Well, it’s less than 24 hours now before Roger and I set out for Charleston, WV. I just got an email that a coalition of labor, historic and environmental groups have gone to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, trying to stop the mining on Blair Mountain.
Seems like there are about 500 folks from across the US that plan to participate in the 50 mile March. We’re setting out Monday, June 6 and will finish up on top of Blair Mountain on the 11th with a concert and rally at Blair. The purpose of the March and rally? Several things. Urge the ending of mountaintop removal mining, support labor rights and preserve the historic side on the mountain which is located between Boone and Logan counties.
The Charleston Gazette quoted Regina Hendrix of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition as saying, “There are some places that are so sacred to our state and national history that they must be deemed as off limits to destructive surface coal mining. What tourist would want to visit the desolate landscape left behind by strip mining?”
The petition filed Thursday asks DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to designate Blair Mountain as “lands unsuitable for surface mining under the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act.
“The law provides that where mining operations could result in significant damage to important historic lands or where reclamation is not technologically or economically feasible, the DEP may set aside these lands from surface coal mining,” the petition states.
Blair Mountain was taken off the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Environmental groups and a labor association have filed a lawsuit – which is currently pending — at the federal level seeking to restore Blair Mountain to its place on the National Register.
Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921 — more than 10,000 union coal miners fought with armed coal company guards along the Blair Mountain ridge in what was the largest armed confrontation in the history of the U.S. labor movement.
The Sierra Club, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Friends of Blair Mountain, West Virginia Labor History Association, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and OVEC were among the groups who filed the petition.
As reported in The Gazette, Rob Nieweg, director of the Southern field office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said, “Blair Mountain is a nationally significant historic place that must be protected for future generations. We hope that the state of West Virginia will respond favorably to our petition.”
Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, said, “Allowing Blair Mountain to be destroyed is akin to suggesting that we blow up and bulldoze Harpers Ferry.”
Massey Energy, which now is part of Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal previously expressed interest in operating mountaintop removal mines on the ridge between Boone and Logan counties. Officials with the coal companies have refused to comment on the issue.
Barbara Rasmussen, president of Friends of Blair Mountain, said, “Every person in America who has a steady job, a decent wage, and health and retirement benefits owes his or her well-being to the brave miners who stood to demand basic human dignity, human rights and safe working conditions in the coal mining industry.
Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist living in Asheville, NC. For over four years, he has traveled the country documenting the joys, tears and lives of Americans. You can see his work on his website, www.JourneyAmerica.org.