NYSF’s efforts to move to Canaan facility continue

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The Canaan Valley Institute’s $8 million Research and Education Center, near Davis, is being fought over by the National Youth Science Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The National Youth Science Foundation continued its efforts earlier this week for approval to move into the Canaan Valley Institute’s Research and Education Center near Davis, in Tucker County.

The foundation hopes to expand its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Center into the 28,000- square-foot building. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is trying to move into the CVI building, from where it would operate its Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Some of the NYSF’s representatives, including federal Bankruptcy Judge Ronald G. Pearson, met in Charleston on Tuesday with political leaders, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“We have had conversations with people in the National Youth Science Foundation,” Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s director of communications, said Friday. “Their mission fits closely with the governor’s focus on STEM Education. They will bring national and international science to the state, which is fantastic. We want to make sure West Virginia students are exposed to those opportunities.

“We haven’t worked out the funding yet, but what they are doing certainly fits with the governor’s priorities,” Stadelman said. Under its leadership, the NYSF says it would improve the CVI’s existing facilities to support the National Youth Science Camp, two other summer programs and additional student activities throughout the year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s website points out the wildlife refuge is “a patchwork of 23 wetland types, including bogs, shrub swamps and wet meadows carpet the valley floor. At about 8,500 acres, this is the largest wetland complex in the state of West Virginia, and is a regionally significant wetland complex within the southern Appalachians.”

The refuge also is within a mile of the nationally known Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Ron Hollis, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge, said Friday, “We are interested in the potential transfer of the building. We have expressed interest to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in moving into that building for six or seven months.

“On Oct. 12, I received a letter that said NOAA would transfer the building to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Hollis said.

In 2006, before the new building was in operation, the CVI and the National Youth Science Foundation signed an agreement that they would both use the new facility.

However, after Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., was defeated in his re-election bid in 2010, federal funding for the CVI’s work declined.

CVI leaders then asked NOAA, which supervises the building, to relieve it of the responsibility to maintain the $8 million Research and Education Center, as well as another smaller building.

Alan Tomson, a former U.S. Army officer who now lives in Davis, is fighting for the STEM Education Center. He points out that “the area is heavily into mining and lumber” — operations that are declining.

“It is important for Tucker County to also focus on tourism. Bringing more than 800 children into the community each year will be a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “People from across the country are already contacting us about our programs. People from three foreign countries — Chile, Peru and Australia — have also contacted us.”

Tomson visited the Gazette-Mail offices last week, along with Pearson, who is chairman of the NYSF’s local Board of Trustees, Bill Peterson, another resident of Davis, and Andrew N. Blackwood, the NYSF’s executive director.

Blackwood, also a former professor at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, told the Gazette-Mail, “Education is economic development. Right now, we have about 100 students a year in our program in Canaan Valley. The new program would allow us to have between 840 and 1,000 students a year.”

Pearson, chief judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of West Virginia, recently spoke in Davis about the foundation’s desire to turn the CVI facility into a science training camp.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service cannot acquire property outside the boundaries of their wildlife areas,” Pearson told the Gazette-Mail, “and there is a lot of community support for the National Youth Science Foundation to run the old Canaan Valley Institute.”

Peterson, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos — a longtime military research facility in New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was built during World War II — also supports the efforts by the NYSF to move into the building.

“What a unique opportunity this is for us,” he said. “We need a building like this.”

In a pamphlet promoting its STEM Education Center, the NYSF points out that its new center would create 10 permanent jobs and 40 seasonal jobs. Some will go to local residents.

Peterson said more than 150 people attended a public rally on Dec. 3 that was held by the Tucker County Commission about the ongoing dispute over who should move into the building.

“Six or eight people spoke in opposition to the Fish and Wildlife Service moving into the building,” he said. “When the other 150 people in the room were asked what their position was, every one of them agreed. The community is totally behind our plans.”

Hollis said a public comment period about who should move into the building began after the Dec. 3 meeting and ended at midnight Friday.

“We will proceed after this,” Hollis said. “It will take some time to go through the comments debating about who gets the building. We will have to figure out our next steps.”

Tomson said, “The public does not want the Fish and Wildlife Service to move from its current visitors center.”

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

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