Coal Tattoo

What’s going on at Blair Mountain?

Well, the folks at the Sierra Club just issued a press release headlined, “Is Arch Coal About to Mine Historic Blair Mountain? Local and National Groups Rally to Townspeople’s Defense.” They say:

Residents of Blair, West Virginia have noticed increased activity from mining company Arch Coal around the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield site. Members of the town have become more and more concerned about Arch’s activities and fear they are moving forward with plans to mine the Blair Battlefield site. There have been reports of proposed buy outs of resident’s property, increasing industrial activity in the area and other preparations indicative of a move towards mining operations on the battlefield itself. Blair Mountain is the site of the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. In 1921 more than 10,000 coal miners fought forces backed by mining interests in an attempt to organize unions in Logan and Mingo County.

It’s interesting … because nearly a dozen people I’ve talked to today — including some with close ties to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups — have told me when I asked that they don’t really know what’s going on. Even local folks who are watching developments very closely aren’t sure that the increased activity is any indication that strip-mining of the site is imminent. (One even told me it’s possible that the movement is in preparation for planned longwall mining underground).

I first heard about this yesterday from filmmaker-activist Mari-Lynn Evans, who told me to get more information from retired miner-activist Joe Stanley. And Joe told me I should really talk to Brandon Nida, the executive director of Friends of Blair Mountain. I talked to Brandon today, and what he told me he’s witnessed himself and heard from residents was pretty close to what the Sierra Club recounted in its press release:

There’s been a huge amount of activity in Blair, with equipment and logging trucks. It does look like Arch is going to be doing something.

I asked Arch Coal for an update on their plants at operations and proposed operations in the area, but they haven’t responded. I also asked Kathy Cosco at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection what was happening on Arch permits near Blair Mountain and this is what she told me:

I was told that Bumbo No. 2 is doing high wall reclamation and has been for some time now, and there was an amendment approved for Left Fork, which was about 58 acres, but it is right in the middle of an area where mining has already occurred. But no one was immediately aware of any activity on Adkins Fork. Harold Ward is having someone look into it and get back to me.

It’s not clear that some new Arch Coal SMCRA permits in the area have obtained Clean Water Act Section 404 permits — but as long as the company’s mining activities stay out of waters of the U.S., citizen group lawyers might not have a way to get into federal court to try to block the company. Meanwhile, some of the citizen groups are clearly gearing up as I write this for a major PR campaign, worrying that if they wait for more concrete information, it will be too late. The risk to that, of course, is if they’re wrong this time it might be harder to get the public worked up the next time around.

Keep in mind that mining in the Blair Mountain area is still the subject of two major legal actions, one challenging the failure to place the battlefield on the National Register of Historic Places, and the other over the WVDEP’s refusal to grant the area “lands unsuitable for mining” status.

Stay tuned …