Hinton, West Virginia: Same Old Government Land Grab
By Tom DeWeese
May 1, 2002 - Hinton, West Virginia, is a small rural
community of approximately 5,000
people. Most residents have lived their entire lives in the town or
surrounding countryside. Many live in the same houses built by long-departed
relatives. Hinton is paradise and they don't care to live anywhere else.
Ann Roach is a new comer. Just a few years ago she discovered Hinton while on
a "Mystery Tour" aboard an Amtrak train journeying through the
view the Fall foliage in the valley of the New River Gorge. Ann and her
husband Bruce, native Ohioans, were so taken by the beauty of the area that
only a few weeks after the Amtrak trip they decided to return and investigate
the possibilities of buying some property.
Arriving in Hinton after a three and a half hour car ride, they toured the
area then turned down a small, one lane, dangerous road that ran along side
the New River. The road had pot holes "big enough to ruin heavy
high bank areas where cars couldn't pass safely and where heavy rains and
snow drifts caused mud slides and left fallen trees in the road.
Nevertheless, a week later, Ann and Bruce were the proud owners of a small,
one bedroom cabin on stilts located between the neglected road and the river.
The previous owner of the cabin told them that there were plans in place to
fix the road and even showed Ann and Bruce the government documents which
assured that fixing the road would have little impact on private property.
The only real question was when, if ever, the government would get around to
doing the repairs. Residents had been waiting for more than ten years. So Ann
and Bruce became happy homeowners along the New River, having fully reviewed
all of the documented plans for the New River Parkway.
There was one problem with the cabin; there was not enough room for their
eight grand children who were anxious to drive in from Ohio for regular
visits. So Ann and Bruce designed a new house plan that would provide all the
room needed for happy visits along the New River. To make sure that the road
would not affect their house, Bruce approached the planning coordinator of
the New River Parkway and was told, "go ahead and build it." They
newly built structure "Riversong." Prominently displayed at the back
of the new house is Ann Roach's land patent, #2717. It carries the date of
the year 1841 having been issued originally to Adam Bragg. The official
government document assured Bragg that this land would be his, his heirs and
his assigns forever.
On September 9, 1999, all of the residents were called to a meeting by the
West Virginia Department of Transportation. "This is it," they
"We're finally going to get those road repairs."
As the residents arrived at the meeting, they were surprised to see an armed
guard at the door. Inside, because of inadequate seating (36 chairs for 150
people), residents, including the elderly, had to line up behind tables. In
the back of the room were more tables containing large display boards of
photographs showing various property sites along the river. In several cases
there were two photos showing the same site, only one had been digitally
enhanced to remove homes to show what the property would look like without
As the meeting progressed, the residents began to understand that filling
potholes in the dilapidated road wasn't on the agenda. Apparently there were
much bigger fish to fry along the New River. Nervously, the transportation
department's agents announced the "New River Scenic Parkway." They
brochures and did some fast talking about economic revitalization through
tourism. They spoke of "view sheds" and "conservation
Earlier meetings concerning the roads had discussed a parkway, but always
with the assurance that private property would be protected. Not this time.
The government officials explained the difference. The West Virginia
Department of Transportation had signed a "Memorandum of
the National Park Service (NPS), the Federal Highway Administration, and the
New River Parkway Commission.
The Parkway would not be just an improved road, but would now be a
parkway." That meant that federal funds would be used to establish a
"view shed" along the river. It would mean the government, through
National Park Service, would now determine how the land along the river would
be used. Under the "Memorandum of Understanding," these government
had come to an agreement that the "Preferred Alternative" for
Parkway, "will focus on a range of land acquisition options for resource
protection along the proposed New River Parkway…"
As the residents began to look through the "brochure" that had been
out at the door, they were met with these opening words: "Welcome! The
purpose of this brochure is to introduce you to this meeting and provide
information on the land acquisition/resource protection options being
considered…" Clearly, the "Memorandum of Understanding" and
the entire plan
for the New River Parkway had been decided behind closed doors.
