Activists Stop Strip Mining Machine on Coal River Mountain

By scott parkin

“It was usually around July you could go up there and sit and it was like the annual bear gathering up there… The whole area was full of laurels. The bears had tunnels through them, it was so thick…What’s going on today you know with the Brushy Fork of course, that whole area has just about been stripped out now, and that’s all been taken away.” Ed Wiley on Coal River Mountain.

MARFORK, W.Va. – Protestors associated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice have locked to and shut down a highwall miner on Coal River Mountain today. Colin Flood, 22, and Katie Huszcza, 21, are locked to the mining equipment on Massey Energy’s Bee Tree Surface Mine, near to the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment. Their banner states “Save Coal River Mountain” alongside images of ginseng, a morel, a deer and a bear.

The human rights activists locked down in order to bring attention to the many local resources that will be lost if blasting on Coal River Mountain continues. This destruction led the four protesters, including 22-year-old Jimmy Tobias and 20-year-old Sophie Kern, both of whom acted as direct support, to take part in the action. “These mountains are home to some of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world and contain a variety of precious flora and fauna including edible and medicinal plants that can save lives, a wide array of extremely nutritious mushrooms, old growth forest and an abundance of deer and trout,” Huszcza said. “Coal River Mountain is priceless.”

Local resident Ed Wiley laments the loss of wildlife caused by the construction of the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, built in what was once some of the densest, oldest forest on the mountain.

“You could look off through the woods there and see a big Mamma bear with three or four cubs,” he says “But now they go on in there and remove the timber, and then start removing the overburden, and Momma bears with their cubs don’t come out of their dens until about the end of May, so they’re getting buried alive.”

“When the timber is gone, when the topsoil is gone, when the air and water are destroyed, the less than 4 percent of our nation’s energy needs that mountaintop removal provides will be small consolation,” said Flood, one of the four protestors, “The coal companies and land companies are blasting this land, ruining its rivers and poisoning its people for the sake of flat screen TVs, pick-up trucks and profit margins.”

The activists are spotlighting dangers associated with the massive Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, which is permitted to contain 8.2 billion gallons of toxic coal waste and estimates put the current level at seven billion gallons. Brushy Fork’s foundation is built on a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines. If the foundation were to collapse, as in Martin Co., Ky., the slurry would engulf communities as far as 14 miles away, according to Marfork Coal Co.’s emergency warning plan regarding the impoundment.

“The Brushy Fork sludge dam places the downstream communities in imminent danger. The threat of being inundated by a wall of toxic sludge is always present. Blasting next to this dam increases this risk at the same that it destroys the opportunity for renewable wind energy,” said Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, in reference to the Coal River Wind Project.

“The protesters expect a long fight before blasting on Coal River Mountain stops and they remain committed to that fight,” said Tobias, one of the members of the support team. “This is a fight for the heart of Appalachia and the soul of America,” he said. “Land and freedom have always gone hand in hand. When you strip bare the land, you strip bare freedom. We won’t stop until the land is safe in the hands of those in the community who care for it.”

“It [the destruction of wilderness] makes mountaintop removal an act of treason,” Flood said.

Climate Ground Zero’s action campaign, begun in February of last year, has kept up a sustained series of direct actions since that time, continuing decades-long resistance to strip mining in Appalachia.