Natural Resource Partners, Arch Coal and Massey Energy, all represented by Charleston law firm Jackson Kelly, filed a petition with the keeper of the National Register to allow them to mine coal they own in the area of Blair Mountain.
Jackson Kelly lawyers said that they determined a majority of local landowners opposed designating Blair Mountain as a historic site.
At the time, the West Virginia Preservation Office stated that "it had received objections from less than half of the owners," according to Walton's ruling.
Hendrix said, "The Battle for Blair Mountain is a central event in labor history in the United States and certainly one of the best known of the many labor struggles in West Virginia. The actual site of the battle is a key part of our history and should be preserved for our children's children to visit and explore.
"After many nominations and revisions the site was finally listed on the National Historic Register in 2009, only to be unfortunately de-listed later that year in a move that puts the future of this important place at risk," Hendrix said.
According to Walton's ruling, the plaintiffs argued that surface mining would destroy important topographical features of the battlefield, such as hilltops and promontories where guns were mounted, "which define the battlefield site, as well as cultural resources that contribute to the historic significance of the site."
Walton argued that plaintiffs failed to "identify sufficient support ... for the proposition that the potential harm from surface mining is 'actual or imminent.' ... The companies in possession of the [mining] permits have thus far declined to exercise the rights afforded to them by the permits," he wrote.
The decision also notes that the ability to predict what coal companies might decide to do in the future is in large part outside of the plaintiffs' "personal knowledge."
"The likelihood that removing the property from the National Register will increase the risk of surface mining in the near future, thereby harming the Battlefield, is uncertain at best," Walton wrote.
Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, said the group "will definitely favor an appeal of Walton's decision. It seems wrongheaded.
"I don't think there is any question in the minds of people in West Virginia, including people in the mining business, about the undisputed historical importance and significance of Blair Mountain," he said.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.