Keller Shaft, Mammoth Cave National Park

Keller Shaft, Mammoth Cave National Park
Keller Shaft, Mammoth Cave National Park, Photo by Roger Brucker

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Karst Rapid Response Handbook: Please use and help us improve this draft!

Following nearly a decade of successful karst-protective environmental and political activism, KEEP (Karst Environmental Education & Protection Inc) obtained a small grant from the NSS (National Speleological Society) to support the development of a "Karst Rapid Response Handbook" to help cavers and the public protect our caves, karst landscapes, and subterranean water resources.

A conference was held in Lexington KY in 2008; the handbook was drafted during 2009-2010 and made available to the NSS in draft form in 2010. Then ensued the inevitable delays that accompany volunteer labor.

In the following posts you will find the 2010 draft chapters and appendices - still incomplete, but open for your use, comments, improvements, additional examples and resources. Meanwhile we are working offstage to fill in the blank spots and to do a total overhaul of the tools available for karst protection activists: this type of campaigning has gone through a revolution in the past two years due to the global reach of social networking tools. It is difficult to fathom that when we began fighting to protect the Sloans Valley Cave system from the Pulaski County Landfill in the early '90s, the fax machine was our most powerful tool for invading the protected innermost offices of the state environmental agency!

However, while the tools available to us have improved at the same time that the laws protecting our natural resources have been weakened, the issues remain unchanged: Caves, cave rivers, cave springs, and karst landscape features such as karst windows, sinkholes and sinking creeks remain invisible to the public eye and extremely vulnerable to pollution and destruction.

This draft Karst Rapid Response Handbook -- aided we hope by YOUR suggestions along with our own improvements -- will point you in the right direction for taking effective action quickly when a developer decides to dump sewage into your beloved cave, build a parking lot or highway over it, or wipe out irreplaceable karst treasures via many other sad scenarios we know all too well.

Karst Rapid Response Handbook DRAFT All contents copyright KEEP, Inc.

Responding Quickly, Safely and Effectively
When Cave and Karst Threats Arise
WORKING DRAFT – comments invited 

photos to come

The $1 million Dishman Lane repair, following karst collapse.
Bowling Green KY. Guy Briggs, August 2002.

photos to come

Cavers commemorating closure of the Pulaski County Landfill, Sloans Valley KY.
Pulaski Week, July 1995.

Roger Brucker, Hilary Lambert, George Phillips,
Leslie Barras, Tom Barr, and Thomas Poulson

Karst Environmental Education and Protection, Inc.
Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc.
with the support of
The National Speleological Society

WORKING DRAFT – comments invited 

Address comments, queries to the comments section of each chapter here on our blogspot site, or email to:

© 2011 Karst Environmental Education and Protection, Inc.

There is no such thing as compromise, when it comes to
protecting caves and karst.

Once a cave is impacted – its biota, its water flow and quality, its habitat capacity – it will not be back to health any time soon.

Don’t compromise, and don’t negotiate for “win-win.”
There’s no such thing in cave and karst conservation and protection.

Roger Brucker puts it this way: “There’s no right way
to do the wrong thing.”

Outline and Contents

Outline and Contents

This outline of recommended elements and principles is useful for quickly forming and training cave saving teams, and for upgrading environmental and caving groups to help them become expert first responders.  Consult this outline when you need to respond to karst threats on short notice.

The final draft will have a detailed outline – we are staying with major headers for this draft. Suggestions welcome!

Preface:  The need for this handbook                                                                          4

Introduction:  Responding quickly and effectively to a karst crisis                           7

I. Discovery:  Finding out what’s going on                                                                15

II. Marketing: Getting your message out there                                                          25

III. One-way informing: Tools to use                                                                        27

IV. Two-way communication, or negotiating                                                           35

V. Preparing for challenges over the long haul                                                        37

Afterword                                                                                                                     37

Appendices: Resources for cave and karst rapid response                                          38

Preface: The need for this handbook

The need for this handbook

In the Unites States, 20% of the land surface is karst, and 40% of groundwater is stored in karst aquifers (Karst Waters Institute, 2010).  Usually underlain by limestone bedrock, karst landscapes are characterized by interior drainage. Rain falls to the ground and immediately disappears into sinkholes and caves.  Surface streams are rare in karst landscapes.

In karst areas, this groundwater flows through natural limestone cracks and conduits that range in diameter from a few millimeters to vast tunnels containing underground rivers. These waters discharge through springs to the surface. The term karst comes from the region in Slovenia of that name where the limestone land surface is riddled with sinkholes, cave openings and sinking streams.

Karst land is generally less suitable for development for the same reason that prudent developers avoid building in wetlands, on steep slopes, or in earthquake-prone areas – it is unstable land. As any farmer who grows crops on karst will tell you, a farm field on karst has a constantly changing surface. New sinkholes can open up suddenly under the wheels of a tractor or truck. The common practice of filling in sinkholes with debris does not last long. In a year or two, the continual flow of water into the drain at the bottom of most sinkholes will carry away baling wire, fenceposts, tree tops and trunks, or discarded machinery. In wet years, karst land can flood, water welling up out of the overfilled conduits below the surface.

Less desirable land often carries a bargain price tag.  Therefore, some developers think that building on karst is an opportunity to “buy low and sell high.”  Some developers may be ignorant of karst problems, but others hope that buyers will not become aware of the problems and hazards of karst before the developer has received his money and moved on.  

Too often developments on karst turn out to be costly, bad investments.  Building foundations, streets, and utility lines can crack and sink due to collapse and subsidence. Yards and basements can flood, and groundwater wells can become contaminated.  Public safety can be at risk. Too often, such “unforeseen” problems are termed “an Act of God.”  They are not.  They are the result of the sad truth: Ignore Karst, Build Now, Fix Later.

This handbook has been prepared to assist citizens who want to prevent a karst disaster in their community.  It outlines a tested step-by-step procedure for moving quickly to educate public officials, zoning and planning approval authorities, investors and lenders, buyers and taxpayers before they come up against expensive surprises. Real-world case studies are cited.

