Early this week, hundreds of citizens of southwest Virginia attended two Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) information sessions to learn more about changes to the proposed route for a project called the “Coalfields Expressway.” The divided highway was originally conceived by VDOT but considered too costly to build across the mountainous terrain.
The coal industry saw this fiscal challenge for VDOT as an opportunity to mine coal that would otherwise be untouchable. If approved, this 50-mile long road would use eminent domain to take ownership of privately owned mountains and hillsides along the new route. The coal company would then blast off the ridge tops, burying 12 miles of streams and destroying over 2,000 acres of forest, all to scrape off the thin but lucrative seams of coal.
To be sure, it will enrich the two coal companies involved in the mining, but it will export the region’s resources without returning any certain long-term economic benefit. In fact, the residents of southwest Virginia will be left with a disfigured mountain range, a potentially unnecessary road, all of the toxins released during this extreme type of mining, and less opportunities to import progressive businesses and tourists.
Many road projects meet opposition – especially when they threaten to mar ridge tops – but this is particularly suspicious considering VDOT changed the route and increased the amount of affected land just to maximize profits for the coal companies.
If this project goes forward as planned and Virginia’s accessible coal seams are depleted as predicted, it opens the door for the coal industry to propose more roads throughout the Virginia coal fields, all in the name of economic development. In reality, at least one article shows that rural road development does not necessarily deliver promised economic development. And countless studies have shown that mountaintop removal mining leaves poor communities worse off than they were before the mining – in terms of wealth, health, and connection to the land.
Tell VDOT that if they want to build this road, they need to complete a full environmental impact statement on the new route and reconsider the economic need and potential benefit – if there is any – to the region.
The deadline to send your comments is August 24th. Take action today!