Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2008 See sidebar for table of contents
Family Cemeteries Another Victim of Mountain Massacre Mining
by Dianne Bady
A committee of OVEC and Sierra Club people are working toward the passage of a state law that will protect family cemeteries in the coalfields. We expect that the bill will be written before the 2009 legislative session begins in February, and we welcome your suggestions, questions, information and involvement.
Why are we working on the issue of family cemeteries? Because as a consequence of the mad rush to blow up mountains and dump them into valleys to get the coal out as quickly as possible, family cemeteries all over the coalfields are disappearing and many more are now being threatened.
Cemeteries are yet another casualty of "cheap" coal another heartbreaking loss that accompanies mountaintop removal, and the overture to global warming.
Weve heard numerous stories about people being unable to visit their family cemeteries that are now surrounded by desecrated mountains.
State law requires coal companies to allow people to visit cemeteries, but mining companies are refusing to grant access. Our committee took a copy of the law to DEP and State Historical Preservation Office officials. The officials say that the law does not give any state agency the authority to enforce it.
Worse yet are the stories of cemeteries that no longer existthe stories of peoples pain upon finding out that their loved ones and ancestors bones now apparently lie at the bottom of a valley fill or are part of the "overburden" used to shore up highwalls from old mining sites. Are family remains literally part of the "reclamation" that we hear so much about?
Walter Young of Mingo County tells of his vanished family cemetery:
"So the coal waste impoundment up above me is being constructed each and every day now, ever since 2001, I guess. Its being built in little stages, but upon completion and when full it will be 56-acres big, and could be allowed to expand. My ancestors were buried right at the toe of (what is now) that impoundment, in a little cemetery that I thought was safe. But it wasnt. When they built the coal waste impoundment, they ran an ad in the paper and then removed the cemetery.
I called up one Memorial Day my great-grandmother was buried there. And I asked the coal company, it being surrounded by mining, "Whats your rules or policy on me coming up to visit that cemetery?"
And they said, "That cemetery is no longer there."
I said, "Where is it at? My ancestors were buried there."
The boy on the phone at the mining company says, "Well Ill find out for you and let you know."
So he calls back a couple days later and says, "Im returning your call about the cemetery."
"Yeah? Right. Wheres my family at?"
"Im sorry, thats the reason I called. We dont know."
They didnt know where they moved the cemetery to! Or the people thats in the cemetery."
Another Mingo County resident says, "I went to Kayford Mountain and looked at Mr. Gibsons plight. I watched them set a drill right in the middle of a family cemetery that had been there over a hundred years. I watched them drill a borehole right in the middle of it."
Stories like these will continue to multiply, and more and more pieces of our Appalachian past will disappear forever, unless we do something about it.
If youd like to get involved or have information or suggestions, please call Dianne at (304) 360-2072.