An order from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will put a section of a mountaintop removal permit near historic Blair Mountain off limits to mining until at least 2018 when the permit comes up for renewal.
The DEP order prohibits Aracoma Coal, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, from mining within 1,000 feet of the mountain’s historic battlefield. The 1,600-acre battlefield was briefly added to the National Register of Historic Places, but was delisted after a coal industry-led campaign falsified public opposition to the historic designation.
The order came after the agency discovered its permit for the Camp Branch mine, which encompasses the southern portion of the battlefield, did not include a 1,000-foot buffer that was included in a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports that the acting director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, Harold Ward, said the order affects about 50 to 60 acres of the Camp Branch permit and “pretty much stagnates those reserves.”
The news was shared by Friends of Blair Mountain, a group dedicated to the preservation of the Blair Mountain Battlefield. In 1921, more than 10,000 miners attempting to unionize the southern West Virginia coalfields revolted against armed coal company guards in Logan County. The battle remains one of the largest civil uprisings in American history.
The controversy over the Camp Branch permit is nothing new. According to Friends of Blair Mountain, rumors of pre-mining activity such as forest clearing started shortly after the March on Blair Mountain in 2011. Ever since, the group’s board members have requested permission to visit the site in order to document evidence that portions of the battlefield were being disturbed by the coal company.
During a site visit in March, the group documented “significant areas of the battlefield” that were destroyed through logging and construction methods, and earlier this month shared that evidence with the Office of Surface Mining, the Army Corps and the state DEP. A more detailed series of events is up on iLoveMountains.org.
We’ve covered Blair Mountain’s place in history, and the back-and-forth battle between coal companies that want to blow up a prominent piece American labor history, and those citizens fighting to protect the site by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places.
Appalachian Voices is encouraged that the diligent work of the Friends of Blair Mountain and other groups led state regulators to correct their error in neglecting the 1,000-foot buffer zone meant to protect one of the most important historic landmarks in Central Appalachia.
But the historic battlefield is still at risk. Fortunately, the federal Office of Surface Mining has empowered the state to do more. The agency confirmed that West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin can issue an executive order giving DEP “the power to enforce section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on a 1,000 ft. boundary around the entire Blair Battlefield.”
“If Governor Tomblin will act, then what remains of the Blair Battlefield can be preserved,” Friends of Blair Mountain representatives say. “We can still preserve this ground, build a place where the public can celebrate and learn from this great history, and help diversify the local economy.”