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Your Questions — Answered

For Well-Informed Decisions

How does the West Virginia Scenic Rivers Act affect landowners?

The current version of the Act does propose buffer zones for different categories of rivers.  However, this is intended for new development only and does not affect the current usage of the land.  For example, existing farmland will remain farmland.  Current licensed timbering operations will remain in operation.  The purpose of the buffer zones is to protect river beauty, water quality and tourism/recreation potential.  Further, the legislation prohibits the state government from using eminent domain in establishing buffer zones or acquiring land if necessary.  Every attempt will be made in the final version of the legislation to support landowner rights.  Riparian owner support of a State Scenic River System is necessary and vital to its success.

What are the proposed scenic river categories in the legislation?

Currently, there are three proposed classifications of scenic river:

Wild River Areas (Class I). These river areas represent vestiges of primitive West Virginia and would be kept unpolluted. Those free-flowing rivers or sections of rivers with shorelines and scenic vistas unchanged, or essentially unchanged, by man, with no extensive paralleling roads closer than one (1) mile (except in river gorges where there must be no extensive paralleling roads within  the gorge or within one-quarter (1/4) mile back from the gorge rim), and with only a limited number of crossing roads or spur roads existing at the time of designation as a state wild river.  Additional access would be limited to trails.

 

Scenic River Areas (Class II). Those free-flowing rivers or sections of rivers the lands adjacent to which area partially or predominantly used for agriculture and other dispersed human activities which do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of the rivers and their shores. Lands adjacent to any such river would remain in the type of use existing at the time of designation as a state scenic river or else be allowed to revert to natural conditions. Scenic values should be preserved by acquisition of conservations easements, zoning and similar means, and by acquisition of fee title of areas set aside for access, camping and recreation. Acquisition of fee title or other areas would not be precluded, particularly where the cost of alternative methods of land use control is comparable to the cost of acquiring the fee with lease-back or other similar arrangements.

 

Recreational River Areas (Class III):  Those rivers or sections of rivers in areas affected by the works of man, but still possess actual or potential scenic values. Included are rivers with some housing or other developments near their shorelines, rivers with parallel roads or railroads, rivers with some impoundments, and rivers polluted, for example, by acid mine drainage, strip-mine or mountain-top removal, or commercial logging.  These rivers would be managed to prevent further loss of scenic values, to improve the scenic aspects of their surroundings, and to restore the quality of the waters.  A polluted river section in an otherwise natural area could be improved to the point where it would be upgraded to Class I.  Lands adjacent to any such river, and the use thereof, should be subject to public control by zoning, tax incentives, acquisition, acquisition of easements or fee title and other sufficient means to realize the purposes for which such river is designated a state scenic river.

Who determines river classification  and how is a river proposed for scenic river designation?

The draft legislation proposes that the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) manage the State Scenic River System.  The Director can propose the inclusion of a river or stream to be part of the State Scenic River System but only the State Legislature can consider the request and include the river or stream in the law.  Any group or person may propose a stream or river be included in the System via an application form to be established at a later date.  The current draft also recommends that a committee comprised of local citizens, watershed, conservation, and recreational representatives review such requests and recommend to the Director of DNR whether or not the stream or river meets the requirements of a wild, scenic, or recreational river before being proposed to be added to the System.

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