Front Porch Blog

Coal Communities in the Spotlight

As the issue of mountaintop removal receives more attention, the focus has increasingly grown to include the people and communities affected by this mining practice. Time Magazine recently did a piece about a mining town that was bought out by Massey Energy, and now for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. This a story that is not all that uncommon in the coalfields, as coal companies find it easier to turning Appalachian towns into ghost towns than to make these communities livable.

Sophie Yan writes, “In Lindytown, most area residents are long gone. They tell TIME they were muscled out of their homes by Massey, whose representatives pursued them aggressively, phoning and visiting often. By acquiring property in the area, the company has expanded operations — literally into remaining residents’ backyards,” “Appalachia Journal: When Miners Move in, Residents Move On.”

Sometimes, instead of pushing people out of communities, Big Coal just ignores the pending dangers that come with their operations. Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, West Virginia is located downhill from one of Massey Energy’s slurry impoundments and approximately 300 feet from a coal silo. If the impoundment were to burst, the 240 children that go to the school would have only a few minutes to evacuate. For years, the citizens of Marsh Fork have been petitioning to have the school moved to a safer location.

After significant pressure, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship agreed to pledge $1 million to help fund the $8 million project to construct a new Marsh Fork Elementary School.

“And I would dare to say that the Coal River area has produced more millions, maybe billions of dollars in coal severance tax than anywhere in this state,” school board president Richard Snuffer, the school board president, said. “So it’s time they probably got a little bit back.”

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who has been more critical of the coal industry as of late, applauded Massey’s decision. “This is a welcome and good start by officials at Massey Energy in announcing their pledge of $1 million for the construction of a new $8.6 million Marsh Fork Elementary School,” said Byrd. “….These children are our future and it is my hope that all the necessary funds will be made available to construct a relocated Marsh Fork Elementary School soon.”




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