24 Dec Still Fighting
December 24, 2003
By Peyton Knight
In 1987, residents who reside along West Virginia State Route 26, more commonly known as the “New River Road” because of its proximity to the rolling body of water, were told by the local authorities that their road would soon receive a much needed upgrade. Being a single lane road, speckled with massive potholes, blind curves, and seasonal standing water areas, the residents were receptive to the idea. They were assured that the renovation was to have “little impact on private property.”
Fast-forward 12 years later, and the road had still not been repaired. Finally, in September of 1999, property owners along the New River Road were invited to a public meeting hosted by the West Virginia Division of Highways. At long last their new road was to be built. However, they never dreamed that they would be forced to pay for their road with their heritage and culture.
Eighty-four-year-old widow, Mabel Flanagan, was one of the property owners in attendance that day. Mabel noticed a large display board with a picture of her home. Next to that board was a picture of her plot of land—minus the house! Through digital imagery, Mabel’s home was removed, as if it had never existed. Why? To show all those at the meeting how “scenic” the surrounding area would look without Mabel’s house. Horrified, Mabel returned home, never to venture outside her house again. In a T.V. interview days after the public meeting, Mabel pleaded into the camera: “I want to die in my home on the New River.”
The following summer, a feeble, scared Mabel Flanagan did indeed pass away in her beloved home on the river. Perhaps waiting to lose it to the government.
Today, citizens living along the New River in Hinton are still fighting to keep the land they own. Many fear that they won’t be able to ward off the Park Service much longer. The New River Parkway Authority is pulling out all the stops, relentlessly trying to turn the residents of Hinton into “willing sellers,” and in some instances, attempting to turn neighbors against each other, in hopes they will help sell unwilling sellers down the river.
Ann Roach, a grandmother of eight, fulfilled one of her dreams when she purchased a small summer cabin in Hinton with her husband. A parkway official phoned her to discuss various options she had with the construction of the new road. All of the options included government land acquisition in one way or another. The official also made a strange aside to Ann. She recalls: “He asked me, in so many words, ‘Tell me the truth, wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of that unsightly mess next to you?’” The man on the phone was referring to an elderly neighbor of Ann’s who has lived on his riverside property all of his life. “They’re not concerned with the scenic value,” Ann said, “they just want our land.”
Ann and her neighbors have founded a group they call “Sisters of the River” to consolidate forces and fight for their property. Ann and her neighbors own the land on which they live. It’s bought and paid for. Where is the rule of law to protect their right to the land they own? Where are the compassionate elected officials responsible for protecting their rights and property? Recently, Ann Roach posed these questions to Senator Robert Byrd, a man who professes to be an expert on the Constitution.
An open letter to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)
Senator Robert C. Byrd informed me in a recent letter that he couldn’t intervene in any decisions about the New River Parkway from I-64 to Hinton, as it was “just a highway project.”
Granted, Senator Byrd wasn’t with me and all the other private property owners when we were invited into a room monitored by armed guards to be told the much needed upgrade to our road, that we’d supported for years, was to become a National Park Service land grab, taking all of our property in the viewshed of the parkway—as far as the eye could see.
And, maybe, Senator Byrd believes the verbal assurances of the highway employees that “only the land needed for the right-of-way would be taken” despite the fact that all the agencies involved signed an agreement stating otherwise.
And, after my grieving that Senator Byrd is equally as duped as the people who support the parkway who also (mistakenly) believe that it’s “just a highway project” I realized it is just that: “just a highway project.” The same “highway” ALL of America is currently on, speeding down a slippery sloping road straight into a land called Socialism.
While our honorable Senator continues to lovingly pat that U.S. Constitution he so proudly carries in his pocket, I’m more convinced than ever that book is fast becoming not worth the paper on which it’s written.
(And yes, you were 100% right, Senator Byrd, in stating that I “may not agree with you.” I don’t. And I definitely don’t agree with your failure to intervene on your constituents’ behalf to save their homes, land, farms, camps and small and large businesses just so the government can take more of the same in West Virginia and all over this once great place called America.)
Ann Roach, President
Sisters of the River