Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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December 2008

Constant Blasting from Strip Mines Frustrates, Angers WV Community
Shirley Stewart Burns Addresses Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists, October 2008
MTR Scars the Human Heart
Passages: A Beloved Friend
Temporary Stay of Execution for Coal River Mountain
Coping with Climate Change
CLEAN's Role in Campaign
Third Blessing on Gauley Mountain
Gauley Mtn. Close to Home for Me
Save Gauley Mountain Petition
Drawn and Quartered: State Two Bits and DEP Fits

Boone County Updates: Take A Different Kind of Sunday Drive - See Mountain Massacre Up Close and Personal As It Destroys Our State

There's Irony for You!

Youth in Action: WV Youth Action League on the Rise, Setting Goals
Sludge Safety Project Readies Variety of Efforts for 2009 WV Legislative Session
Educating Your Legislators A Key to Getting Action on Sludge Issues
What Does Sludge Safety Project Want for the 2009 Legislative Session?
Communities Unite for Water Testing Training
Newspapers and Bloggers Across the Land Editorialize Against Buffer Zone Change
Majority of West Virginians Ready for Clean, Green Energy, Multiple Statewide Surveys Show
Mingo County Group Hosts Green Jobs Now Picnic
Wind Working Group Meeting
Green Power a Real Threat to King Coal
Clean Elections and the Courts - It's Hard to Keep Up
Obama Expected to Tighten Coal Mining Regulations, Set CO Limits
Faith in Action: Having Faith, Taking Power at Public Policy Forum

Roane County Meditation Group Visits Kayford Mountain

Many Suffer As A Result of Illegal Mining
People Magazine Features OVEC Board Member in Lengthy Article
OVECs Cemetery Protection Campaign
Federal Court Hears Corps, Industry Appeal of Our Major Victory
From The Ground Up
Judge Blocks Permit for Clay-Nicholas Co. Coal Mine: Fola Coal Can Continue Mining in Interim, Though 
So What Did We Win? Another Cork in the Permit Bottle!
Bioneers 2008 - Revolution in the Heart of Nature
Organizing Toward Clean Water Victory in Prenter! 
Survey Says! Poll Shows Nationwide Opposition to Mountaintop Removal
Mount Union College Students Ponder Destruction and Creation
An Open Letter To Bayer
... and the Dead Shall Rest in Peace for All of Eternity (Except in southern West Virginia)

For viewing the PDF version of the newsletter

Winds of Change Newsletter, December 2008     See sidebar for table of contents

Constant Blasting from Strip Mines Frustrates, Angers WV Community

Getting ready for another summertime blast - the three lines of white splotches in this photo are bore holes,  packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives to rip away yet more of Kayford Mountain.
Getting ready for another summertime blast - the three lines of white splotches in this photo are bore holes, packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives to rip away yet more of Kayford Mountain.

by Joanie Newman, Coal Valley News, Oct. 29, 2008 (Complete story)

Several area residents are complaining about structural damage to the foundation of their homes.

Steve and Lora Webb say they are being blasted out of their home. The Webbs live past Lindytown in Boone County, W.Va. and they say the nearby mountain top removal mining practices are destroying their community.

"It's unreal. It's like we're living in a war zone," Lora Webb said as she, and her husband Steve, sat down in their living room to discuss their observations of living near a mountain top removal site.

Both Steve and Lora have been around coalmines their entire lives. Steve has been a coal miner for the past 34 years and Lora has her own experience working for coal companies.

Still, they say what they've been living with on a daily basis is unlike anything they are used to.

"It was like an earthquake," the couple says, describing the deep tremors caused by blasting on the mountain adjacent to their home.

"You could hear all the glassware clinking and things in the walls snapping.
Everything in the whole house shook," Lora Webb said.

"When they set off their explosives, you get a whole storm of dust that covers everything - the cars, the houses, the trees. It looks like ash or a fallout," Steve Webb said, sharing that he has also witnessed rocks hitting trees and the asphalt road.

"If a child happened to be out in the road playing when they set the blast off, they would have been injured," Webb said, recalling one particularly strong blast that occurred several months ago.

"I was so mad when it happened that I threatened to pack up everything and move away," Lora said.

However, the opportunity to pack up their worldly belongings and move from the area came and went for the Webbs about six years ago.

"Massey Coal Company offered to buy us out a while back, but we chose to stay," Steve explained.

For Steve, moving away from his community, from the land where generations upon generations of his family have lived, loved and died is an option with very little appeal.

