News Briefs

Grammy Award Winning Artist Sees Mountaintop removal First Hand

By Sandra Diaz

Kathy Mattea’s journey started when she saw Al Gore give his presentation about global warming in January of 2006; the slideshow that is the basis of An Inconvenient Truth. His presentation struck her so profoundly that she decided take action. She signed up to be a presenter of Gore’s slideshow and was encouraged to personalize the slideshow. A West Virginia native, Mattea wanted to include a picture of strip mining in her home state. In the search for that image she came across the website, where she learned about the most destructive form of strip mining, mountaintop removal. The revelation of how devastating mountaintop removal was inspired her to see it in person.
So on July 10th, Kathy Mattea came home to board a single engine Cessna, courtesy of SouthWings, an organization that offers “fly-overs” for environmental education purposes, and what she saw impacted her tremendously. “I knew mountaintop removal was bad, but (what) really stuck out to me… was, how much, how many mines there are. As far as we could see, there were mines. I was told we could fly for 5 hours, and still see mine after mine after mine. “ said Mattea.
After the flyover, she went to Kayford Mountain to listen and learn about the personal impacts mountaintop removal has had on local residents. Mattea was brought to tears many times, after listening to story after story of flooding, bridge wash-outs, and other calamities brought on by mountaintop removal. After seeing pictures and hearing stories of the damage that Maria Gunnoe has endured when coal companies starting removing the mountaintop near her Bobwhite, West Virginia home, she hugged her and said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Later that day, Mattea went on to Charleston to give a press conference about what she had seen and heard that day. She said it would take her a long time to process what she had seen. She was not seeking to place blame, but instead called for “civil discourse with each other. And that not an easy thing. Its essential if we are going to get West Virginia to be a place where its sustainable, where there are jobs for everyone.”
Mattea also has been working on her latest project, an album called Coal, a collection of Appalachian mining songs. She says it’s a tribute to coal miners of the past and present, and in particular, to her grandfathers who were both coal miners.

Larry Gibson Struggles to Save Family Cemetary

On a small island of green, high above an endless sea of rock and mud, Larry Gibson wanders through an overgrown cemetery and struggles to contain his emotions.
“What happened to the graves down here?” he asks. “There were three graves over here and one over here.” The four graves are among 11 suspected missing from the Stover cemetery, located in the middle of the Kayford Mountain MTR mining site.
Gibson and others can be seen on a video shot by Evening Star Productions, an Ohio-based documentary company, as they tour their family cemetery in early August. It is the first time they have seen the cemetery since MTR mining began in close proximity.
Gibson points to an area where the forest ends abruptly, having been scoured by enormous bulldozers. He wonders if the driver even saw them. Although it is a felony to desecrate graves, it would obviously be difficult to prove that any graves were deliberately destroyed.
Nevertheless, Gibson is deeply moved.
“The people who are buried over there – or who were buried over there – are my great, great, great grandparents,” Gibson says, his voice choking. “It’s my history they’re wiping out — 200 years of my past.”
According to West Virginia Highland Conservancy’s mining chair Cindy Rank, there have probably been many family cemeteries destroyed by mountaintop removal mining.
“Unlike the more obvious removal of homes, communities, schools, and other traces of centuries old culture — often accomplished through trickery or other thievery but often having some human voice willing or able to speak up about it — family resting places can go silently into the night,” Rank said.
“Only the biggest of small country cemeteries are even noted on map,” and most of those “are next to tiny mountainside community churches,” she said. “Others are dozed through without notice or only taken into account if family members have kept it mowed and weeded, (which is) hard to do as elders die off and young folks move far away.”
Meanwhile, Gibson is urging West Virginians to register their family cemeteries with the State Historic Preservation Office.

To see the Coal Stories video of the inspection and Gibson’s reaction, go to:
To see the CNN Heroes story on Gibson, go to:


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