Why is a rapid response required?  Unscrupulous developers know that if they slide their plans through unknowing approval authorities and political officials with claims of “Jobs and Progress,” they often may gain construction approval before ordinary citizens are any wiser.  When concerned citizens do eventually learn the truth they are told, “It’s a done deal! You’re too late.”  Clearly a rapid rescue response is needed. Preparedness is gold!

Emergency rescue organizations of the type described in this handbook have proliferated in the past years for several reasons. The task of raising the public’s awareness of emergencies has shifted “first responder” capabilities from traditional police and fire units to specially trained and equipped rescue squads.  Emergencies such as injury accidents require urgent medical care.  In all such situations, effective emergency response includes dealing with formidable environmental challenges plus speed and expert removal and transport skills.

Less urgently than emergency responders, but perhaps equally important, is the need for a fast response “cave saving” task force, embodying specialized expertise in science, politics, legal challenges, and public relations.  Recent experiences in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia demonstrate the urgent need for a rapid response karst and cave rescue team. In Tennessee, the threat was to Rumbling Falls Cave, where a municipality proposed to build a sewage treatment plant atop the largest cave room in the state – a national treasure.

Farther north, the Kentucky Transpark used complex questionable political maneuvers to claim exemption from Environmental Impact Study preparation in a federalized project and to silence discussion on an industrial park karst site above an underground river, near Bowling Green and Mammoth Cave National Park

Also in Kentucky, state politicians and officials proposed building I-66 across several important karst areas in Kentucky’s Pulaski and Laurel counties, with insufficient environmental and construction expertise. Limestone quarries have been proposed in areas with significant cave rivers and endangered species that would be impacted by this industrial activity.

In West Virginia, a team of developers, a contractor, and state officials tried to build a regional sewage plant on a karst floodplain by systematically violating the law, disregarding sound civil engineering practices, and ignoring expert and public opinion.

These are all recent examples of situations where a karst rapid response team was needed, to ensure protection of land value, community life, and water quality from unthinking, unheeding development on risky terrain.

Also, opportunities to save caves may come about over a number of years, and some may arise suddenly.  Sometimes a farm with notable caves comes to market due to an owner’s death.  Developers may seize such opportunities to lock up cave properties before dedicated cave conservation groups can respond with effective protection measures.  Clearly, a rapid multi-faceted, effective emergency response to cave threats or cave opportunities is needed. 

The authors hope you will find immediately useful information in this handbook. Remember, every situation is unique, so we offer general principles rather than hard and fast rules.  Tailor your actions to your situation and circumstances.  And by all means, contact the Karst Rapid Response Network the minute you learn of a cave and karst threat.  We will put you in touch with expert assistance.

Roger Brucker, Hilary Lambert, George Phillips,
Leslie Barras, Tom Barr, and Tom Poulson.

Introduction & Case Studies of rapid response to a karst crisis

Responding quickly and effectively to a karst crisis

Case Study #1 in Karst Rapid Response
A “Done Deal” in West Virginia

People sometimes give up right away when they learn that a new road is going to take their land, a strip mine is going to fill in a nearby creek, or a cornfield with a cave river under it is going to have an airport runway built on it. They hear the rumors and they say, “It’s a done deal. Nothing can be done.” 

In fact, there is no such thing as a “done deal.” This handbook is full of examples that show the done deal myth comes true only if people close their eyes and put their heads in the sand. If instead they create an organization, get legal and expert help, and make some noise, that done deal vanishes like the mirage it truly is. The hard part? Saving caves and karst from development takes a lot of work, sometimes over a very long period of time, and requires constant vigilance.

Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says, “They cannot win if you do not quit.” If your group is facing a threat to caves, karstlands, or to any other part of the environment you care about, you will have to take the long, wide, tall view: You will not ever be able to quit, so organize a comprehensive, long-term campaign to protect your cave/karst site, involving many moving parts, in coordination with numerous groups, experts and allies.

A recent example of a cave-saving organization’s quick, comprehensive response to a cave and karst threat illustrates real-world implementation of this handbook’s basic principles.  It points the way for adaptation to other cave and karst conservation challenges, and for karst problem prevention.

The WVCC (West Virginia Cave Conservancy), founded in 1997, is an organization of caver volunteers established to protect significant caves in the state.  When plans were disclosed to construct a $20 million sewage treatment plant at Slatyfork WV on a karst floodplain, WVCC established the Upper Elk River Task Force to oppose the development on the basis that it threatened a significant wild cave area.  The group began to gather factual information about the plans.  They discovered that the project had already received an environmental FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) from state EPA approval authorities.

Testimony and evidence from the caving community and karst experts was ignored, and there was total acceptance of the unqualified reports, prepared by the developer’s own consultants, that the plant posed no environmental risks.  The judge prohibited the introduction of factual evidence. At this point the Task Force’s leaders saw that legal action might be the only way to stop the project.  WVCC’s constraints on the Task Force included that no action could be taken without full board approval of the WVCC.  The possibility for quick response was limited by policy, and by the reluctance of some board members to engage in an expensive legal fight that might jeopardize the parent group’s main conservation emphasis.

KarstEEP (Karst Environmental Education and Protection, Inc.), a Kentucky-based organization with experience in fighting karst and cave threats, advised the task force to seek independence from its parent organization.  The task force was separated under friendly terms and encouraged to go its own way.  Thus was born a brand new organization, Eight Rivers Safe Development, Inc., a 501(c) 3 nonprofit West Virginia corporation.  Pocahontas County, home of the proposed site, is known as the headwaters of eight rivers – hence, a local name associated with safe development rather than environmentalism.

A key idea behind the strategy was an observation by cave geologist Dr. Art Palmer: “Challenges to save caves and karst must be won on economic and political grounds.  Appeals to cave conservation values have little effect on the general public.”  Eight Rivers Safe Development has positioned itself as a champion of SAFE development on karst, and an enemy of unsafe development. 