"When you think about moving somewhere to escape the blasting, here they come right behind you," Lora said.

So, for more than a year the Webbs have endured the tremors, the dust and the potential hazards of falling rocks caused by the blasting necessary to mountain top mining and strip mining.

Even their pets have become accustomed to the blasts. Steve walks outside, where he has his horse, Sonny, secured behind an electric fence. He shares, "The blasts used to scare him, but they're set off so often that even he's become used to hearing them."

Situated within strolling distance of Sonny's dwellings is a square yellow box that Steve draws attention to.

"This is the seismograph that Massey put in on our property," Webb said.
"It's here to record and measure the vibrations of the earth caused by the blasts," he said.

Yet, Steve has never seen a report of the seismic activity that this unimposing scientific instrument is recording.

He has also not received a letter notifying him of the coal company's intention to set off explosives in a what he says "a very long time."

"We're right in the middle of a blasting zone that they don't let other people into. And do you see any signs up as you travel down the road to our house?" he asks.

"If these people up through here don't pull together, they're not going to have any release," he said.

With more than three decades of coal mining experience, Steve is confident that he has a strong grasp on the reasons why some coal companies have gravitated to the practice of strip mining coal versus underground mining.

"With a dragline, you're able to get 600 feet of coal versus just 100 feet of coal. The dragline on this mountain is the biggest dragline I've ever seen. It's like a 10-story house and you can hear it over the television,"
he said.

Like something out of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, with machines intent on devouring mankind, a colossal piece of mining equipment called a dragline rhythmically eats away the side of the mountain, spitting out trees like annoying bits of broccoli stuck in its teeth.

"This has been going on for years but its getting worse," Lora shared.

"After they came through and long-walled this area, there was no more water in the creek after that. I know that every drop of water coming out of this holler is mine water," Steve, who has lived beside Match Creek nearly his entire life, said.

Longwalling is a method of mining thick coal seams. A long "wall" of coal is removed in a single slice. The longwall "panel" can run anywhere from 1,000-feet to 9,000-feet in length.

"They don't support it [the remaining earth and soil] or put in jacks. They just let it drop," Steve explained.

"We had a regular trailer at the time. We now have the double-wide and we've seen some cracks in the cinder blocks," Steve said.

"We'll get ready to fix one thing and then they'll start blasting. We just stopped fixing things up when they started that blasting, " Lora said.

"About six or eight months ago, we tried to express our concerns and have a community meeting at the nutrition center, but, again, it's hard to get the community organized without the coal organizations coming in," Lora said.

"I think the only response people in this area are going to get is if more people overseeing and watching the Department of Environmental Protection,"
she said.

Both Lora and Steve said they believed the majority of the people in their community had lost faith in the ability of the D.E.P. to protect them, the water, or the mountains that make up their community.

"It's nice we have money to give our kids, but what's the long haul?" Steve asked.

"It has already flooded up here two years ago. The drain lines are not cleaned up and there's no top soil and no trees," Lora said.

"They continue to cut the heads of the mountains and cover up our water in the creeks," Lora said with vehemence. "What about the dirt on those mountains? It's lying at the bottom of the mountain and it's a joke what they plant on these reclaimed sites like the autumn olive, an invasive plant," she said with a grimace.

"Just think about how many more industries can be brought into this area.
Bag up the dirt so we can have topsoil in the communities and start community gardens. Why do they have to just get rid of all these resources just to get to the coal?" Lora asked.

"It will come around full-circle [and] it just makes you feel hopeless about going green when you're breathing coal dust. By the time it goes green, it's going to be too late for people," Lora said.

"It's sad when your kids can't go fishing. There's no balance between industry and the environment and what about the Native Americans that are buried on these mountaintops?" she said.

Lora said that if she could get a message out to others, it would be to "please turn off the power you're not using because people like us are getting blasted out of our homes. Conserve your energy."

"Most people who live in West Virginia just want to live their lives and not start trouble with anyone," Steve said.

"People look at us like we're betraying. We just see our old ways are not going to last," Lora said, while Steve nods in agreement and silently says, "The old days have already passed."

The Webbs are not the only residents in the Lindytown and Twilight area who are trying their best to understand and endure the effects of strip mining.

James and Liz Smith, of Lindytown, said they believe the entire foundation on their home has shifted due to the constant blasting.

"I was sitting here one day and James was gone and things started shaking and rattling. That has happened two or three times. You would have thought an earthquake was going to swallow this house it was that bad," Liz said.

