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Blair Mountain defenders keep fight alive

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- Several groups that couldn't convince state regulators to declare Logan County's Blair Mountain unsuitable for mining are taking their case to Kanawha Circuit Court.

In a complaint Thursday, they asked the court to force the state Department of Environmental Protection to accept their June petition and hold a hearing.

"DEP can't just skip the public hearing because it's more convenient for them to do so,'' argued Bill Price of the Sierra Club. "... Blair Mountain belongs to all West Virginians, and all West Virginians have a right to weigh in.''

The DEP did not immediately comment but declared the petition "frivolous'' in July, saying it raised arguments that were reviewed and rejected 20 years ago.

The fate of the mountain is also being played out in federal court, with several groups aiming to have it returned to the National Register of Historic Places. It was briefly listed, then removed when property owners objected.

The new lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Friends of Blair Mountain, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Labor History Association and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

In rejecting the petition, the DEP noted that much of the land in question is exempt from the "unsuitable'' designation because it's already covered by mining permits. Other areas are exempt because there is clear evidence of past mining.

Blair Mountain was the site of the nation's largest armed uprising since the Civil War.

Miners who had been trying to unionize for three years marched there after a key ally was killed by a coal company's private security guards. They faced a dug-in army of police and hired guns who had homemade bombs and machine guns.

At least 16 men died before the miners surrendered to federal troops.


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