Coal Tattoo

Alpha faces suit over mining at cemetery


Photo by Maria Gunnoe, flyover courtesy of Southwings

Vicki Smith over at The Associated Press filed a story about a new lawsuit that challenges the way Alpha Natural Resources is operating its mountaintop removal mine near the Jarrell Family Cemetery in Boone County. She reports:

Six southern West Virginia residents are suing Alpha Natural Resources to stop further damage to a family cemetery they say has become “an island in the sky,” barely accessible and literally surrounded by a massive mountaintop-removal mining operation.

They sued Virginia-based Alpha and its Independence Coal Co. subsidiary in Boone County Circuit Court last week after discovering that activity at the Twilight Surface Mine has come within 30 feet of their ancestors’ graves in Jarrell Cemetery.

In a press release, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition explained:

For years, the family members have been attempting to preserve access to the cemetery and protect the graves of their loved ones as a nearby mountaintop removal (MTR) operation grew ever closer. They worked with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and coal companies to try to obtain the protections the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) affords. 

The operation, known as the Twilight Surface Mine complex, once owned by Massey Energy and now owned by Alpha Natural Resources, is thought to be one of the largest surface mines east of the Mississippi River. As the Twilight operation grew bigger, the community of Lindytown vanished. Today, Lindytown exists only as overgrown flower gardens lining steps and sidewalks to nowhere along a crumbling road.

Danny Cook, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said:

We’ve spent years begging the companies to not destroy this place that is so important to our family history. Our most recent visit made us realize that we have no other recourse but to sue the company for the damages to the cemetery and access road Our visit was astounding, very emotionally impacting. The 100 foot cemetery boundary for Jarrell Cemetery has been seriously violated.” By law, mining is not to be done within 100 feet of the cemetery’s boundaries.  “In my opinion 100 feet isn’t far enough to ensure damage is prevented.


Photo by Maria Gunnoe

I’ve posted a copy of the legal complaint here, we’ve written previously about efforts to protect family cemeteries from strip-mining damage, and Vicki reports this from the company:

But Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said late Wednesday the lawsuit has no merit, and allegations that Alpha has “willfully and maliciously” violated a 100-foot buffer zone, toppled headstones and denied relatives access are false.

Alpha has instead “gone above and beyond the letter and spirit of the permit and the law” to protect both the cemetery and the relatives’ access to it, he said. Alpha also is offended by suggestions it would deliberately harm the cemetery, Pile said.

“Our miners are men and women of character who themselves have lost loved ones in the past and understand what these grave sites stand for and mean,” he said.