Eight Rivers Safe Development Inc. was formed to advocate for the conservation and protection of karst, caves, and karst landscapes, and to promote safe development on karst terrains. The organization is centered in Pocahontas County, West Virginia — home to some of the most beautiful wild cave and coldwater stream resources in the eastern United States.

Eight Rivers welcomed support from all who value safe development as a key to our economic health, and is part of a growing coalition of cavers, anglers, property owners, recreation groups, and conservation organizations who are opposed to a regional sewage treatment plant project for this area, due to the risk of irreversible harm this project and other development initiatives pose to the Upper Elk River watershed.

Within 30 days of its founding, the new corporation had accomplished the following:

  • Obtained a mailing address in Pocahontas County.
  • Sent out comprehensive white papers to several caving organizations.
  • Composed and sent news releases to several caver news magazines.
  • Raised $6500 for legal challenges.
  • Opened a bank account in the name of the new corporation.
  • Investigated and retained an attorney to challenge the due diligence of officials.
  • Written and published a brochure describing the situation for cavers and the public.
  • Made a major presentation for funds and support to the NSS Board of Governors.
  • Written a comprehensive story for the national NSS News.
  • Created a comprehensive Web site:
  • Conducted a site visit for the organization’s attorney and a geology class.
  • Compiled photos and prepared a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Contacted affinity organizations for financial and other support, such as trout fishermen and river protection groups.
  • Filed an official FOIA request for all relevant records in the case from a state agency.
  • Established formal and informal agreements with technical consultants.
  • Written Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws for the new organization.
  • Attended an all-day watershed groups capacity-building workshop in Lexington KY.

Over time, the group pressed ahead with all of the strategies listed in this handbook outline including fundraising, network building, coalition building, education, and public relations. Here are two examples of their efforts.

Education:  This handbook emphasizes the role of effective education in changing the minds of decision authorities and the public.  Such education has a goal of building understanding of the risks of ignoring karst threats and ignoring the law. In West Virginia, where Eight Rivers Safe Development has conducted an intensive educational campaign, it is clear from questions and comments in public meetings and in letters to the editor that the public “gets it.”  It’s about the drinking water and the fishing water.  It’s about sticking taxpayers and ratepayers for millions of dollars of sewage treatment that will only benefit private developers.

As a part of the West Virginia campaign, a caver who is a chemical engineer helped propose a less expensive alternative solution to the real sewage problem. The developer’s engineering consultant had a vested interest in selling “old technology” and did its best to torpedo the alternative proposal, aided by the bonding attorney who stood to profit from a more expensive solution.  Clear heads in the educated citizenry have backed a comprehensive watershed plan that supports the alternative proposal.

Organization incorporation and coalition building:  Eight Rivers Safe Development was incorporated rapidly to gain standing, file a challenge, and raise money.  The president of the organization put together a coalition of organizations who supported a common purpose of saving the Elk River and the cave systems from an undesirable multimillion dollar sewage treatment plant. Developers may be quick to brand any opposition as the work of “out-of-towners,” “tree-huggers,” or “environmental wackos.”  That is why a strong local base of concern and organization is necessary to be able to talk about OUR community, OUR water supply, and OUR taxes.

Several articles in trout fishing magazines brought strong support from fly fishers, and their organizations joined the coalition.  A strong coalition of respectable organizations answers the question by the developers:  “Who says we are doing the wrong thing?” To enlist other organizations, a presentation to their Board of Directors is usually essential.  The Eight Rivers road show was staged for all the coalition partners before they agreed to support the cause.

In the years since Eight Rivers was established, a combination of unrelenting vigilance, attending all public hearings, making public presentations, and having an alert, responsive attorney all add up to the fact that to date, the sewer plant has not been built on the karst floodplain.

Cave and karst hydrogeologist Dr. Ralph Ewers has said, “You can build anything on karst, IF money is no object.”  One could build a sewage plant on the moon if money were no object.  The Eight Rivers group regards the plan to build an expensive sewage treatment plan on a karst floodplain as impractical as building one on the moon.

George Phillips  Scott Depot, West Virginia

Roger Brucker  Beavercreek, Ohio

Case Study #2 in Karst Rapid Response
Saving Rumbling Falls Cave in Tennessee

In the first few months of this century, a movement arose in the little town of Spencer, Tennessee, to construct a sewage disposal plant and dump the effluent into a sinkhole that led directly into the underground river in the newly discovered Rumbling Falls Cave. The events described here began in 2002 and were concluded in 200Eight.

It began because a developer wanted to build resort “cabins” overlooking the gorge of Cane Creek, which drains most of Fall Creek Falls State Park. State regulations would require him to build a sewage treatment plant and lay pipes to all of his “cabins,” but he reasoned that the little town had no sewage treatment plant (the only town in the state that didn’t!), and ought to be eligible for Federal and State grants to construct one. To help the process along, he donated a small plot of land for the plant adjacent to where he hoped to build his resort “cabins.” The town needed a sewage treatment system, so it was not hard to get them to go along with the plan. At that time the huge size and extent of Rumbling Falls Cave was known only to a few cave explorers.

Unfortunately, cave explorers wanted to keep secret their discoveries of a huge room and three miles of immense river passage. Secrecy nearly led to disastrous pollution of the cave system. But the details were publicized in time by a group of caver-activists led by the Nashville Grotto (a chapter of the National Speleological Society), partnered with the Tennessee Environmental Council and the Tennessee chapter of The Nature Conservancy

Chris Anderson from Kentucky supplied a spectacular photo of the immense Rumble Room, nearly 300 feet high and five acres in area. It appeared on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean, “above the fold,” and was picked up by several other daily newspapers around the US. Local activists followed up two weeks later with color photos of cave animals that were endangered by the sewage effluent, and this second major picture block was made part of the campaign to protect Rumbling Falls Cave. A news conference was held in Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville, and data were presented showing that over 30 species of obligate cave animals inhabited this cave system.

