Farmer files complaint hoping to halt dam demolition project in Harrison County

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A day after work began to demolish the first of three dams along the West Fork River in Harrison County, a landowner filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the project.

The West Milford Dam
The West Milford Dam

John Stenger, a farmer in Lost Creek, claims the removal of the West Milford and Highland Dams would “irreparably damage fencing rights and other Riparian Property Rights.”

The civil action contends that lowering the water levels would violate the law designating the pools of water behind the dams as lawful fences– a designation acted upon recently by the Harrison County Commission— and would restrict the access to and use of the backed-up water, otherwise known as riparian rights.

It further contends that the project is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, describing it as “an illegal taking.”

Stenger is seeking an injunctive relief on that grounds that it “serves the public interest” and the defendant will “not be unduly harmed if injunctive relief is granted.”

(Read The Full Complaint Here)

As the current owners of the dams, the Clarksburg Water Board is the agency named in the suit that was seemingly submitted by Stenger alone.

The demolition project began after the CWB voted to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlfie Service to remove the West Milford, Highland and Two Lick Dams and then renovate the Hartland Dam.

Stenger’s lawsuit makes no mention of the work on the Hartland and Two Lick Dams.

Proponents of the project said it will allow the CWB to rid themselves of the liability that comes with the dams and the Roller Effect they create, as well as the cost of maintenance. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife would be able to restore the West Fork River to its natural flow and recreate the habitat of endangered species of mussels.

Another aspect of the project has been the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service providing fencing and water sources to landowners along the river who felt as if the project would have an affect on them.

Leading up to the first notch being hammered into the West Milford Dam on Monday, the project was met with opposition from a group of landowners with the backing of the Harrison County Commission, which made multiple attempts thwart the project.

Most in that opposition camp shared the same concerns as Stenger, while others feared by removing the dams, they would be missing out on recreational opportunities.

It is anticipated that the removal of the West Milford Dam will take between two and three weeks. The project will then move on to the Two Lick and Highland Dams.

Work continued at the site Wednesday morning, according to Nick Millett with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as crews had not been informed of an injunction.

Teams separate from the crew demolishing the dam have been working to remove litter from the river and monitor the river banks for any stranded mussels as the water levels decrease.

The case has been assigned to Harrison County Circuit Court Judge James A. Matish and no hearing has been set as of Wednesday morning.

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