Life Near a Massey Mine is No Picnic
by Dave Cooper
Controversy engulfed Massey Energys company picnic from the moment the tents started going up on Magic Island, one of the few city parks in Charleston.
Masseys 19-day contract stipulated that the city park would be closed to the public for the July 27 event. Further, a portion of Kanawha Blvd., one of Charlestons main thoroughfares, would be closed for four days as carnival rides were set up. Worst of all, Massey paid the city only a paltry $7,200 for the park rental and $48 to close the boulevard!
Author Denise Giardina was outraged that the city would lease a public facility to a private entity, especially one with a dismal reputation like Massey, and then ban people from their own park.
Along with the Rev. Jim Lewis, Giardina and attorney Jason Huber brought suit against the city and Mayor Jay Goldman, trying to get a last-minute injunction to open the picnic to all.
At the same time Massey was taking over Magic Island, the WV Department of Environmental Protection shut down a Massey subsidiarys operations in Mingo County.
DEP said someone at Alex Energy in Mingo County used a scoop or bulldozer to cut though a sediment pond berm, releasing a "willful" spill of 20,000 gallons of polluted water into Laurel Creek and Laurel Lake.
That spill came only five days after another Massey disaster, a flash flood from a valley fill and sediment pond that wrecked the community of Lyburn in Logan County (see story on page 2).
So as Massey prepared for its picnic, neighbors of its mining operations werent exactly in the mood to party.
OVEC made immediate plans to fly an airplane with a banner "Massey: No More Spills!" over the picnic. Mike Harman and Winter Ross, OVEC volunteers, prepared another huge "No Sludge" banner to display on Mikes sailboat as it drifted past the crowd on the Kanawha River.
And on the ground, bottles of "Massey Blackwater Swill Sparkling Effluent" were prepared to "sell" to picnickers.
"By land, by sea, and by air" is our new OVEC motto!
As the crowd began to swell for Masseys huge picnic at Magic Island, the skies let loose with a torrential downpour that soaked both picnickers and protesters.
Huddling inside our meeting place at the Unitarian Universalist church, members of OVEC, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Citizens Coal Council improvised for the occasion by poking three holes into plastic trash bags one for the head, and two for the arms.
While we waited for the rain to subside and the lightning to stop, Bill McCabe led the group in a moment of silence for the nine Pennsylvania miners who were, at that time, still trapped underground and feared dead.
A few minutes later in the parking lot, he provided us with a highly-condensed training session on non-violent protest. After all, we were preparing to face a crowd of about 10,000 soaking wet Massey employees and their families, who might be less than thrilled to see our protest signs. Thanks, Bill, for the inspired protest ideas. And thanks to all who helped!
As we walked slowly down to the entrance to Magic Island the rains began to ease, and the media Channels 3 and 13, plus the Charleston Gazette, West Virginia Public Television, and the British Broadcasting Co. arrived to cover our protest. Clad in bright yellow T-shirts, the Massey picnickers and their families stared at us, but we received only garden-variety insults, such as "Get a job!"
Retired coal miner Monroe Cassidy, whose community on Coldwater Creek in Martin County, Ky., was mega-sludged by Massey in October 2000, commented that most of the people attending the picnic did not look like miners. The entire event, staged as a yellow-shirted show of force, was little more than a public relations stunt designed to impress the casual observer.
Massey seems to be the company that shoots itself in the foot every morning before it gets out of bed. For months, Mayor Jay Goldman and the people of Charleston had to enjoy Magic Island as a grassless, dusty pit.
But Massey did its very best to get the grass growing again. Even Massey isnt stupid enough to leave an in-town reminder of the moonscapes it leaves in southern West Virginia.