No residents had been asked for their opinions or input to the current plan.
Earlier pleas by residents for "no loss of private property" were
The government, like in so many other parts of the nation, had simply decided
to take the land of the residents and rearrange it to their liking.
They learned that the West Virginia Highway Department would take all of the
land from the road to the river and all the land of "equal scenic
the road to the toe of the mountain. The highway department would then give
the land to the National Park Service (NPS). This was being done to
compensate NPS for any of its lands that would be affected by the Parkway.
Now the folks along the New River understood why there was an armed guard at
As the devastating impact of the plan began to dawn on the stunned residents,
eighty-four year old widow, Mabel Flanagan, got up and went to the back of
the room to look at the display boards of pictures. There, she saw a
photograph of her home and the matching one in which her home had been
digitally removed. Shocked and distraught, Mabel grabbed her chest and had to
be taken home.
The government was taking her land, but she had to find out about it at a
public meeting. Did the government care that she had lived her entire adult
life in that home? Did they care that she had built it and raised her family
there years before the New River Road was anything more that a mud-rutted,
weed-strangled one-car-tire path? Did it matter that Mable Flanagan was one
of the people who had made the land along the New River so valuable that the
government now lusted to own it?
In a television interview a few days later, a tearful Mabel said she just
wanted to be allowed to "die in my home on the New River." After the
Mabel never left her home again except for visits to her doctor. In the year
after the meeting, she got her wish and died in her beloved river home.
The National Park Service is now constructing a new visitor center to serve
as the "gateway" to the New River Parkway, but the visitor center is
just outside Beckley, West Virginia, on the east side of the river. The road
will then cross the river on a to-be-constructed bridge and head on down the
west side, taking out all of the homes, farms, and fishing camps in its path
to form a "view shed" for the parkway.
The government agents spent a lot of energy in an attempt to sell the parkway
idea to Hinton residents as revitalized economic growth through increased
tourism, but Hinton is on the east side of the river, meaning the parkway
will completely bypass Hinton. In a moment of defiant arrogance, NPS Acting
Superintendent Henry Law, told Ann Roach that they would "not only get
the private property along our road, they would take every business along the
Hinton by-pass." So much for economic revitalization. For Hinton, the New
River Parkway only means lost homes, lost revenue and lost hope. All they
wanted was to have the road fixed.
Of course, all of this pain to the human residents along the river is
justified in the name of protecting the environment. But will it? What do the
scientific studies say to support eighty-five families losing their homes?
There are no studies!
As scientific justification, the state and federal highway departments are
using out-dated, unrelated impact studies that were created for two different
steams located in another county. Though the New River Parkway report quotes
the studies of biologists' reporting on the impact of the roadway on aquatic
life, those biologists say their investigations were not designed to evaluate
the effect of a roadway.
After eighteen months of demanding to see the studies, a life-long fisherman
of the New River, Charles McGraw learned that there were no biological
studies for the project. When contacted, the biologist named in the report
denied doing such a study and stated he not only didn't investigate the
effect such a parkway would have on the aquatic life of the New River, but
said he had emphasized to the West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH)
that his study "was not relative to that proposed road
Ann, "He was adamant when he learned that the WVDOH…had made such false
After Mr. McGraw brought this fact to the attention of the state and federal
highway departments and the New River Parkway Authority, they admitted that
making such false claims was a "mistake." "I'm forced to
agree," says Ann.
"Misrepresentation (lies), fraud, collusion and falsification of an
environmental impact study is certainly a mistake!" "Bombing Hanoi
was also a
mistake, wasn't it?"
But such minor details don't seem to bother the politicians who are
responsible for funding the New River land grab. The New River Parkway is the
baby of Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV). Rahall is the dean of the West
Virginia House Delegation and is the ranking minority member of the House
Resources Committee. He also serves on the Congressional Travel and Tourism
Caucus. While the state's economy is devastated by environmental regulations
that have all but destroyed the mining industry, Rahall's specialty seems to
be raking in money for museums to preserve the memory of how people used to
live in West Virginia.
