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Harrison County Commission will not participate in legal action attempting to stop dam removal

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. —¬†After mulling it over for a week and seeking legal advice, the Harrison County Commission will not get involved in a citizen’s attempt to stop the removal of three dams along the West Fork River.

The West Milford Dam
The West Milford Dam

“Why take a chance on spending county tax dollars for something we don’t really own,” Commissioner Bernie Fazzini asked.

John Stenger, a farmer in the Lost Creek area, requested last week for the commission to join as a party on an injunction he filed earlier this month seeking to stop the project.

His civil action contends lowering water levels would violate laws designating the pools of water behind the dams as lawful fences and would restrict the access to and use of the backed-up water, otherwise known as riparian rights.

Fazzini was then tasked with seeking out legal advice on what the repercussions of joining the injunction might be.

He learned that if the county attempted to break up the contracted work between the Clarksburg Water Board –the owners of the dams– and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they may be on the hook for paying the federal agency back.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife could recover funds spent on preparing to do that project [which have been previously estimated at around $400,000] and they would go back at the Water Board for those funds,” he said. “If that happens, I’m sure the at Water Board is going to say ‘Hey, we didn’t stop the project. We’ll bring whoever did stop the project back into court with us.'”

Proponents of the project have said that removing the West Milford, Two-Lick and Highland Dams, while renovating the Hartland Dam, will restore the river to a more natural flow and recreate the habitats of endangered species of mussel.

Opponents counter lowering the water levels will deny the communities along the river fences, water supply and recreational opportunities.

Work on removing the first dam –West Milford– began on March 21 with a two foot notch being hammered every 24 hours in order to give the river banks time to adjust.

The first notch was hammered into dam number two, the Highland Dam this week
The first notch was hammered into dam number two, the Highland Dam this week

Demolition on the second dam –Highland– began on Wednesday, according to the West Virginia Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Stenger’s civil suit remains pending before Harrison County Circuit Court Judge James Matish, with no indication of an injunction being granted.

While the commission previously voiced their opposition to the demolition project, Fazzini said that due to the risk of being held liable, they will not participate in any legal action.

“That scares me off,” he said. “I don’t want to commit any county fund to reimburse the dam project.”

Demolition work continues along the West Fork River, with separate teams working to remove litter from the water and monitoring the endangered mussels along the river banks.

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