Front Porch Blog

BECKLEY REGISTER-HERALD: There has to be a better way in the Coal River Valley

Op-ed published June 13th, 2009

There has to be a better way.

Sure, it’s all legal. The state Supreme Court said so last week when it rejected an appeal that sought to bar Massey Energy subsidiary Goals Coal Co. from constructing another coal storage silo less than the length of a football field from Marsh Fork Elementary School.

But there has to be a better way.

Coal River Mountain Watch, which for years has argued that even one silo so close to the school was one too many, was, obviously, upset with the court’s decision, saying that “placing a second coal silo within 300 feet of the school is a clear violation of the intent of the law, which is to protect the public.”

But Justice Menis Ketchum, who wrote the unanimous opinion, made it clear the court was not going to become embroiled in policy questions that should be decided by lawmakers.

“It is the duty of the Legislature to consider facts, establish policy and embody that policy in legislation,” he wrote. “It is the duty of the court to enforce legislation unless it runs afoul of state or federal constitutions.”

So there, you have it.

Not quite.

Coal silos and preparation facilities are a fact of life in the southern West Virginia coalfields, but locating them in direct proximity of public schools isn’t the best policy.

In this debate between environmentalists and a coal industry giant, the ones with the most at stake are the young students at Marsh Fork Elementary.

They didn’t ask for this. They don’t have a seat at the table.

Collectively, they’re an innocent party with the most to lose.

Having a coal silo, having any kind of industrial complex, so close to a school, especially an elementary school, can’t be conducive to learning.

We suggested a long time ago that Massey pony up the money to build a new elementary school at a location not in the direct shadow of its Goals coal operations. But now, with the economic downturn that has affected every industry, including coal, that seems like a distant dream.

We would encourage Massey officials and local school leaders to sit down and try to work out a solution to this problem.

The Coal River Valley has long felt like a red-haired stepchild in Raleigh County, that it has lost while other areas of the county have gained.

It has also yielded the coal that, as they say, keeps the lights on and provides a steady stream of tax revenue.

Maybe it’s time that area receives something in return.

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