Army Considers Closing New River (VA)

Posted: 04/23/2002
by Jason Robertson

American Whitewater is concerned about any plans to restrict or limit access to the New River from Route 114 to Whitethorne. We respect and understand the need for security at the Arsenal. However, we believe the river can and should remain open to recreational use. We are volunteering to work with the Corps of Engineers, RAAP and other appropriate authorities to protect security interests and avoid closing the river.

Thanks to American Whitewater members and volunteers, Andrea Jones and Liz Garland, for alerting American Whitewater to this issue!

American Whitewater Letter to Military

Attn: Joy Case
P.O. Box 2
Radford, VA 24143-0099

Dear Ms. Case,

I am writing on behalf of American Whitewater in regard to the proposed closure of the New River between Route 114 and Whitethorne. American Whitewater is a national non-profit 501.c.3. organization. We are dedicated to conserving America's rivers and enhancing opportunities to enjoy them safely. We have about 8000 members as well as 165 canoe club affiliates, including several thousand who live and boat on or near the New in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina.

We are very concerned about any plans to restrict or limit recreational boating access to the New River from Route 114 to Whitethorne. We respect and understand the need for security at the Radford Army Ammunitions Plant (RAAP). We also acknowledge that certain appropriate sacrifices will be made in the immediate future. However, losing public access on the New is not a sacrifice that is either warranted or necessary. It should be possible to secure the RAAP facility and protect existing public access, privileges, traditions, and freedoms.

The past year has been a difficult one for the nation. In response to President Bush's plea to continue supporting the economy and protecting core American values, we have committed ourselves to safeguarding the special places that make this country such a wonderful land. The New is one such place, thus American Whitewater's staff are volunteering to work with the Corps of Engineers, RAAP and other appropriate authorities to develop useful alternatives to avoid closing the river. We urge you to join us in this endeavor.

It is our civic responsibility to rise and support both our war efforts and the way of life we had before 9-11. We are fighting a war to protect our security, freedoms, public services, and a way of life that we value. Whenever we sacrifice any of those freedoms, then in the words of President Bush "We are letting the terrorists win." That is not an acceptable outcome. Please join us in supporting America's public and protecting access to the country's special places, such as the New, which have long traditions of public use and heritage.

Please call me at 301-589-9453 to discuss how we can work with the military to develop alternatives for secure public access to the New.



Jason Robertson
Access Director
American Whitewater

AW Letter Update... Announcement... More Info... Take 3 to Help


In the wake of 9/11, the Army is considering closing an eight mile section of the New River 15 miles upstream from the McCoy's hole rodeo spot. American Whitewater generally opposes this closure and believes that plant security can be maintained in parallel with the public's continued recreation access to the river. If you live in the area, please attend the public meeting on the proposed closure on April 24, 7 PM at the New River Valley Competitiveness Center.

If you can not attend the meeting, consider calling Joy Case, public affairs officer, at 639-8611.

DIRECTIONS: Drive to Pulaski County, near Fairlawn and across the river from Radford, VA. Take Viscoe Road, off Route 114 (Peppers Ferry Road) on the right if you're going from Radford toward the arsenal. The New River Valley Competitiveness Center is the building near the end of Viscoe Road (on the left up a hill).

DESCRIPTION OF THE ARSENAL SECTION OF THE NEW: This section of the river really has only one "major" class III rapid, Arsenal Rapid. And it is right in the middle of an approximate 8 mile run. The first half is class I-II riffles. The second class is virtually flat, just moving water.

This section IS a popular section for fishermen. They have been known to get flushed through Arsenal Rapid, occasionally with loss of life. Arsenal Rapid is a 3-4 foot drop at the end of a series of class I-II ledges and creeps up on people who are unaware of it - because you can't hear it coming until you are right on top of it. Even experienced boaters find that it sneaks up on you.

NOTE: This section is about 15 miles above Big Falls (or McCoy Falls) where the New River Rodeo had been held in April every year until this year for more than 10 years. Water is released from the Claytor Lake dam (about 20 miles upstream of the Rt 114 bridge - put in for the Arsenal section) for electric power generation that gives the downstream section an extra flush of water that has been known to strand sun worshippers on the rocks at Big Falls starting about 4 pm on hot days. Summer flows are about 1500 - 3000 cfs. Fall, Winter, and Spring flows have been known to be substantially higher.

This section of the river is well known for its large populations of buzzards. At times the birds have been know to blanket the trees (and turn the ground white).

Because the arsenal is such a huge area, it is also well known for it's deer and turkey hunting. However, we have received reports that hunters must have special permits for hunting on the arsenal grounds and are taken to a stand and not allowed to leave the stand until escorted away - not even to collect a fresh kill.

The Army has wanted to close the New River thru the Arsenal for years. The Arsenal is possibly the only plant in the US that manufactures black powder, nitroglycerin, and other explosives on a large scale. The Army has always maintained that the New represents a security problem running right through the middle of the Arsenal. It is currently monitored with cameras and probably motion detectors near the fences. The events of Sept 11th have only given the Army greater incentive to put greater restrictions on this particular section of the river.

AW Letter Update... Announcement... More Info... Take 3 to Help

An Update from AW Volunteer Andrea Jones re the April 24, 2002 Meeting

I did make it to the meeting last night and I have to tell you that the response was far greater than the Army had anticipated - AND the meeting was not very well publicized. If they have another meeting, I have a feeling that the response would be rather significant. This is a popular section of river for boating and fishing and supposedly is one of the better fishing spots along the New. The geology of the area tends to form some rather deep sections of the river in unexpected places.

People (primarily fisherman, some boaters, and a few environmental people) filled up two meeting rooms, plus some spillover into the hallway (By one report more than 125 people attended the meeting).

