Marfork Coal sues tree-sitters over state protest
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources is suing four strip mining protesters who staged a 30-day tree-sit this summer at the Bee Tree mine on Southern West Virginia's Coal River Mountain.
Marfork Coal Co. is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages. Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside was set to consider a request for a restraining order against the defendants Wednesday, but the hearing was postponed by mutual request, The Register-Herald reported Thursday.
Marfork is seeking orders against Becks Kolins of Ardmore, Pa., and Catherine-Ann MacDougal of Gloucester, Mass., and their ground support crew, Elias Schewel of Philadelphia and Junior Walk of Whitesville. All are affiliated with a group called Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival.
MacDougal and Kolins began a tree-sit on July 20. Kolins descended Aug. 2, and MacDougal came down Aug. 18. RAMPS said it was the longest tree-sit in West Virginia history, and MacDougal vowed to continue to fight strip mining.
In its complaint, Marfork asks a judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the four and virtually any of their associates, including "their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys,'' from trespassing on any Marfork property in Raleigh County and from interfering with operating equipment or vehicles.
Marfork, which says blasting was disrupted for only one day, argues trespassers are creating a danger to themselves and to company employees.
The company also says the protesters have announced their plans to continue disrupting Alpha operations and argues that without an injunction, they will continue to engage in conduct it calls "intentional, reckless, willful and wanton'' and done with malice.
The lawsuit is about protecting private property, Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said Thursday.
"The reasoning behind the motion for injunctive relief was not to obtain damages,'' he said. "It's purely a matter of principle. We should have the right to operate our business without the danger of having trespassers put themselves in harm's way on an active and busy industrial site.
"Imagine a stranger comes in your living room, sits down on your sofa and refuses to move,'' he said. "Would you do nothing about it?''