MORGANTOWN, W.VA. Handing a defeat to conservationists, a logging company has struck a $9.75 million deal to buy a 16-mile stretch of densely forested canyon popular with hikers and rafters.
The buyer, Allegheny Wood Products, will probably cut timber there every 12 to 15 years, said Allegheny Energy, the seller of the Cheat River tract in far northern West Virginia.
The state of West Virginia, in collaboration with the Conservation Fund and private recreational users, had hoped to buy the 5,600 acres to protect it permanently.
The state offered $9.9 million last week, three weeks after official bidding closed, said Susan Small-Plante, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Wise.
"We're very surprised and very disappointed that this land that is so widely appreciated by West Virginians won't receive the protection it deserves," she said.
Allegheny Energy, a financially struggling, Maryland-based utility, has owned the land since the 1920s, planning hydroelectric projects that were never built.
The gorge has sensitive areas that would have to be avoided, including limestone caves inhabited by the endangered Indiana bat. A three-toothed land snail is known to exist only in the canyon.
Conservationists had hoped the tract's challenging terrain would discourage loggers and developers.
The sale agreement includes public access for rafts and kayaks.