Victory for the Crystal Block Families!

Members of the Olbert family plant mums at the Crystal Block Cemetery. Photo by Carol Warren

Members of the Olbert family plant mums at the Crystal Block Cemetery. Photo by Carol Warren

Update: Read this August 18 Sunday Gazette Mail article, Years later, son still upset about damage to father’s grave

It is official — the families associated with the Crystal Block Cemetery in Logan County have prevailed. We rejoice with them as they have had a long struggle in and out of court to obtain some justice and compensation for the desecration of their ancestors’ graves. This cemetery historically is the final resting place for members of many black families from the area.

In November 2012, after six years of litigation and a month-long trial, a Logan County jury found two natural gas companies culpable of desecrating this cemetery as they bulldozed for access to a drilling site. The companies, General Pipeline Construction Co. and Equitable Production (now EQT) were ordered to pay $14,000 in restoration costs, $700,000 in emotional distress damages and $200,000 in punitive damages to 14 families.

The companies appealed that verdict, but in late July a judge turned down the appeal.

This is a victory that OVEC celebrates with all who have joined in the struggle for cemetery preservation. In particular, former OVEC staff member Carol Warren and OVEC organizer Robin Blakeman joined WV Council of Churches representatives to do a re-consecration ceremony for the cemetery several years ago.

We also congratulate attorney Kevin Thompson for his good work on behalf of these families. Public Justice (which, along with Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, has represented OVEC in many legal actions) named Thompson as one of five finalists for their 2013 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.

We are very glad that justice has prevailed for the Crystal Block families. There’s still much to be done to preserve family cemeteries, though. We encourage all citizens of West Virginia who have family cemteries to monitor them closely. For more information on how to protect your cemetery, visit this page on OVEC’s website.

If you have unfortunately suffered cemetery desecration, or you find your cemetery to be endangered in any way, we need to hear from you! Your stories are very important to the work we are doing to gain better cemetery preservation laws in West Virginia. Please contact Maria Gunnoe at maria@ohvec.org or 304-522-0246.

A mountaintop removal operation vastly hinders access to this family cemetery.

A mountaintop removal operation vastly hinders access to this family cemetery.

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