Despite setbacks, four men from the Eastern Kentucky towns of Benham and Lynch continue to petition the state to declare more than 10,000 acres off-limits to surface coal mining to protect the historic towns’ viewsheds and the watersheds that feed into municipal water sources.
Under state and federal law, citizens can petition their state governments to designate areas as “lands unsuitable for mining.” Bennie Massey, Carl Shoupe, Roy Silver and Stanley Sturgill originally filed the petition in 2010 with the assistance of the nonprofit conservation organization Kentucky Resources Council.
After the state Energy and Environment Cabinet declined the initial petition, the group appealed — and the ensuing legal battle dragged on for years, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. In 2018, the state reversed its earlier decision and invited the surface mining opponents to re-submit their petition for review.
The group re-filed the request in late December. Initially on Jan. 31 the state of Kentucky denied the petition, citing existing mining permits for much of the acreage in question. But the following week, the state reversed its decision and deemed the petition complete. A hearing will be held in late March.
The petition argues that surface coal mining would adversely affect the area’s historic character. “The cities of Lynch and Benham have invested much time and effort in an attempt to diversify their economy and to attract visitors to the area,” the petition reads, noting that “surface coal mining above the cities will harm those efforts and conflict with the protection and enhancement of the historic and cultural values reflected in these districts.”
Surface mining would harm local drinking water sources and fragile natural resources, damaging residents’ health and ability to enjoy their communities while threatening future economic prospects, according to the petition.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated from the print version on Feb. 12, 2019, to reflect the state of Kentucky’s decision to hold a hearing on the petition.