Lt.Col. Butler had to talk for at least three solid hours. He indicated that the meeting was one that was not required by the process to close the river, but he made the decision to do it so that he and the Corps of Engineers could get as much public input on the local position as possible. The process was going to involve the taking of public comment (comments can still be mailed/faxed/emailed to Joy Case for the next month or two (See how to help below)), the evaluation of the public comments by Rick Henderson of the Corps of Engineers, who would then make a recommendation to Washington.

Rick Henderson indicated that there would be a formal hearing on the closing of the river, but did not indicate exactly when that would happen. Ultimately, the decision would be made in Washington as to whether or not to implement the proposed plan. This would not be decided on a local level. However, Lt. Col. Butler seemed interested in obtaining as much input from the local people involved as possible. He did seem genuinely interested in coming to a solution that would be in the public's best interest.

I don't know how correct the legal stuff was that they said, but Lt. Col. Butler said that he had the authority to close the river right now, given to him by the Corps of Engineers based upon a law that dated back to 1834 (I think) that was amended in 1897. Something about Article 33.01 (supposedly 33.02 applied to the military). I'm sure that you have people in AW that are familiar with the law that he is talking about.

Lt. Col. Butler proposed that the Army would close the river using a "temporary" barricade made of 50 gallon barrels strung on a cable. This would stretch across the river at the beginning of the Radford Army Ammunitions Plant(RAAP) property, approximately 2 miles downstream of the put-in at the Rt 114, Peppers Ferry Bridge. (There would be appropriate signage at the put-in that would inform people of this.) This barricade would be accompanied by a guard tower that would have two-way communications to the RAAP Fire Department who would assist the guards in dealing with any incidents that occurred.

Farther downstream, the situation is a little more complicated. At this area, the land is privately owned on river right and RAAP-owned on river left. This ownership persists beyond the normal take-out for this section. The army is proposing to install another similar barricade upstream of the current Whitethorn takeout that would be non-permeable to users (with an accompanying guard tower). There would be an additional "permeable" barricade and tower (that supposedly would not stretch all of the way across the river) downstream of Whitethorn, at the edge of the RAAP property. This would allow boaters to travel back upstream to the Whitethorn access, if they so desired. There were questions on how they could close the river to traffic at a location where only one shore was owned by RAAP, but that was not clarified. That may fall under the 1897 law discussed above.

These barricades would not be permanently installed on the river and would only be moved across the river if the alert status reached a level that this was required. At what level of alert the river would be closed was not made clear by Lt. Col. Butler. I think that this was still under discussion. He indicated that we are, nationwide, under an alert status of "C" ("D" being the highest) and this has not been below "C" since before Sept 11th. He has the authority to raise that status locally above the nationwide status, but he does not have the authority to lower it below the nationwide status. Under his current proposal, if these barricades had been in place and ready to be installed, the river would have been closed since Sept 11th and no one would have been allowed to travel it. That tells me that, at a minimum, any status over a "B" status would cause him to authorize closing the river to access by fisherman, boaters, etc if his current plan is adopted.

As a side note, Lt. Col. Butler indicated that the Arsenal withdraws 16 million gallons of water per day out of the New for use as drinking water on RAAP and surrounding areas, plus for use in the manufacturing process. One of the people doing the presentation was very proud of the fact that the 16 mgd that was put back into the river was cleaner than when it was taken out. This was put forward as to one of their concerns that if something happened to the manufacturing facility, communities downstream of the plant could have their drinking water affected dramatically. And this was also given as one of the reasons to close the river as a preventative measure. I'm not sure how valid this concern actually was, but they did bring it up. It could have been icing covering the real reason for closing the river which I think was security.

Lt. Col. Butler did indicate that inspections of watercraft was an option that had been discussed, however it was not a preferred option because it required too much manpower. The inspection option was received more favorably by local paddlers and fishermen than simply closing the river. Lt. Col. Butler did indicate that additional guard towers are currently under-construction down the entire length of the New River through the Arsenal and that electronic surveillance has been increased on the river itself.

AW Letter Update... Announcement... More Info... Take 3 to Help

It Only Takes a Few Minutes to Help

Comments can be directed to: Joy Case, Public Affairs officer at RAAP who can be reached by phone (540-639-8611), fax (540-639-7789), by mail at RAAP, Attn: Joy Case, P.O. Box 2, Radford, VA 24143-0099, or via email at Rick Henderson will be evaluating each comment received and his phone number is (757-441-7653) if anyone has questions. He indicated that he would be formulating his recommendation over the next two months. In addition to this, Lt. Col. Butler says that he will, personally, be reading all comments sent in.

If you speak to Ms. Case or attend the meeting, please be courteous and express your sincere interest in protecting both the security of the plant and continued public access to the New through the arsenal. If you have paddled this section, take a moment to personalize your interest by describing what you valued about the experience.

American Whitewater is concerned about any plans to restrict or limit access to the New River from Route 114 to Whitethorne. We respect and understand the need for security at RAAP. However, we believe the river should remain open to recreational use. We are volunteering to work with the Corps of Engineers, RAAP and other appropriate authorities to develop useful alternatives to avoid closing the river.

American Whitewater is also seeking photographs of this section of river. If you have any shots of Arsenal rapid, please post them on our website.

AW Letter Update... Announcement... More Info... Take 3 to Help

More Information

4/24/02 meeting announcement in the Roanoke Times website:

4/25/02 article in the Roanoke Times website:

Information about other proposed security actions affecting river access in the wake of 9/11 is available on American Whitewater's website at

AW Letter Update... Announcement... More Info... Take 3 to Help

Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349