"I bet you for the past 4 or 5 years, when I heard a blast, I'd mark it and put a description of the blast on the calendar," she said. "Eventually, I quit marking it and writing it down because I thought, 'What's the use?'"

According to the Smiths, the blasts used to regularly come around 10 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and again around 5:00 p.m. " The times weren't carved in stone, and now we hear and feel them between 4 and 5 o'clock. Lately they shoot when the wind is blowing away from the town, or so they say," James said.

"They're supposed to keep that dust in a permitted area. We were told it was impossible to do because they had a whirlwind was up there that blew the rock dust onto the town," James said.

"If they know there's a whirlwind, and they know they can't comply with the law, they should have to deep mine it and the state is not making them comply with the law," he said.

"Those trucks and equipment they have running through here are also stirring up that dust," he said.

"They're suppose to water those roads down when they get dusty. I was told the water truck was broken down. If they can pay Donnie Blankenship $22 Million a year to go on vacation with Spike Maynard, they could buy water trucks and do what's right," he opined.

The Smiths have repeatedly expressed their concerns, dilemmas and complaints to the Department of Environmental Protection, the Boone County Commission, and anyone else with an open ear.

Still, they feel that they're predicament has fallen on deaf ears.

"They're sacrificing us is what they're doing. That's what the State is doing," he said.

Like his neighbor down the hollow, James, 66, was raised on the ridgetops and worked 25 years as a coal miner before he developed black lung.

"I've got nothing against coal mining. I made a living at it. I just would ask that the coal companies be held responsible for what they're destroying of individual properties. They've destroyed what I've spent my life working on," James said.

"I quit to keep 'em from killing me. Now they're trying to blast me away,"
he said.

When asked if he had received regular notices of blasting, James said that what notices he has received only told him the time they were going to set off the explosives.

"All that is, is a slap in the face when they send us one of those letters; warning me that they're going to blow me up," he said. "That just makes people think they're doing something, they go ahead and do what they want to do anyway."

"The only thing I can ask is that they keep it off of me. If they can't comply with the state law, it needs to be stopped," James said."If I don't have an operators license on my car, they'll take me to jail. I've got laws I have to obey; they're infringing on my rights by putting that dust on me.
The Clean Air Act gives me that right and these politicians know it and they won't stop it."

James had some harsh words about the Department of Environmental Protection, who is a watchdog agency created to enforce environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act. It becomes quickly apparent that James, like his wife Liz, and his neighbors Lora and Steve, has lost faith in the Department of Environmental Protection.

"The D.E.P. tells us, 'We have to see it for ourselves. Can not use pictures that you've taken.' In other words, we're lying about the rock dust and the damage to our homes from the blasts. To them, we're the liars," James said with disdain.

"When they stop the dust, it stops the production or cuts into their profit and they don't like neither one of them. But they could care less about killing me or my family. It's the almighty dollar. The D.E.P. needs to change its name to Coal Operators Protection Agency," he said.

"This used to be the most beautiful place on this Earth. There was freedom, hunting, ginseng, and now, you've got to worry about getting blasted; they've pushed and shoved and confined us to a small space and they don't even respect that space now. They don't have any respect for us," he said.

"In the future, there isn't going to be a West Virginia, just a big rock pile," he said. "They're getting bigger everyday."

"They're destroying some of the best soil. When the coal's gone and the dirt's gone, that land back there is going to be useless. Thousands of years people have lived off this land before coal mining started," he said.

Additionally, James said he is extremely concerned about the D.E.P.'s willingness to issue permits to coal companies without spending the time and resources to locate the rightful owner of the land.

"This community of 50 acres, along with the mineral rights, was owned by Ducky Ferrell and in her will it said the 50 acres were to be used for domestic use only," James said, further noting that this did not stop the D.E.P. from issuing a permit to Massey Coal Company to mine the coal.

"There's a man right there," James says, pointing to the television in his living room,"that can do something to stop it and that is Joe Manchin. All he would have to do is pull their permits."

"I'd like to see Mr. Joe Manchin come to my house. In fact, I'll invite him here to see what they've done. He went so far as to tell the inspectors not to fine those people but show them how to do it right. I'll buy him his dinner If he's the man he says he is, he'll accept that invitation," James said.

In lieu of a visit from the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, James said one possible solution would be to "trade 'em even."

"The problem with moving somewhere else, though, is that everybody's strangers to you and you're not satisfied. This community is a 50-acre tract. The state, county, or coal company could build another 50-acre community and just move us to it. Trade 'em even," he said.

Contact Joanie Newman at jnewman@coalvalleynews.com or call 304-369-1165.

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