The story continues, in the words of Tom Barr:
The Nashville Grotto and its partners worked together to fight this sewage plant. For a year we fought the Water Pollution Control Board. We had to operate in so-called “Administrative Law,” which resembled the trial of the Knave of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. After losing repeatedly before the Water Pollution Control Board, which we felt was politically biased, we finally earned the right to go before Chancery Court in Davidson County (Tennessee’s capital county of Nashville), where we won hands down.

The State was ordered to reformulate its rules for degrading top tier (unpolluted or slightly polluted) streams, and Spencer was ordered to come up with a plan for disposing of the effluent other than letting it run into a sinkhole draining into the huge cave system. The eventual conclusion has been that the Spencer sewage effluent is now pumped across the road and sprayed out in a “land application.”  This is what the conservation groups had recommended in the first place. Four years after the court order, an agreement was signed between the city of Spencer and all parties to the legal action.

As in any environmental struggle, raising money and hiring a good lawyer were essential in the Rumbling Falls Cave fight. We were fortunate to have the services of Joe Caleb, Nashville environmental attorney, and he was assisted pro bono by Nashville Grotto’s Chuck Mangelsdorf. Two further tactics were key in eventual victory in this case:

1) We succeeded in creating a big splash in the state capital’s newspaper, the Nashville Tennessean, where the spectacular picture of the Rumble Room made front page news. All the state legislators saw it, so did the Governor’s office, and of course, the public. The followup with photos of the blind cave fauna showed rare creatures that would be killed by having the sewage effluent dumped into the cave. The cave contains the largest known populations of cave crayfish and blind cavefish in Tennessee, and they are directly in the path of the effluent. Several of us gave local Nashville TV interviews, whether we were on the street in front of the TDEC offices with posters, or sitting in the hearing room.

2) Funds from The Nature Conservancy were used to hire a nationally-known cave expert to perform a detailed bioinventory of the cave system. The total number of obligate subterranean species exceeded 30, which places this cave system in the top category of “hot spots” worldwide of subterranean diversity.

The expert’s report, along with the statement that I filed with the court, both described the manner and biological effects by which the effluent would destroy the delicate cave ecosystem. The Tennessee office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service supported us in arguing for the ecological, scientific, and educational value of this exceptionally rich fauna, even though none of these cave species has yet been designated as Federally endangered.

In summary, raise money and hire a good lawyer; make a big splash with publicity to explain your cause to the general public, state or local politicians, and Federal government; and if the cave harbors a significant fauna of obligate creatures, develop and play up information on them. Once destroyed, they are gone forever; the cave itself could recover. If you have an endangered species inhabiting the cave, you can invoke Federal law to help you. Get help from a cave biologist to point out the significance of the fauna you are trying to protect.

Thomas C. Barr   Nashville, Tennessee

Case Study #3 in Karst Rapid Response
Quarry Threatens Waters that Nourish Endangered Species

Boyds Knob near Munfordville, KY is a beautiful hill that rises in a rural farming area adjacent to the Green River.  Several families live nearby and have long enjoyed the scenic knob landscape, including a 100-plus year-old cemetery where some of the original pioneers are buried. A neighbor, owner of the knob, was approached by a large quarry operator who already mined a quarry near Bowling Green, KY, 40 miles away.  Their plan: to immediately drill and blast the limestone knob day and night, crush rock, store various grades of crushed rock, and load and dispatch heavy dump trucks over rural roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass. The farm owner would get rich while the operator literally hauled the farm away.
One nearby neighbor, alarmed at the prospect of 24-hour noise, dust, and heavy traffic, contacted KEEP.  The neighbor was advised to form a nonprofit organization so contributions could be solicited and accepted, and to issue news releases.  Friends of Green River was officially established, though not incorporated.  Donations were accepted by arrangement with a supportive 501 c 3 corporation. Reviewing the permit application documents and consulting old caving maps of the area, KEEP recognized that an eight-mile cave containing a river had been surveyed nearby and that several karst springs emptied into the Green River.  The spring discharge point was just upstream of a gravel bar containing federally-designated endangered species of mussels.

The new organization raised funds via emails, letters, and personal requests, and hired an expert hydrogeologist.  As the official representative of the citizens group, he was allowed oversight over and review of dye trace research and results produced by the quarry’s consultant.  The scientific study concluded that an active quarry’s limestone dust, grease and other toxic chemicals would drain via sinkholes into underground streams and emerge in the Green River.  The mussels, dependent on filtering clean water, would be in danger of being killed by any bad quarry discharge.

Faced with a clear threat as defined by the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, and the expensive mitigation measures that would have been required to protect the mussels, the operator withdrew his offer to buy the knob.  Accompanying swift actions by the new organization included publishing a newsletter describing the situation, sending letters to the local newspaper editor, providing information to reporters for their stories, mounting downtown window displays, sending direct mail to neighbors likely to be affected, and carrying out a survey of water levels in sinkholes and ponds on adjacent properties, in case of damage caused by blasting. Officers of the new organization interviewed several nearby quarry operators and learned there was no truth to the developer’s assertion that quarry materials were in short supply and therefore the proposed quarry was vital for “jobs and progress.” The new quarry did not open.

Roger Brucker  Beavercreek, Ohio

Hilary Lambert  Ithaca, NY

The three case studies described on the preceding pages are examples of the many challenges facing surface karst landscapes and the subterranean rivers and cave systems that lie below:

  • A sewage treatment plant – proposed for a karst flood plain underlain by caves and a subterranean river, it would also drain into a high-quality upland surface river;
  • A sewage treatment plant – proposed to drain into a subterranean river within a newly-discovered major cave system;
  • A limestone quarry – proposed for a rural residential and farming area, it would drain via karst conduits to a major regional surface river upstream of endangered species and a national park.

The recommendations provided for karst rapid response in the following pages are based on the responses developed to cope with these and other real-life situations in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. This Handbook can help cave and karst conservation organizations and their allies to determine the type of threat they face and how best to manage and defuse it, for both rapid response to a crisis and for longer-term karst and cave protection. 

