Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Price Of Progress

Andrew Price, editor of the Pocahontas Times from 1892 to 1900, is remembered locally as a conservationist and poet. Of course, his family wrote much of our local history--William T. Price, author of Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia (1901) was his father, and Cal Price, Pocahontas Times editor from 1900 to 1957 was his younger brother. It's no surprise Andrew Price is remembered as a poetic soul, mourning the loss of Pocahontas County's "forest primeval." However, he was also lawyer to the timber and railroad interests, and he used his editorial forum to sway public opinion toward their cause.

Here's an excerpt from Transforming the Appalachian countryside railroads, deforestation, and social change in West Virginia, 1880-1920 by Ronald L Lewis (1998) Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press) typical of how the Price descendants remember Andrew:

The financial benefits derived from the development of the forest industry accrued to a select few over the short term, whereas the costs of the widespread destruction were borne by the taxpayers. This is clearly demonstrated by the environmental disaster the railroad-lumber boom visited upon West Virginia. According to Andrew Price, Pocahontas County lawyer, conservationist, and editor, one of the most common questions recent arrivals asked of natives in the Greenbrier Valley was "how we managed to exist before the railroad came to the county." Price's response was terse: if there was another place like Pocahontas was before the arrival of industry he would move there. Old-timers could not stand to look for long on the desolate slashing and stumps left in the place of the original forest, Price lamented, or to look passively upon the old freight cars, shanties, wires, poles, iron trucks, and other abandoned industrial debris that cluttered the countryside. Indeed, the land was now "as squalid as it could be." Streams once abundant with fish were dead, the game had disappeared, and the grass that once carpeted the floor of the virgin forest had been displaced by brush. There were more money and people in the county, Price acknowledged: "The doctors and lawyers make more money, and there is work for every man at high wages." But for this heightened economic vigor, he concluded, "we are paying dearly."page 264

Now, here's Andrew Price, Industrial Advocate, quoted by John Hennin, in Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910.

Price had been defending the prerogative of West Virginia Pulp and Paper for years....editor Price was quick to defend West Virginia Pulp and reassure the citizens of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties that their lands and waters would remain pristine. He claimed the proposed mill and rail connection "will place every citizen within ten miles of a railroad, [and] put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county." The Times also cited "expert testimony" from the Maryland pollution trial confirming the environmental sensitivity of the company. "The wood used is spruce," according to the Times, "[and] there is no unhealth in water impregnated with the tannic acid of sprucewood. We do not apprehend any serious trouble for the people living below Caldwell."

Price elaborated on the environmental defense in a subsequent editorial, "We have very little law on the subject of pollution of streams in this State, our laws being sufficiently strict to prevent any unnecessary pollution of streams, but not interfering with an industry such as the pulp mill." Quoting a "prominent West Virginian, who loves the shaded woods and a clear stream," Price remarked,

He said it is a sacrifice we must make to progress. We cannot afford to keep back the development of our country for the sake of a stream of water, and the day is coming when we will have to go back in the woods to find pure streams. You cannot change a forest to farmland without polluting to a considerable extent the streams which drain it. It is the price we have to pay for the benefits of civilization.

Price equated the discharge from pulp mills with the natural process of drainage from spruce forests into the streams of Pocahontas County. The tannic acid produced the "inky blackness" common to local streams which natives could attest were well-stocked with healthy fish. Chastising the obstructionists to progress in Hinton, Price lamented, "it is extremely unfortunate that West Virginians could not have understood the [limited] extent of the pollution by such a mill before they drove the industry out of the state."

Price's defense of the environmental responsibility of industry extended to other companies which retained him as well. Ironically, his strongly-worded communique to a West Virginia legislator lauded [Pocahontas Tanning,] which he implied was a greater steward of the land in Pocahontas than West Virginia Pulp. "Of all the industries known to this state, tanneries are least hurtful to fish, and as compared to coal and iron mines and pulp mills, the tannery sewage is inocuous. I can see no reason therefore why tanneries should be singled out as the horrible example. . . . "The two large tanneries on Greenbrier River do not hurt the fish any...."

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