Appalachian river among America’s “Most Endangered Rivers”

Jessie Thomas-Blate, American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Tarence Ray, Appalachian Voices, 276-679-1691

Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named Central Appalachia’s Russell Fork River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2016 today, shining a national spotlight on the threat mountaintop removal coal mining poses to clean water and communities.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers at a tipping point,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate of American Rivers. “The coal industry is in decline, while the economic value of an intact and heathy Russell Fork River continues to grow. We must protect the Russell Fork so it can continue to be a valuable asset for communities today and for generations to come.”

The Russell Fork is threatened by Paramont Coal Company’s proposed Doe Branch mine in Dickenson County, Virginia. Mountaintop removal is among the most destructive forms of mining, with devastating impacts on clean water, fish and wildlife, and the health of local communities. Heavy explosives are used to blast off the tops of mountains to extract the underlying seams of coal. Massive amounts of dirt and rubble, called “overburden” by the industry, are dumped into adjacent valleys, burying streams and ruining waterways for miles. The Doe Branch mine would discharge toxic wastewater into tributaries of the Russell Fork River, causing long-term damage to aquatic life.

American Rivers is calling on the Governor of Virginia and the Environmental Protection Agency to deny permits for the mine and put a stop to the project.

“The Russell Fork River is a critical asset to the region that we cannot afford to lose. It’s important that we preserve this natural resource for the economic sustainability of communities in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia that rely on the river for tourism, recreation and jobs,” said Tarence Ray, Central Appalachian Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

“As a child, I spent most of my summers with my grandparents in eastern Kentucky. Exploring their farm and playing in the small creek running through it were some of my earliest connections to the outdoors,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “Kentucky is blessed with many beautiful rivers, and the Russell Fork is a natural gem. But like so many rivers and streams in southern Appalachia, it is threatened by the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. We hope our America’s Most Endangered River listing sends a strong message that the Russell Fork is worth protecting for today’s communities and future generations.”

The Russell Fork River winds along the border of Virginia and Kentucky and forms the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River, known as the “Grand Canyon of the South.” The gorge and river are the main attractions of Breaks Interstate Park, which draws over 350,000 visitors per year. The river and natural environment play a vital economic role in region— an area that has been historically dominated by the coal industry. In 2015 alone, Breaks Interstate Park generated $9.95 million across southeast Kentucky and southwest Virginia. The nearby towns of Elkhorn City, Kentucky, and Haysi, Virginia, stand to benefit the most from the continued use of the park. It is crucial that this unique natural resource is protected as an economic and recreation asset.

“Our natural resources in Central Appalachia have suffered under decades of mountaintop removal. It’s time the state of Virginia put an end to allowing this destructive practice to continue. The future of our communities depends on it,” said David Rouse, member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Rivers are chosen for the list based on the following criteria: 1) The magnitude of the threat, 2) A critical decision-point in the coming year and 3) The significance of the river to people and nature.
Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2016:

#1: Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin
(Alabama, Florida, Georgia)
Threat: Outdated water management

#2: San Joaquin River
Threat: Outdated water management

#3: Susquehanna River
(Pennsylvania, Maryland)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

#4: Smith River
Threat: Mining

#5: Green-Duwamish River
Threat: Outdated water management

#6: Pee Dee River
(North Carolina)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

#7: Russell Fork River
(Virginia, Kentucky)
Threat: Mountaintop removal mining

#8: Merrimack River
(New Hampshire, Massachusetts)
Threat: Polluted runoff

#9: St. Lawrence River
(New York)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

#10: Pascagoula River
(Mississippi, Alabama)
Threat: New dams