Chapter I: Finding out what's going on

I. Discovery: Finding out what’s going on

A.  Defining the problem
Karst and cave problems fall into two main classes: 1. Somebody plans to do something that will adversely affect a cave, such as dump trash into a sinkhole and kill endangered cave species, or build a structure on top of a cave that will cut off the natural drainage and risk collapse of the cave roof;  or 2. Somebody is planning a development atop a cave that is regarded by the developer simply as an impediment to the project, because it might lead to flooding during heavy rains, possible structural instability, and the potential for expensive repairs.

These problems, while connected by the natural characteristics of caves and sinkholes, require different strategies of the first karst responders. Where the cave itself is threatened, responders should support environmental conservation.  Where the development itself is at risk, karst responders should support safe development and avoidance of economic loss.

In the first case, the message to those threatening the cave is, “You are going to wreck the cave”; in the second, “The cave is going to wreck your project.”  In some cases both may be true.

It is important from the outset to be sure which kind of problem confronts the concerned public and the developer.  Cave defenders who do not understand the fundamental difference between these approaches may waste resources fighting the wrong battle.

1.  Who has the problem? To craft an effective response to a proposal for development on karst, canny cavers should start by asking, “Who has problems with this proposal and what are they?” For instance, XYZ Builders wants to locate a housing subdivision on the old Sinking Creek Farm south of town.  The multifamily condos will be laid out attractively with curved streets and the maximum density local zoning allows.  XYZ Builders has already invested in the plan, and held discussions with the bank. The only public notice may be an agenda item for the Planning Board.  Cavers and their allies know that Sinking Creek Farm is a karst area with many sinkholes and a significant cave and river beneath it.  Who has problems with this development? What are they?

The cavers know they have a problem – their cave and its river are under threat from pollution and disturbance. Others also have a problem: the developer, planning officials, state and federal water protection agencies, the bank, insurance company, and future home buyers. What is their problem? They have purchased land that is going to collapse, be prone to flooding, and will require expensive mitigation to avoid environmental impacts offsite.

However, this second group is probably unaware that they have a problem! Usually, caves, their rivers and their sinkhole links to the surface are unknown to everyone except cavers. Only rarely are ordinances in place to protect karst and control development (see Appendix for information about karst ordinances). Since the cavers know they have a problem, they must investigate to find answers to important questions about the proposed development.

2.  What is the project timetable? Learn the urgency for decision or action.  Is the timetable one that will allow for prudent examination of the plan and site?  Or is the project on a fast track?  A slow and deliberate timetable may allow for education of all concerned.  A fast track project or “done deal” may sound the alarm for rapid response to buy time for careful consideration.

3.  Who has the decision-making authority? Identify the chain of decisions and approvals for the proposed project. That will lead you to the decision-making authority in each case.  Some decisions will be made sequentially, one following another.  Other decisions will be made in parallel.

For example, a conceptual plan including a site plan is needed for most projects.  These documents are submitted to a city or county planning agency for review and approval.  Six or eight sets of plans may be dispersed to various government departments, such as the zoning board, engineer, building inspector, utilities, bikeway committee, state or federal agencies many approvals will be needed for some projects.  These same documents may be circulated to lending institutions and investors for their approval.

When these plans reach the first public approval authority, you have a right to examine them. If you are denied access to the plans, this may be grounds for a legal challenge later, so document any refusals you encounter.

Whatever the project, investigate to understand and chart the detailed approval steps and to learn about the authorities who will issue rulings to move forward or to delay. As a taxpayer you have a right to repeatedly contact any and all public officials involved and ask for meetings or phone calls to clarify what’s going on, and to have them explain the process to you.

4.  What are their motives? Time is money. Most developers are motivated to move forward as quickly as possible and are well organized to approach approval authorities with most of the details completed.  Developers hate surprises, and most are resourceful enough to quickly overcome obstacles, such as approval delays. Caver inquiries may be dismissed with quick answers. Example: 

Concerned caver: “What will you do about the sinkholes on the site?”
Developer: “There are no sinkholes on the site, just mushy spots that we already filled in with rocks.”

Planning boards, zoning officials, permit reviewers, and engineers are motivated to see that the project will conform to land use and zoning ordinances, environmental regulations, and building codes.  Elected officials sometimes are motivated to assist any developer, and may be willing to cut corners. Getting re-elected can be a motive of some politicians. Bankers look for financial soundness, competence, and a track record.  They want to be sure their loans will be repaid.
The public has its own concerns: maintaining an assured clean water supply, not subsidizing commercial speculation with tax money, and desiring attractive surroundings. Individuals want public safety and uninterrupted services – police, fire, low taxes, snow removal, environmental stewardship, parks, and recreation.  Fairness and justice are motives for some segments of the public.

Money often trumps environmental quality and protection as a motive, so cave-saving appeals based on saving money and preventing economic loss most often gain more traction than conservation appeals.

5. What are the objectives of the differing parties? A project’s supporters want to get the work completed, be paid as quickly as possible and go to the next job. Any delay is seen as contrary to their objective and a potential loss of profit. This means that developers have a vested interest in getting rid of cave and karst related issues as swiftly as possible.  Cavers who seek further research or project changes are a developer’s enemies, and are often labeled as environmental extremists.

Government officials want to uphold the laws and procedures and to protect our air and water from degradation. However, developers know how to lobby these agencies with phone calls and courtesy visits. Over time, public agencies can fall into the trap of working with developers and excluding the public. This is not necessarily bad or immoral or illegal – it is the inevitable result of hard work by developers to make friends in the governmental departments that affect their projects.

The solution is simple, though a challenge for cavers and allies whose work is on a volunteer basis: Make your own courtesy visits and phone calls. Let the agencies know who you are and what your concerns are. Of course you may have to get tough, if a government agency seems to be working in cahoots with a developer. Bureaucrats may sometimes voice private off-the-record sympathy with friends of caves and karst, but for the record say, “Sorry, our hands are tied.”

When this happens, do not be drawn into secretive negotiations for quiet, behind-the-scenes deals – you will always end up compromised and silenced. Take the issue to the public, even if hurt feelings and broken friendships are the result. Public airing of government action/inaction is necessary to keep them honest, when the developer seems to be getting all the breaks.

