The Lone Mountain natural resource damage assessment and restoration case in Virginia was conducted to address natural resource injuries that occurred from a release of hazardous substances into the Powell River watershed. The injuries were the consequence of the failure of a coal slurry impoundment associated with a coal processing plant in Lee County, Virginia, which led to the release of six million gallons of coal slurry to the Powell River watershed. This release resulted in injury to fish, federally-listed endangered mussels, other benthic organisms, supporting aquatic habitat, and designated critical habitat for two federally-listed threatened fish species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the lead in working with State co-trustees to conduct a multi-year damage assessment that resulted in a two-million dollar monetary settlement.
The Cedars Restoration is one of several ongoing efforts to address natural resources injured in the coal slurry release and protect this treasured landscape. The FWS recognized that efforts to restore injured mussel and fish populations in the Powell River would be successful only if the water quality and supporting aquatic habitat of these systems is sustained through long-term land preservation and stewardship. The Cedars Restoration project brings together a number of conservation partners. Joining with the FWS in this team effort are private land owners, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage Program, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This collaborative partnership achieved specific NRDAR restoration goals within a broader landscape-level conservation effort.
The Cedars is widely recognized by various stakeholders as an area of outstanding ecological value that is uniquely vital to the health of the Powell River and Tennessee River system. The Cedars is a significant karst region covering 30 to 40 square miles in Lee County, Virginia. This karst landscape is characterized by thin soils developed over easily-dissolved limestone bedrock, creating terrain that is rolling, rocky, rugged, and full of sinkholes, caves, and sinking streams. This area is a valuable water recharge zone contributing high-quality water to the Powell River, one of the last free-flowing stretches of the Tennessee River system. As a watershed renowned for its rich freshwater mussel and fish diversity, TNC has identified the Clinch River basin, including the Powell River tributary, as the number-one hotspot in the U.S. for imperiled aquatic species. FWS, TNC, and their conservation partners’ success in the long-term preservation and stewardship of this highly valuable habitat within the Cedars Natural Area Preserve will continue to benefit Department-managed resources (threatened fish and their critical habitat, and endangered mussels) by improving the health of the watershed and ensuring a continued source of high-quality water recharge to the Powell River.