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The Environment

July 2024
8min read

Notes on the continuing battle


On the gently rolling hills of Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania five high-tension towers up to 140 feet in height, carrying five hundred kilowatts of electricity to the urban centers of New Jersey and New York, will be set in a three-hundred-foot corridor cut through the carefully nurtured woods and fields of Honey Hollow watershed—a National Historic Landmark. The rich, productive soil of Honey Hollow’s six hundred acres has been continuously farmed since early in the eighteenth century. Substantial fieldstone houses and barns of that period still stand among the trim contourglowed strips of corn, hay, and barley, the wildlife hedges, the ponds and terraces that have been maintained ever since five farmers of Honey Hollow watershed joined forces in 1939 to demonstrate the then newly developed U. S. Soil Conservation Service practices.

No specific wording in the National Historic Landmark Act of 1966 provides protection to historic sites from urban renewal projects, highways, or power lines. What little muscle the act does contain applies only to projects involving a federal agency. But the Federal Power Commission, which would be the appropriate government arm in this case, has no jurisdiction over the routing of power lines. It would seem logical for the Philadelphia Electric Company to have used an already existing route through the township for its new line, but this would have meant condemnation of houses, which Pennsylvania law strictly forbids. So a line was drawn on a map, and it fell across Honey Hollow.

In the fall of 1968 the National Park Service repeatedly wrote Robert F. Gilkeson, president of the utility company, asking that no action be taken before a landmark-status study was completed. Its letters went unanswered. And on November 25 the company officially established a route through Honey Hollow and proceeded to quietly buy up a farm in the very center of the watershed. About the same time Dr. S. K. Stevens, head of the Interior Department’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, informed Philadelphia Electric that the watershed would definitely be put on the national register, Honey Hollow residents learned that the power-line route had been shifted downhill so that it now cut through the heart of the area in about the most damaging way possible, both physically and aesthetically. Precisely why this was done is not clear. The company claimed only that it was in the interests of the corridor concept (some years earlier a natural-gas line had been laid along that route).

On August 4, 1969, the watershed was officially designated a national landmark, and Honey Hollow became one of only 797 properties singled out for this distinction. Such landmarks, writes Secretary of the Interior Hickel, “require Americans … to pause and consider whether that which they are about to build is truly of greater worth than that which they are about to destroy.” The president of Philadelphia Electric paused long enough to write the National Park Service, stating that the route for the line had been very carefully selected.

Up to this point all the clout belonged to the utility, but now the watershed group gained a weapon. The Army Corps of Engineers, in the surprising role of conservationist supporters, held up the permit needed by the utility to bring its line across the Delaware River. Suddenly the company agreed to search for an alternate route on land outside the boundaries of the historic landmark. But when it proved impossible to get such a right-of-way through purchase, they were unwilling to start lengthy condemnation proceedings. However, through the efforts and generosity of people who live on the watershed and of the National Audubon Society, arrangements for a route through a corner of the landmark were worked out with the owner of property at the edge of the watershed, who decided he would as soon have the transmission line run across his property behind his house and get paid for it as have the towers cross Honey Hollow in front of his house and not get paid for it. The landowners of the watershed are now working to bring Honey Hollow into the public domain so that this rare rural landscape may be saved from further damage. The area is also threatened by a proposed highway. Although the residents are proud of their accomplishment, conservationists are outraged that a power line will cross even a corner of the historic landmark.


The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River rises in the wilderness of east Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. Its clear swift waters winding northward to Kentucky through the soft sandstone of the plateau have cut one of the most handsome gorges east of the Mississippi. Below high, varicolored bluffs the river courses along a jumbled bed of gigantic lichen-covered boulders, a churning white foam where the rocks channel the river through narrow chutes, long pools of quiet water where the valley widens. It seems a miracle that this magnificent river, within 250 miles of more than twenty-three million people, has stayed so untouched along its thirty-one-mile length. No one lives within the gorge itself or along the crest, no roads parallel the river, and only a very few cross it.

But ever since 1962 the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to gain congressional authorization to build a 200-million-dollar, 483-foot-high hydroelectric dam on the Big South Fork at Devils Jumps pass in Kentucky. The lake formed behind the dam would still the rapids and drown the house-high boulders for twenty-nine miles back along the South Fork and for many more miles of the river’s handsome tributaries. Five times the dam was approved by the Senate; five times it was rejected by the House Public Works Committee. Only conflicting economic interests—private power against public power, coal interests against hydroelectric power—kept the South Fork wild. By 1968 the economics of hydroelectric dams made such projects more difficult to justify. Also, the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning had been formed by two prominent geneticists at the Oak Ridge laboratories in Tennessee, Doctors William and Liane Russell, a husband and wife team who are also white-water enthusiasts and regularly float the Big South Fork. Thanks to their skillful efforts, the unspoiled river began to come to public notice. A 1964 Bureau of Outdoor Recreation wild-river report that had been suppressed came to light. The report had concluded that “the highest and best uses of the resources of the Big South Fork … appear to be as a national wild river from both a public recreation and economic standpoint.” InJuIy, 1968, at the urging of Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, who had always championed the dam to help the depressed economy of the area, the Army engineers and the departments of Interior and Agriculture were asked to submit to Congress a joint study report of alternative uses for the river without recommending any one of them. The 137-page report transmitted this February considered six alternatives “feasible and appropriate,” including designation as a national scenic river, a recreation area, a national forest, and a national park. The future of the Big South Fork need no longer be settled on the narrow basis of a single project. Conservationists hope a similar broad basis for action will be provided Congress in other resource-development projects. The luxury of leaving an unspoiled area unprotected is no longer ours.


