Coal Tattoo

Forests and fasting: Mining protests continue

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RICK STEELHAMMER | Gazette  Blasting in Kanawha State Forest.

Gazette photo by Rick Steelhammer

The latest Capitol protest against mountaintop removal is starting to get some attention, as the “Fast for the Mountains” enters day three. There were stories today from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and from the Daily Mail, which explained:

Roland Micklem and a group of supporters are fasting at the state Capitol this week to protest mountaintop removal mining and its negative effect on the environment.

Micklem, 85, isn’t sure he has the strength to see the protest through, but he is adamant in taking a stand and bringing attention to what he said are the evils of invasive mining methods.

But frankly, I think the more interesting development on the mountaintop removal issue is the turnout at last night’s public meeting of citizens who are organizing to oppose the issuance of a new permit near Kanawha State Forest here in Charleston. The Gazette’s Rick Steelhammer reported:

With blasting already underway for a haul road to serve a new mountaintop removal mine near the eastern boundary of Kanawha State Forest, nearly 200 opponents of the project gathered in a Kanawha City church on Tuesday to discuss ways to rescind the permit for the 414-acre operation before mining can begin.

Allowing the development of a mountaintop removal mine adjacent to a 9,300-acre public park within five miles of the State Capitol “is sending the wrong message in a lot of different ways,” said Jim Waggy, a naturalist and member of the Kanawha State Forest Foundation. “Near the back entrance to the forest where mining has been ongoing for several years, it’s an area of noise and desolate views. It’s a completely different experience from what you have at the other end of the forest. …We have the Culture Center for history and the Clay Center for art and music — we should be making Kanawha State Forest a nature center for the area.”

That’s right, nearly 200 people turned out for that meeting. By contrast, a Department of Environmental Protection public hearing on a proposal to re-designate the Kanawha River as a potential source of drinking water drew only a couple of dozen people — that despite the public outcry that followed the contamination of the region’s drinking water by the Freedom Industries chemical spill.

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Gazette graphic by Tye Ward

As we reported back in May, after the DEP issued this permit, agency officials insist that they’ve taken many steps to try to reduce the potential impacts:

… DEP emphasized that Keystone’s KD Surface Mine No. 2, originally proposed in 2009, “has been subject to many changes, primarily associated with minimizing any potential adverse impact to the forest.”

For example, the DEP said, the size of the mine was reduced from nearly 600 acres and the company eliminated plans for valley fills and in-stream sediment ponds. The DEP said the permit increases buffer zones around the forest property, and requires that the ridge facing the forest be mined last, “thereby limiting the time the operation is visible to park visitors.”

“The company also agreed not to use state forest roads for access, coal hauling or other mining-related activity and will clean out a fishing pond that is full of sediment,” the DEP stated in its news release.

But as Rick Steelhammer reports:

Even so, the shooting range and portions of Lindy, Ballard and Polecat trails would be off-limits to hikers and bikers as blasting approaches the KSF boundary.

“The blasting, mining and reclamation will begin at the eastern end of the mine site — the area farthest away from the forest — and gradually work west in phases,” said Harold Ward, the DEP’s blasting chief. “There shouldn’t be any impact to Kanawha State Forest users at this time. That should occur only in the latter stages of the mining operation, when there will be an impact to several trails.”

At that time, mining company personnel would sweep the at-risk areas to make sure forest users were not present when blasting takes place.

At that time, mining company personnel would sweep the at-risk areas to make sure forest users were not present when blasting takes place? Seriously?

Citizen groups are appealing the permit to the state Surface Mine Board (see here and here), but the board has already refused to temporarily halt any mining work until that appeal is heard. Citizens say they will also ask DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to rescind the permit, and will take their cause to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. You have to wonder if Gov. Tomblin — who doesn’t exactly spend much time listening to the concerns of environmental and citizen groups (see here and here), will even agree to meet with these groups.

We’ve reported recently on the latest study, showing declining fish populations downstream from mining sites, adding to the growing body of science that shows mountaintop removal’s devastating environmental effects. And, of course, studies continue to raise questions about the increased risk of illness and premature death faced by residents who live near mountaintop removal operations.

In neighboring Kentucky, some political leaders are continuing their work on the Kentucky SOAR project, trying to find ways to move the Eastern Kentucky region forward as its coal industry declines. Here in West Virginia, we’re putting a mountaintop removal mine next to a public forest that many residents of Charleston and the surrounding area consider a jewel — the sort of thing that makes the region a better place to live and raise a family, or to visit and spend tourism dollars.

Last week, we heard a lot from state officials about the value of tourism to our economy, as those officials enjoyed the big golf tournament at The Greenbrier. Maybe those same officials should spend some time at Kanawha State Forest, and think about whether they really want blasting so close to the hiking trails.