By Brad McElhinny in | January 31, 2017 at 11:06AM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice’s administration says its new environmental advocate will be Edward Maguire II, president and owner of The Highlands Group, Inc., a land broker and consulting company that specializes in the conservation of undeveloped properties in West Virginia.
He begins work on Feb. 1.
On Friday, the Department of Environmental Protection fired longtime environmental advocate Wendy Radcliff, along with the agency’s communication’s director, Kelley Gillenwater. Only a brief statement was then issued by the agency: “We are restructuring to make our operation more efficient by consolidating roles.”
The Environmental Advocate’s Office helps people who want or need information about the agency, guides people with environmental concerns and encourages communication between the public and the agency.
This morning, Maguire’s appointment was announced by new DEP Secretary Austin Caperton.
“Ed Maguire has the big idea mentality that West Virginia needs right now,” Caperton stated in the announcement. “He has a proven track record of success working with numerous environmental and business groups, and he will be a great asset to this agency and to the citizens we serve.”
Since 1990, Maguire has been the president and owner of The Highlands Group, Inc., a land broker and consulting company that specializes in the conservation of undeveloped properties in West Virginia.
Maguire’s most prominent role has been serving on the task force that helped secure more than 10,000 acres of land for the Summit Bechtel Reserve for the Boy Scouts of America. Maguire also recently helped acquire more than 1,200 acres of land in the Gauley River Canyon on behalf of Young Life, an international non-denominational Christian ministry organization. Maguire also served on the board for the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage and Conservation Fund as the Conservation Committee Chairman.
The camp at the Summit Bechtel Reserve is named the “James C. Justice National Scout Camp” in honor of Governor Justice’s father. In 2011, Justice announced a planned donation of $25 million to the Boy Scouts of America for construction of the camp. Last November, as Justice was running for governor, National Public Radio reported that Justice wound up donating only $5 million and some land, although his spokesman promised Justice would eventually donate the full amount.
At the time, Justice spokesman Grant Herring told public radio that the coal industry’s decline “has delayed some larger donations, but Jim Justice always keeps his word and has every intention of fulfilling all of his charitable pledges.”
When Justice named Austin Caperton, a longtime coal executive, to be secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, he promised striking a balance between industry and environmental concerns.
“Austin Caperton has the management experience to make the West Virginia DEP run efficiently,” Justice stated in his transition team’s announcement about Caperton.
“Austin understands the energy sector of our state, and he will strike a balance between protecting our environment and getting rid of needless red tape that hurts job creation. He has the private sector experience I want to help me make state government operate with business-like accountability.”
Today, 40 environmental groups submitted a protest letter objecting to last Friday’s firing of Radcliff. The letter was sent out prior to the announcement about Maguire.
MORE: Letter from environmental groups.
“Transparency is essential to the integrity of your position and public confidence in your agency,” the groups stated. “We request that you publicly explain the process you will engage in to fulfill your statutory requirements to hire someone for the legally mandated full time position of Environmental Advocate. Ensuring that process will include input from the public is essential.”
Radcliff was named environmental advocate in 2014 by then-DEP Secretary Randy Huffman. It was her second time in the position. She had also served in the role during the mid-90s.
The community groups wrote to Caperton, “While we understand the Environmental Advocate serves at the will and pleasure of the Secretary, we are confused and frustrated that you saw fit to remove someone who embodies the very heart and soul of the Office.
“For many who need help to resolve environmental problems or have any number of questions about how to interact with DEP, Wendy is the first point of contact. She’s friendly, helpful and competent. She does the agency proud and is responsive to citizens equally.”
The groups continued, “We are also deeply troubled that you would take such action without input from the environmental community and the many citizens who turn to that Office for assistance in dealing with the complex regulatory programs of the agency,” the groups stated in their letter to Caperton.