6.  What obstacles must be overcome to achieve the goals of cave and karst protectors? Strategizing in cave and karst conservation means identifying all the obstacles to achieving the rapid response team’s goals, then planning to overcome each obstacle.  Formal obstacles can include missed procedural deadlines, a resulting lack of legal standing for your group, or a systematic public relations offensive by the development proponents.  Informal obstacles can include lack of funds to pay expenses, no local volunteers, apathy and inertia by local cavers and the community you thought would support your cause, and bias or wrongdoing by approval boards and agencies.

Each obstacle should be listed in a table followed by a column describing the resources, people, and legal assistance necessary to overcome it.  Where combinations of resources are required, list those.  When completed, the table will be useful for recruiting volunteers and professionals such as lawyers, scientists, and speakers.

7. FOIA and Open Records Requests – Obtaining the information you are entitled to: The records of public agencies such as federal, state, and municipal bodies are subject to disclosure to the public upon written request, submitted by mail, email, fax, or hand delivery.  Citizens do not need to explain why they want the information.  Under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), federal agencies, like the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, are required to produce requested public records within 20 business days. 

Every federal agency website has a link explaining how and where to submit FOIA requests.  Every state has its own version of FOIA (variously called “Open Records Act” or “Public Disclosure Act” or comparable names) with different periods of time to respond (some, like Kentucky, are as short as 3 days).  State laws apply to not only state agencies, but also cities, counties, special government districts (e.g., water, sewer), and some quasi-governmental organizations (e.g., economic development).  Most State Attorney General websites have good explanations for citizens on how to use their state “FOIA” process and how to appeal rejections or delays in responding.

Under federal and state open records laws, the definition of “record” is extremely broad and includes hard copy and digital records in the possession of the government agency such as zoning and permit applications, permits, building plans, maps, letters, email, telephone logs, and meeting minutes.  A “reasonable fee” can be charged for records; citizens can tell agencies how much they are willing to spend without being consulted beforehand when they file their request. Certain records can be withheld, such as drafts and the details of archaeological sites. The exemption for “draft” records has often been misused to withhold reports in controversial cases.  

For example, you may become aware that the developer has had several conversations with the city engineer about his/her project. You may request notes, meeting reports, memoranda, and other records of those discussions. If the agency claims such communications and records are “private” or “sensitive,” you may have a right to appeal to the state and then consider a legal case of wrongdoing.  The purpose of open records laws and sunshine laws is so that public business is truly the public’s business. 

Sometimes public officials will deny access to the records or place onerous restrictions -- $1 per page copying fees – on the request.  Such stalling tactics are patently illegal but may be part of the intimidation used to get project opponents to go away discouraged.  This is why all opposing groups should retain an attorney or find one willing to provide pro bono services to represent them and advise them of their rights.
There are no magic words to open records requests.  You do not need to cite the law.   You have to be fairly clear about the type of records you want (e.g., memos, emails, applications) but you do not need to specify titles or dates of reports, etc.  You cannot, however, ask questions.  One of the more important items is to learn beforehand exactly whom to send it to, either by calling the agency or researching its website.  (A FOIA template is provided in the Appendices, item number 4.)

Like open records laws, there is a comparable open meetings law for the federal government and every state. A deplorable practice of some developers and government co-conspirators is holding secret meetings that are not advertised and documented, at which decisions are made. Such illegal meetings are what give rise to the phrase “done deal.”  When you encounter this practice it means the developers have declared war on their opponents and may not respond to reasonable arguments or appeals to legality. A call to the state Attorney General office and, as needed, legal challenges may be the only option for effective response when opponents are excluded from meetings and discussions.

8.  Congressional inquiries, going to the top: A lesser-known way to obtain authoritative information about federal cases is to write a letter of inquiry to your Congressperson or Senator.  (Faxing a letter to your Congressperson’s office in Washington, D.C. will get there more quickly than U.S. mail or email.)  Make sure you frame your letter as a request for specific information that can be answered by a federal agency.  The Congressperson upon receipt of your letter forwards it to the agency that can best answer the question.  Your letter arrives on the desk of an official who is well-enough placed to be able to command an answer promptly.  That answer will be forwarded to the Congressperson, who will forward the answers directly to you.

For example, you wish to know if the U.S. EPA has issued a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) for XYZ Project, and if not, when do they expect to issue this document?  Your letter of inquiry should look like this:

            Hon. Steve Austria
            U.S. House of Representatives
            House Office Building
            Washington, DC, zip code

            Dear Representative Austria:

            I wish to know if the U.S. EPA has issued a FONSI for the XYZ project, Hardin County, KY.  If such a document has not been delivered, I would like the agency’s best estimate of when delivery might take place.  Thank you for your courtesy in searching for and reporting this information.
            John Q. Citizen
            123 Maple Street
            Anytown, OH 45433
B.  Constraints to taking swift remedial action
Constraints on your group’s ability to take effective action quickly are facts of life and cannot be ignored.  Some of these are listed below and may form very real limits on what remedies are possible, whether mitigation is practical, or whether a contemplated challenge is legal.  All constraints should be listed at the outset so that volunteers and professionals will have a realistic understanding of what is possible and what is not.

1.  Legal constraints: You will not be able to mount an effective legal action without having an aggressive, capable attorney willing to file motions, trigger hearings, and object to questionable behavior. See details below on when you need an attorney, and how to find one, under IV. Two-way communications.

2. Educational constraints: Generally your cause will have an educational constraint, meaning that to arouse public sympathy and concern, you must educate the public on karst terminology and processes, why caves and underground rivers are of value, and why the proposed development is harmful.  Ignorance is a constraint: confused or ignorant people accept authoritative pronouncements unless educated. The opponents will do their best to brainwash.  Cave and karst advocates must educate or abandon hope of winning.

A hypothetical example follows, loosely drawn from the Kentucky Transpark project. Note the pro-project points made by the county-level elected official, and the several different levels of response provided by the KEEP representative.

