Coal Tattoo

Here’s an idea: Move Marsh Fork Elementary School


Photo by Britney Williams, courtesy Coal River Mountain Watch.

  I don’t know enough. I haven’t been there. I don’t know enough about the site.

That’s what Gov. Joe Manchin told me in July 2005 when I asked him if he would want his grandchildren to attend Marsh Fork Elementary in Raleigh County, the school located less than 300 feet from a Massey Energy coal processing plant and just down the hollow from a huge coal-waste impoundment.

The governor had just emerged from a meeting with Ed Wiley, whose granddaughter attended Marsh Fork Elementary and who launched a solo sit-down protest at the Capitol to try to urge Manchin to do something about the school.

Manchin promised at the time that he would look into the problem and explore moving the school. The Marsh Fork issues has been in and out of various courts since then. But basically, the issue of actually doing something to get the kids out of the way of this huge coal operation seemed forgotten about by anybody who could do anything about it. (See here, here, here and here for previous coverage).

But now, a report in the Beckley Register-Herald (See also the Associated Press rewrite of the Register-Herald story here) says  the Raleigh County Board of Education is considering asking for state money to build a new school — and that they might ask Massey Energy for financial assistance for the project:

[School Board President Rick] Snuffer says building a new Marsh Fork Elementary “would correct a lot of political problems in the county.”

“I just look at this as a way to fix an issue,” he continued. “We’ve been told everything’s safe, but if we have an option of building a new school and get it out of the way, I guess for me it’s a win-win situation. What’s the negatives on building a new school down there?”


Photo by Vivian Stockman.

It’s interesting that Snuffer  is looking at this as a way to fix “political problems,” as opposed to a way to protect the students of his county. This is the same Snuffer who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Nick Rahall. And of course, Rahall hasn’t exactly been rushing to do anything about the safety of these kids — or about the convoluted reading of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (a law Rahall brags about helping to write) that has allowed Massey to expand its Marsh Fork operations.

Updated: Thanks to a Coal Tattoo reader who pointed out that I had my Snuffers confused. I apologize for my error.

It will be interesting to see if the county follows through with a plan for a new school, and if Manchin offers some support for the idea … and of course, everyone would like to know if Don Blankenship is willing to spend at least as much to help the Marsh Fork kids as he was to put on his big, self-proclaimed Friends of America, pro-coal rally on Labor Day.  Maybe other coal companies would join in, and donate just a percentage of the money they’re spending fighting tougher strip-mining regulations and opposing action on global warming to this project …