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Judge reluctantly would allow clear-cutting

Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent made it perfectly clear where her sentiments lie in her report and recommendation issued yesterday in the Ison Rock Ridge logging case:

“To a child of Appalachia, to see the mountains laid waste, whether by clear-cutting or strip mining, is to witness a dagger plunged into the very bosom from which you sprang and which has sustained you. Nonetheless, this court’s role in this case is not to pass judgment upon the policy decisions which allow such activities.”

Environmentalists sued to stop the clear-cutting of trees on a tract of land in Wise County.  One of the plaintiffs in the case complained that the loggers caused large rocks to roll down the mountainside into his backyard.

The trees were being cut in preparation for surface mining, but the permit for the mining project had not yet been issued.  Sargent blocked the timber harvest at first, but now — reluctantly — recommends lifting the injunction against the chain saws.

Sargent concluded that, under the applicable regulations, lack of a mining permit does not prevent timber cutting, although she believes the potential harm is equivalent to mining:

“The facts before the court in this case … clearly show that logging the steep mountains of Southwest Virginia poses many of the same environmental and safety concerns as strip mining.  Nonetheless, it is not the role of this court, in this case, to tackle the difficult policy issues raised by the dangers presented to the environment and the occupiers of adjoining lands by logging. Those issues are best left to our federal and state legislators. The court is left only to hope that those issues will be addressed before a child of Appalachia dies beneath a boulder dislodged by logging activities.”

Keith Horton, president of the company that owns the land, told the Bristol Herald Courier that he thinks the judge should have kept her personal opinions out of the case:

“Timbering and mining activity in Wise County, Virginia, are the primary economic drivers, frankly,” Horton said. “A lot of people are employed, a lot of wages, a lot of economic development is hinged around those two economic resources, and I think it’s very important to Southwest Virginia to continue to utilize those resources, so I’m somewhat dismayed by the judge’s comments.”

By Peter Vieth

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