COUNTY JUDGE EXECUTIVE: “This project has been planned by technical and scientific experts to be a model of environmental best practice.  Its purpose is to bring 7,500 jobs and progress to our region.  Out-of-town opponents, who are not interested in jobs and progress, have raised emotional issues that are typical of tree-huggers.  They are not professional engineers, they do not care that our youth stay in the area and apply for the good paying jobs here at home. The opponents are free to speak, but all the experts say this is a safe and solid development so we are determined to go ahead and bring the many benefits to the good citizens of this region.

KarstEEP SPOKESMAN:  The proposed project is an effort to use public funds to build a private industrial park on sensitive karst terrain.  On economical grounds alone the project is a bad idea because there are already 700 acres of vacant zoned industrial land in Bowling Green, KY.

Karst landscapes have three major problems: Structures collapse when caves and sinkholes open suddenly, areas flood because the so-called natural drainage through sinkholes is restricted and it backs up in heavy rains.  Furthermore karst land is easily contaminated when parking lots and accidental spills enter the ground water through sinkholes. 

“The developers will tell you they plan to avoid, prevent, or mitigate all karst hazards.  The past record of Bowling Green in polluting the karst groundwater is ample evidence that more of the same can be expected at the Transpark. 

“There is even a threat to the Tier III groundwater basin in nearby Mammoth Cave National Park. Separate low water drainage basins have been identified, but in high water the overflow spills over or leaks into adjacent drainage basins. Karst drainage basin boundary migration is a fact. Toxic spills can be catastrophic in karst, and pump and treat techniques do not work.  The project inflicts environmental injustice, social injustice, and economic injustice on the region and it should be abandoned.”

The arguments and information summarized above were developed over a two-year time span, in opposition to the proposed development of an airport, trucking center and heavy industry park above karst rivers. This example shows that, as part of educational readiness, karst responders must be prepared to counter gross distortions of fact made by opponents with a robust information and outreach campaign.  While we often wish that the simple scientific truth were adequate to offset the distortions, sometimes stronger, blunt truth must be part of the educational package.

In another example, supporters of locating the regional sewage plant on a karst floodplain asserted the following:

SUPPORTERS: “The site is above the U.S. Corps of Engineers official 100 year floodplain, so it won’t ever be flooded.”

OPPONENTS: “Fact: The location floods every year or two and here are photos and video to prove it. The U.S. Corps of Engineers never inspected the site.  Rather, they traced around an arbitrary contour line on the topographic map while sitting at a computer in a distant office. Flooding is likely to upset the plant and send the contents of raw sewage into the Elk River. All sewage treatment plants overflow from time to time. Threats to wildlife are real and cannot be prevented.”

Karst rapid responders must always explain the consequences of the risks they cite, not leave it up to the imagination. Seize every opportunity to educate fully. For example, don’t say this:

“The cave contains endangered Indiana bats.”

Instead, say this:

“The caves contain federally endangered Indiana bats and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is investigating.  Furthermore, this project is likely to trigger expensive challenges if and when the bats are harmed.”

Finally, continuous education is required for an effective karst threat response. You can’t just put out a press release or hold a public forum and assume that folks are now fully informed. Most people are not paying attention most of the time, and need to be repeatedly told and reminded of your basic message and facts. It will be useful to place all educational materials on your Web site so reporters and citizens can be referred there for further information.

Always remember: The audience is a passing parade, not an auditorium full of people. You must continue to educate long after you are tired of teaching the facts and truth.  Second, always provide facts in layers so that those who want to know more can drill down to find detailed information.  Developers will seldom if ever provide information beyond their initial public relations releases.

3.  Hydrogeologic constraints:  Karst lands and caves have certain irrefutable constraints on their safe use that karst protectors need to understand and publicize. 

First, karst is an erosional feature.  Karst landscapes are undergoing disintegration, they can be slightly to extremely unstable, and they are full of unexpected surprises such as rapid flooding or area-wide groundwater contamination. Lakes in Florida and Kentucky karst areas have drained overnight or in a few days when the sinkhole mud washed out, destroying scenic landscapes

Second, groundwater can be traced successfully through karst conduits under some circumstances but not under all circumstances. Systematic dye tracing methods are employed by hydrogeologists to learn the destination of spring flows.  Harmless dye agents are placed in sinkholes or sinking creeks and charcoal traps are placed in all likely groundwater discharge points.  Traces of the dye many be found through laboratory analysis indicating a subterranean connection and possibly some indication of the transit time.  In Missouri, dye tracing detected that a dry cleaning plant 35 miles away from a spring was illegally dumping perchlorate solvent into a sinkhole. 

Karst low water drainage basins can be determined by systematic hydrology studies.  However, in times of heavy rains, runoff water may overwhelm the underground conduits and cause them to overflow into adjacent groundwater basins. Cross-basin spillover or leakage is common in karst areas, since the underground river system is continually adjusting itself downward and sometimes abandoning upper level drainage conduits (caves).  In times of flood, water rises in the underground system and flows through these little-used conduits, remobilizing sediments that sometimes contain contaminants such as gasoline and other chemicals. These toxins can be carried downstream, emerging into springs and wells used for drinking water, farming, and recreation.

In your efforts to respond to karst threats you may need to enlist the aid of a hydrogeologist to establish the facts of karst drainage in the area under consideration. Scientists are better at authoritative explaining than non-scientists. When scientists are ignored, real problems may soon result. (In the Appendices, see item number 5, “The Scientific Method: Model for clear thinking under pressure from opponents”)

4.  Physical constraints:  Several cities have proposed to place airports on karst sinkhole plains.  Contractors often claim it is easy to fill sinkholes with a truckload or two of rocks.  However, sinkholes continually open up, swallowing the rocks and requiring expensive “remediation.”  Ignore Karst, Build Now, Fix Later.