Chemical engineers in Texas have joined the pollution fight with a local program so successful that the American Institute of Chemical Engineers is encouraging others throughout the country to follow their lead. In March, 1968, Dr. A. Roy Price, thirty-nine, who works for a pollution-abatement company in Houston, led the formation of a volunteer Pollution Solution Group of some forty chemical engineers. Eventually they were joined by mechanical and civil engineers and other technically trained people. Dr. Price had been stung to action by Dr. John McKetta, then dean of engineering at the University of Texas, who has been severely chastising engineers jar not joining the battle to save the environment.

As part of its program of public service, the group focused on the mud-pie-like Buffalo Bayou, which flows through the center of downtown Houston. With little hope for a major reduction in silt flow into the bayou (although they pinpointed and helped correct one major discharge from a laundry), the engineers set out to find a technique to clean it up. Months of careful work, closely followed by an interested local press, led to discovery of a way to use the liquid waste (containing aluminum chloride) from a nearby chemical plant to settle the solids and leave the water crystalline. The group is seeking a demonstration grant from the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to extend its cleanup of the bayou.

Nowadays, most meetings of the Institute of Chemical Engineers will find Dr. Price, with an exhibit and copies of the action manual he has prepared, helping to start other groups on a course of effective grass-roots action.


Since the passage in 1934 of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act all waterfowl hunters in this country have been required each year to buy a “duck stamp.” The painting above of two Ross’s geese by National Park Service artist Edward Bierly is the winning design for this year’s duck stamp, to go on sale July l in U. S. post offices. Few Americans have seen these small (mallard-sized), immaculate white geese, and relatively little is known about them. The birds winter in the valleys of California and each spring fly north to nesting grounds in Arctic Canada. In spite of persistent exploration, the location of those grounds remained a mystery for nearly two centuries. But on the last day of June, 1940, two officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company who set out from the Perry River post (about seventy-five miles north of the Arctic Circle) to look for the elusive nesting sites, finally solved one of North America’s last remaining ornithological riddles. Angus Gavin, one of the men on the trip, described the excitement of that discovery.

”… towards evening everything was ready, and with Donovan and myself sitting in the middle of the canoe like factors of old, the natives dipped their paddles and we were off on one of the most delightful and thrilling trips it has been my pleasure to encounter in the North. The weather was perfect; each bend of the river brought new thrills. Ducks were everywhere, and the constant singing of the small birds, coupled with the harsher notes of the cranes and the honking of the geese, made sweet music. In a little while the rapids became faster, longer and more frequent, until at last we came to one that proved to be about a mile long. After labouring up this we came to a mile or so of good water, and it was while we were on this calm stretch that the first Ross’s goose was sighted in the early morning light, flying towards the lake that lay ahead of us. Any doubts as to whether the geese we were looking for would be there certainly vanished when he appeared. On entering the lake, we could see them flying all over …”

Most of the world’s population of Ross’s geese, perhaps thirty thousand in all, winter at the Merced and Sacramento national wildlife refuges in central California. Revenues (nearly six million dollars were collected last year) from the sale of duck stamps to hunters are used to acquire land for such refuges.


Nineteen sixty-seven was the year of the “long, hot summer”; Detroit and Newark were in flames, and longtime journalist Robert Cahn of the Christian Science Monitor ’s Washington bureau vigorously protested when editor DeWitt John took him off urban affairs to do a fifteen-part series on the national parks and the problems created by the pressure of increased use. But his editor insisted, and that August, Cahn and staff photographer Norman Matheny started on a nine-month, twenty-thousand-mile inspection tour of twenty major park areas. Robert Cahn, fifty-two, a quiet, purposeful man, has been a working journalist since the Seattle Star took him on as a sportswriter the year he graduated with a B. A. in journalism from the University of Seattle. Over the years he has worked in various parts of the country for Life, Collier’s , the Saturday Evening Post , and others. So reluctant or not, Cahn meticulously laid the groundwork for his journeys to the national parks with extensive interviews on each park’s special problems. George Hartzog, director of the National Park Service, recalls, “I have answered his persistent ‘But why, George,’ at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in a pickup truck … climbing through Indian ruins, on an airboat in the Everglades, and on the back seat of a taxi returning from a congressional hearing.” All those “but why’s” asked of hundreds of park officials, park users, and concerned citizens produced a series of articles that generated so much interest that more than two thousand people bothered to fill in and mail to the Monitor a long questionnaire, which ran as the final installment of the series. It was the largest public survey ever conducted on park affairs. (The Park Service was surprised to learn the great majority of people wanted the parks preserved even at the cost of personal sacrifice or limitations on park use.) When he got back to his Washington desk, Cahn asked to spend full time reporting on the environment.

He won a 1969 Pulitzer prize for the series, and since then his perceptive, in-depth reporting on environmental questions has won him four other distinguished awards.

In January of this year President Nixon appointed Cahn to the newly created three-man Council on Environmental Quality, headed by former Under Secretary of the Interior Russell Train, with Dr. Gordon J. F. MacDonald, a distinguished geophysicist and expert on oil pollution, the third member. The council is to advise and inform the President on the broad sweep of environmental conditions. The qualities that earned Robert Cahn his reputation as an outstanding reporter and analyst on environmental issues should now be of great service to the entire nation.

Eight workbooks designed to give laymen some of the scientific and technical background necessary for effective action in helping to solve environmental problems have been prepared by the Scientists’ Institue for Public Information. The titles offered are: Air Pollution, Water Pollution, Environmental Effects of Weapons Technology, Hunger, Nuclear Explosives in Peacetime, Pesticides, Environmental Costs of Electric Power, Environmental Education: 1970 . They may be ordered from the institute at 30 East 68th Street, New York, New York, 10021, at seventyfive cents each.

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