In 1996 Rahall introduced legislation to create the "National Coal
Area." Apparently, Rahall thinks that since the miners have all lost
jobs to environmentalism, perhaps, he can make up for it by throwing a few
extra bucks their way to give tours of their bankrupt area. In fact, many
unemployed miners now depend on fish from the New River as food for their
Now Rahall's brand of economics has come to Hinton. In 1998, Rahall was able
to grab $17 million through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st
Century (TEA21). That money became the seed for the New River Parkway. As a
result, someday perhaps the former residents of the New River can give tours
of their former property.
Rahall was helped on the Senate side by his good friend and champion money-
grabber, Senator Robert Byrd. Byrd has been called the "dean of
pork" for his
uncanny ability to bring vast amounts of tax dollars into one of the most
rural and economically depressed states in the nation. Usually, however,
Byrd's efforts have been for projects that would supply jobs and economic
growth. Not so of the New River Parkway land grab. Senator Byrd dismisses his
actions by saying he is responsible for appropriating the funds, but he is
not responsible for what the agencies do with them. Is that the same message
the nation's most powerful senator will give when campaigning for votes in
the next election?
The folks living on the New River are hard working, humble and kind. Many are
elderly. They've been brought up to believe that government should be
respected. Many simply don't understand what the new parkway intends to do to
their way of life. They use the natural abundance of the area to supply much
of their food. They are peaceful, happy and content to stay on the river for
the rest of their lives, just as their fathers did. In fact, many live in
homes built by their ancestors. One family has a land patent made out to
their forefathers and signed by James Monroe before he was president. It says
the land will be theirs forever - and it has been for over 200 years - before
the new breed of American government decided that everything good should
belong to it.
Ann Roach and a few of her neighbors are trying to fight back. They have
organized as the "Sisters of the River." Together they have written
endless stream of letters to elected officials trying to find one who will
stand with them to save their property. They have researched every facet of
the New River Parkway Authority, finding a trail of lies, deceits and false
environmental impact statements. They have gone to the media, written letters
to the editor and set up an Iternet website (www.newriverfriends.org)
sound the alarm.
Along the way, the "Sisters" have made some powerful enemies of a
behemoth that controls millions of dollars, local politicians and the fate of
their homes. And the government is beginning to fight back, hoping to silence
their main critics.
In February, while it may not be related, one "Sister," Sheila Davis
arrested, fingerprinted and threatened with huge fines and jail time. The
charge: a faulty septic tank. It is interesting to note that the septic tank
isn't just Sheila's, but is co-owned by another neighbor. He wasn't arrested.
In addition, the health official who signed the arrest warrant is now listed
as a "reference" for the New River Parkway, but Sheila and Ann are
women who continue to fight on.
The truly frightening fact of the story of the New River land grab isn't just
the power of the government to take the land. It's that this story and the
details surrounding it, from secret plans, to arrogant government agents, to
falsified environmental reports, to uncaring elected officials, are identical
to so many other cases around the nation. This time it's the New River, but
it's the same old land grab.
Tom DeWeese is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report and president of
the American Policy Center, headquartered in Warrenton, VA. The Center
maintains an Internet site at <A HREF="http://www.americanpolicy.org">
Dear Editor: A commentary by Tom DeWeese, president of
the American Policy Center is provided in the hope you will take note of an
attack on the property rights of the residents of Hinton, West Virginia. This
is a particularly egregious case of governmental duplicity and deception.
Permission to publish the commentary is granted. Mr. DeWeese will be in Hinton
on Tuesday, May 7th. Hinton represents an on-going assault on property rights
occurring from the highest levels of government. It is an issue essential to
the protection of those rights for all Americans. The article is posted
the Internet site of the Center, a grassroots, activist think tank,
heaquartered in Warrenton, VA. (540) 341-8911. ~ Alan Caruba, PR
Counselor to the Center.