Blowing up our Mountains for India?

June 11, 2011
Fayette citizens taking aim at mountaintop removal mining
By Taylor Kuykendall Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — Citizens packed the meeting of the Fayette County Commission Friday, urging the commission to speak up against a surface mining operation just 4 miles from Fayetteville.

Several residents spoke during the meeting against the surface operations of Frasure Creek Mining LLC, a West Virginia-based operation owned by the Essar Group, a company based in Mumbai, India. Opponents of the expanding operation said it results in blasts that can be heard around the county, including 7 miles away at a new adventure camp and site of the Boy Scouts National and World jamborees.

 

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“We’re going to have a jamboree here in 2013,” said Levi Rose, a Fayette County citizen who has invested time in gathering information about the site. “We’re going to have blasting going on every day. So, the people that are going to this jamboree, they’re going to hear that blasting. Is that what we want? We’re bringing in all these people and resources, millions of dollars. Is that what we want?”

Rose said he was vacationing when he heard citizens were meeting with the commissioners and immediately drove back to speak with them.

“I didn’t even know this meeting was going on today,” Rose said. “I was at a beach in South Carolina, and I drove over 500 miles, eight hours, to be here. This is how important it is that this information gets out and that you commissioners know what’s going on.”

Rose compared the Frasure site, and other mountaintop removal sites like it, to a cancer spreading across West Virginia mountains.

An issue that hit home with several of the participants was that the company mining the coal was not a West Virginia, or even a U.S., company.

“This right here, none of it is necessary,” Rose said. “We know this is true because this coal is leaving the country. It’s not even going to our power plants. It’s going over to India.”


Concerns about the proximity of the Page-Kincaid Public Service District and its vulnerability to contamination from the Frasure Creek’s Glenco Hollow surface mine were also mentioned by opponents.

Commission President Matthew Wender said the commissioners have no standing in the permitting process for mountaintop removal. Wender did point out that there are some actions that could be taken by the commission, and they would look into what could be done.

One opponent shouted that if the commission were willing to stand against mountaintop removal, it would be with the full support of the people of Fayette County.

“We’ll make sure you’re in office your whole life,” one said.

The commission was not prepared for the crowd. Wender said originally the agenda only had one speaker, Page Dalporto, scheduled.

“I wanted to have this meeting because I was alarmed,” Dalporto said, citing several family members who live near the mine.

State-level officials were also at the meeting for a later agenda item. Delegates Margaret Staggers and David Perry and Sens. Greg Tucker and Bill Laird attended. Laird and Staggers sat in on the hearing with the protesters while Perry and Tucker waited in the hallway.

Staggers said her legislative priority is clean water for her constituents.

“Not in my backyard,” Staggers said of mountaintop removal. “If they want to do it in McDowell County and Wyoming County, that’s fine, but this county is so special. There’s ways to obtain coal without destroying the environment.”

Laird said he wants to learn more about the issue and the permitting process surrounding it. He said the meeting was very informative.

“The nature of public policy is to always try to create a balance, but some things you have to get right the first time,” Laird said. “This appears to be one of those issues.”

Thomas A. Rist, an attorney who attended the hearing, told commissioners he had been bike riding through the New River Gorge earlier that morning. He said he was “scared to death” about what the mining site might do to what many consider an outdoor mecca.

“I understand that mining jobs are very important in West Virginia, but when mining has the ups and downs it has, when it goes down again, we are left with the destruction,” Rist said.

Rist filed an appeal against the third permit for the Open Fork #2 mine and said there would be an appeal hearing at the  Department of Environmental Protection meeting in Charleston at 9 a.m. July 12-13.

For Rist, the effort is about protecting the people of Fayette County and the beauty of the New River Gorge.

“If you don’t drive over the New River Bridge and have some sort of inspiration looking over at what we have there, your windows might be tinted a little too dark,” Rist said.

Victor resident Robin Welch warned commissioners of the “lies” coal companies tell the communities where they move. He described his view of Fayette County, calling it “one of the most magnificent places on the planet.”

“This will kill everything I just described,” Welch said. “That is not hyperbole. That is reality.”

For proof, Welch recommended the commission simply look to other southern West Virginia coal communities such as Whitesville, Welch or Logan.

“Those places are dried up and dead things, and they’re dried up, dead places because coal killed them,” Rist said. “This is an outlaw industry.”

— E-mail: tkuykendall@register-herald.com