From contributed reports
Dr. T. Allan Comp spends weekends and vacations at his Sperryville farm, but the rest of the time he is often traveling to Colorado, New Mexico, eight Appalachian states and Washington, D.C., working with groups to restore mining-damaged watersheds.
Comp’s efforts won him the ultimate honor from his peers in September — the Service to America Medal: Environment. At a reception in Washington, D.C. on May 3, the Interior Department’s Ray Rivera and Patrick Corvington, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, celebrated Comp and his “watershed teams.” The teams are an outgrowth of partnerships between the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) and grassroots community groups.
“I am proud of the OSM/VISTA teams, Allan Comp, and the young people working daily to tackle issues facing rural mining communities,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “They are restoring the natural world and will be the next generation of conservation leaders.”
The Service to America Medal is the highest award given by the Partnership for Public Service. It’s often referred to as the “Oscar of public service.” The award to Comp was the first time the partnership recognized a Department of the Interior employee for service to the environment.
“I am honored to have been awarded this medal; it recognizes the challenges being met by these OSM/VISTA volunteers, their community sponsors and the many hours of service they all put in.” said Comp. “I’m proud of the community and environmental work that the OSM/VISTA teams do. I know that Secretary Salazar is too.”
Salazar also celebrated the OSM/VISTA teams because they exemplify his youth initiative, the Interior Department’s Office of Youth in Natural Resources. Comp’s work was recognized by the Partnership for Public Service largely because of the complexity of the partnerships he assembles to assist these rural mining communities across the nation, bringing young college graduates to serve their community and the environment.
Comp’s OSM/VISTA teams, the Appalachian Coal Country Watershed Team and the Western Hardrock Watershed Team, are coalitions of grassroots-level watershed improvement groups. They are working to heal land scarred by pre-regulatory mining practices while creating economic stability in the rural communities where they serve. OSM/VISTA volunteers, all college graduates willing to commit a year of their time to national service, function like a domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, serving rural mining communities impoverished by environmental degradation.
Together the teams include 83 OSM/VISTAs that serve in 10 different states. OSM/VISTAs tackle a wide range of issues. They deal with acid mine drainage, straight-pipes, fecal coliform bacteria and other chemicals in the water. They create environmental education programs, train volunteers in water-quality monitoring and teach people how to construct rain barrels, create Web sites, write the grants needed to support these activities and organize events. Visit accwt.org or hardrockteam.org for more information about the teams.