CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may include groups such as the Friends of Blair Mountain and the United Mine Workers of America in its efforts to develop an agreement about mining on the historic Blair Mountain Battlefield.
The Corps of Engineers released a public notice Friday that seeks to "identify consulting parties" who might want to help decide the future of the historic property.
Any organization that wants to become a consulting party must submit a written request to the Corps of Engineers in Huntington by Aug. 11.
Blair Mountain, on the border of Logan and Boone counties, was the site of the largest armed conflict in American labor history. Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921, more than 10,000 union coal miners fought armed coal company guards, a battle that ended only after federal troops intervened.
Mari-Lynn Evans, a leader of Friends of Blair Mountain, said Monday her group had just received the notice of the "programmatic agreement," which allows the group to "follow through on our discussions about how to preserve Blair Mountain."
"This is really historic. There is an opportunity to preserve Blair Mountain and to do it cooperatively. As West Virginians, we have an obligation not only to preserve that place that means so much to all of us, but also to create economic development down there.
"This is the first time the Corps of Engineers has ever issued a programmatic agreement in this district," Evans said.
Raamie Barker, senior adviser to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said Monday, "This is a legal step to bring both sides together to preserve the part of the mountain. We just worked in helping to bring them together. We are not in the negotiations ourselves. They have been working toward the programmatic agreement."
Barker believes the Corps of Engineers' announcement is "very important to what has been going on. It could be a milestone. Even the coal operators believe Blair Mountain should be preserved. The issue is how much land should the companies literally give away. I think it is a big deal."
In its "public notice," the Corps said its "programmatic agreement" would be limited to the regulatory authority it has under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act.
Three companies have already filed applications to be involved in helping the Corps create the programmatic agreement: Aracoma Coal Co., a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources; Mingo Logan Coal Co., a subsidiary of Arch Coal; and Western Pocahontas Properties.
Alpha and Arch are the two companies already mining coal in areas near Blair Mountain. Western Pocahontas Properties, a major landholder in Southern West Virginia, owns the property. WPP is a subsidiary of Natural Resource Partners, based in Houston.