In Bowling Green Kentucky, a consultant warned that a proposed road would pass over a collapse dome in a cave, as revealed by a map of the cave.  The developer did not like the consultant’s recommendation to curve the road to avoid the cave because it would yield fewer lots.  The developer routed the road directly over the area of vulnerability.  One day the road collapsed into the cave.  It required $1 million of taxpayer money to repair the road, and the shortsighted repair may have set up conditions for a further disaster later. 

Perhaps the most expensive physical problems result from failure by a developer to perform adequate subsurface investigations ahead of time.  Federal building contracts require core drilling to avoid foundation problems with the site.  A contractor’s shortcut is to drill to “auger refusal,” a technical term that means when rock is struck the drilling stops.  In karst areas it is a large mistake to accept simple auger refusal studies, because rocks in karst areas are often floating erosional remnants, not bedrock.

These remnants may be surrounded by cavernous voids, creating an unstable base for construction that can lead to subsidence or collapse.  Technical terms like “cutters” and “grikes” describe karst limestone features that may lurk beneath the surface and masquerade as bedrock.  The University of Kentucky had to spend a lot of time and money investigating  the subsurface of the site chosen for its new library, when it was discovered that part of the building required pilings to support it over a cave. Any development sited in karst with inadequate site geophysical investigation is a candidate for nasty, costly surprises.

5. Topographical constraints: In a karst area, you cannot assume that the underground drainage and structure are mirrored by the surface topography.  Caves may extend under hills, beside hills, under valleys, and beside valleys.  Developers may argue that their karst site is far from the river and therefore immune to flooding.  They may be catastrophically wrong.  Flooding is a frequent problem in karst areas because, although caves enlarge and adjust to average drainage conditions through geologic time, maximum rainfall events can overwhelm an “average” drainage system. When this happens, excess water pours up and out of sinkholes across the surface and can flood a neighborhood quickly and stay a long time, as happened in a karst area in northern Ohio.

6.  Resource constraints.  A primary constraint will be money.  An organization will need funds to set up a Web site, publish brochures, hold meetings, and hire experts such as lawyers or environmental consultants.

Fundraising for rapid response
The outline below will be fully developed in the next draft. Suggestions welcome.

1. Realize up front that you will need money, and start planning for a war chest from the very first. You can’t rely for long on free expert advice and pro bono legal help.

2. Short term
  1. Typical initial costs that will arise and how to cover them:
  • Find a patron for the first $1000, that will get you a Web site, a 501-c-3, a PowerPoint, and form letter mailed out, asking for contributions (8 Rivers sent the form letter and a long news release to 15 or 20 grottoes -- and got donations from most).

  1. Partnering with a larger organization while you get your act together:

  1. Incorporating within your state as a first step:

  1. First steps to developing a small, core membership/donor base:
  • Send the form letter for a second year. Keep asking as you have news to report. Set up a secure contribution page on your Web site.
  • Ask affinity organizations to publicize your cause. (Eight Rivers talked to several fishing clubs and got a feature article written by one writer and a big donation from a second organization.)
  • Prepare and present programs, and always ask for contributions – Eight Rivers has a basic PowerPoint plus a beauty PowerPoint. We have used it many times in many places, and sometimes received contributions.

3. Medium term:
  1. Obtain fundraising/strategic planning training - River Network, KEEP, other groups.

  1. The myth of the native son or daughter as celebrity donor.

  1. Respectfully seeking other, more realistic, local deep pockets.

4. Long term:
  1. Pros and cons of becoming a 501 c 3 nonprofit charitable organization.

Chapter 2: Getting your message out there

II. Marketing: Getting your message out there

A. Why a marketing approach works  
Marketing is making offers to people to do something valuable in exchange for something valuable. Originally developed to meet the needs of industrial and domestic producers and consumers, marketing is now a basic tool in use by savvy environmentalists. After all, the other side is trying to sway opinion, so why not use marketing methods to introduce and reinforce the facts?

Here is one simple example of why marketing is of value to your cause. In retail marketing I offer to sell you a loaf of bread in exchange for $2.99. In karst rapid response marketing, I ask authorities to modify or abandon a development that can either wreck a cave or inflict economic hardship on others, in exchange for their upholding the law or serving the public interest. 

There are three basic marketing strategies for karst defenders to consider when developing a rapid response plan:

1.  Market Segmentation Strategy:  Marketers sort consumers into groups, termed “segments,” that will benefit from an offered product or service. Each segment may be targeted with appeals that are specific to that segment.  

Karst rapid responders can use this strategy with specific appeals supporting constructive behavior from each group involved. For instance, the government segment is offered an opportunity to fulfill its duty by upholding the law, in exchange for making a decision that a developer will find unpopular: “Do the right and legal thing, even though the cost is an unhappy developer.”  

At the same time, the taxpayer segment is offered an appeal supporting an economical outcome: “No taxes to pay for karst collapse or flooding,” as a better choice than the developer’s unsupported promise to bring jobs and progress to the community.

2.  Offer Differentiation Strategy: The offer consists of the product, service, or decision itself PLUS all the benefits accompanying decision. Both the tangible and intangible values are beneficially different from the decision the developer wants.  As an example, we propose that the developer post a bond that certain foundation investigations will be performed instead of relying on a promise that can be reneged upon without recourse later.

3.  Competitive Positioning Strategy: Positioning is how the deciders view all competitors on each important buying factor.  In karst rapid response marketing, the decider may be a government agency such as a planning board.  The competitors are the developer and his plans on one hand, and those who oppose or advocate modifications to the developer’s plans on the other hand.  Important buying factors can be technical facts (is the formal application complete and accurate?), perception of the technical competence of the competitors, and understanding of the legality of the proposals. Many government body decisions are made on the perceived reputation of the competitors and the political consequences of angering the competitors.

Effective marketing uses a combination of all three marketing strategies, emphasizing one or two.  Keep in mind that, while you can sell anything if you can increase perceived value over perceived cost in the minds of deciders, sticking with the facts is the best strategy. Let the other side exaggerate and prevaricate: always stay on the high road.

Tactical tools of marketing include one-way informing and two-way negotiating.  We will explore each of these in turn as they relate to rapid response karst and cave advocacy.