP-DWWM to the owner that “The Division of Water and Waste Management has received the Notice of Intent form for yiour construction activity and assigned the above referenced registration number. You are now authorized to operate under General Permit No. WV0115924.” We got this document in reponse to our second FOIA request which we initiated after seeing signage go up on the shale quarry.

28-Jul-2005 2005-07-28–WEIBLEN–WVSHPO.pdf

When we were in the process of getting our house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the kind folks at WVSHPO mentioned that WVSHPO was supposed to be contacted during the permitting process for borrow pits and construction projects in order to assess the impact of the site on any nearby historic properties. We wrote WVSPO this letter asking that they look into the matter of the permits for this shale quarry.

24-Aug-2005 2005-08-24–WVSHPO–WVDEP.pdf

In response to our letter to WVSHPO they in turn wrote this letter to WVDEP. Money quote:

Ms. Weiblen owns and resides in the Captain David Pugh House in Hampshire County, listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 23, 2004. She has concerns regarding the viewshed from the Pugh House being diminished as a result of a boundary increase by the mining operation. We have enclosed a copy of her letter to our office. We ask that you please contact Ms. Weiblen, in writing, regarding her concerns. Please copy our office on you response for our records.

29-Aug-2005 2005-08-29–WVDEP-DMR–WEIBLEN.pdf

L. Brent Wiles, Environmental Supervisor, Division of Mining and Reclamation, WVDEP, responds to the WVSHPO letter:

WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Mining and Reclamation policy concerning “Wildcat Operations” dated November 1, 2001, revised May 1 2002, (copy provided) has not changed since our last communication on or about 6 May 2002. …Your letter refers to the “NPDES Storm Water Permit”. NPDES Storm Water permits are reviewed and issued by WVDEP Division of Water Resources under Chapter 22, Article 11, Code of WV. Since this site has no Chapter 22, Article 4 (Quarry) permit, I must assume that the permit renewal of which you speak is for an NPDES Storm Water permit under Chapter 22, Article 11. Your questions regarding the applicability of SHPO review for this type of permit should be directed to WVDEP, Division of Water Resources Permitting Section. I have been advised that the NPDES permitting functions from the Romney area are being temporarily handled through the Fairmont DEP DWR Office, 2031 Pleasant Valley Road, Fairmont, WV, 26554, Attn: Andy Weaks, 304-368-3960. I am copying this correspondence to Mr. Weaks for his review and/or response.

Of course, we never heard anything from Mr. Weaks.

17-Nov-2005 2005-11-17–WVDEP–WEIBLEN.pdf

We decide the we want all the latest documents related to this shale quarry, so we FOIA’d WVDEP via email:

Pursuant to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (WV Code §29B-1-3), I am requesting copies of the following public records relating to General Permit Registration No. WVR101478 and General Permit No. WV0115824:
1. A copy of the legal advertisement for the renewal of this permit, including the date of advertisement and the identity of the newspaper(s) in which the ad was posted.
2. A copy of the original permit and any permits previous to the present permit.

WVDEP acknowledged the receipt of our request promptly:

As of 11-17-05, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Public Information Office is in receipt of your Freedom of Information Act request. I have forwarded your request to the Division of Air Quality and the Office of Water Resources.

But it was three weeks before we got any actual infomation from them. It was a copy of this shale quarry’s general permit use confirmation that we already had, plus a boatload of newspaper ads and publication affirmations from 2002 when the general permit itself was renewed.

13-Jan-2006 2006-01-13–WEIBLEN–WVDEP.pdf

We have seen brown water coming off the quarry site leaving deep ruts in the road and depositing road material in one of our pastures. When we called the 800 number on the sign to complain, we were routed to WVDEP-EE in Romney. They said that they had installed ‘features’ to control the water (the SWPPP) and suggested that we could sue the owner; we suggested that they should fix their ‘features’. This file is an email that we sent to DEP’s citizen liason office about this matter.

Abbreviations & Acronyms

MR-35 The Compalint Investigation form used by WVDEP to respond to a citizen complaint.
OWNER The owner of the shale quarry in question. While we stenuously disagree with his behavior in this whole matter, we recognize that he does seem to have WVDEP enforcement on his side. So we therefore have made a conscious decision to *not* put his name on this site in any searchable text form. His name does appear in in various photographs of public signs and pdf files of publicly-available government documents.
SWPPP Storm Water Polution Prevention Plan
WVDOH West Virginia Division of Highways (Department of Transportation)
WVDEP West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
WVDEP-DWWM WVDEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management
WVDEP-EE WVDEP’s Environmental Enforcement
WVDEP-OMR WVDEP’s Office of Mining & Reclamation
WVSHPO West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office

Channel One

Does your local middle or high school show Channel One? Don’t know? Until recently, we were only vaguely aware that our middle school had it. It came up during our recent discussions about homeschooling our children so we checked into it. We were pretty disgusted by what we found. Here are some links if you’re interested:

And here is my Letter to the Editor of our local paper:

The Hampshire Review, Hampshire County, WV – Sept. 5, 2001

Wants School Board to Cancel Channel One


Did you know that Hampshire County children from sixth grade through twelfth are forced to watch a TV program called Channel One in school every day? Channel One is a daily 12-minute “newscast for teenagers” that includes 2 to 3 minutes of ads. In exchange for showing this daily program our schools get free TVs and VCRs. Sound like a good deal? Well I’ve looked into the details and I think that it’s a truly rotten deal!

Channel One is not interested in educating our children. A university study found that only 20 percent of Channel One’s program is spent on “recent political, economic, social and cultural stories”. From what I’ve seen of it only a little could be considered educational. For the most part it’s an MTV-style jumble of images with a driving rhythm soundtrack — entertainment designed to keep the attention of the kids between the ads. The same program is shown to our 11-year-old sixth graders and to our 18-year -old high school seniors. There is no way that a single program can be appropriate for such a wide range of ages, and I for one do not consider an 11-year-old to be a “teenager.”

Channel One IS interested in making money off of our children. Advertisers pay up to $200,000 for a 30-second ad on Channel One. That’s a lot of money to pay, and here’s why they pay it according to Channel One’s advertiser sales literature: “Channel One doesn’t just deliver teen viewers, it delivers the hardest to reach teen viewers. Channel One even penetrates the lightest viewers among teens…’Traditional’ television vehicles reach the same viewers over and over again … Channel One’s unique delivery reaches heavy and light viewers equally. No waste. No wearout. Just impact.” Channel One can “penetrate” our children because it’s contract requires that our schools show the program in its entirely, with the sound on, in at least 80% of the classrooms on at least 90% of school days — it has a captive audience.

The worst part of all this is that this program and it’s advertisers get a stamp of approval from our schools — we say, ‘Here kids, watch this, it’s educational and good for you.’ This makes the ads more important in our children’s minds than ads seen at home. I find Channel One to be neither educational nor good. I urge our School Board to cancel it’s Channel One contract. There is no penalty, just the loss of the “free” TV sets and VCRs. But using the math I learned back when I was in school, Channel One costs our children over 5 days of classroom instruction time each school year — 5 lost days of class time in a school system that every year moans about the difficulty of meeting the state-required 180 days of school. That is not “free”, in fact that is way too high a price. We should not let greedy corporate advertisers co-opt our children’s education.

Eric Burleyson

Hooks Mills