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Appeal filed over Blair Mountain strip mining

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A coalition of historic preservation, labor history and environmental protection groups filed a legal appeal Thursday morning, continuing their fight to restore the Blair Mountain Battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places.

The groups include: the Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Friends of Blair Mountain, West Virginia Labor History Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Arch Coal Co., based in St. Louis, Mo., has filed a permit application to begin strip mining nearly 400 acres of land on Adkins Branch, located on the Blair Mountain Battlefield, along the border between Boone and Logan counties.

Mary-Lynn Evans, a spokeswoman for Friends of Blair Mountain, said the groups are appealing a decision by the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., that denied their efforts to put the battlefield back on the National Register.

Thursday's appeal will move the case up to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Evans said.

The U.S. District Court's Oct. 2 ruling refused to consider arguments by the six groups that Blair Mountain was unlawfully removed from the National Register. The decision to remove Blair Mountain from the list was made by the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

More than 90 years ago -- between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921 -- more than 10,000 union coal miners fought with armed coal company guards along Blair Mountain Ridge. It ended after federal troops intervened.

The National Park Service added Blair Mountain to its National Register of Historic Places in March 2009. Nine months later, in December, the NPS reversed its decision after a dispute arose about who owns the properties on Blair Mountain.

Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, said Thursday, "We were party to the earlier suit and our association is part of the appeal.

"The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the most important events in labor history anywhere, and it took place in West Virginia. It seems so wrongheaded to bury that event.

"It should be our No. 1 tourist attraction in the whole state. It should be developed, not destroyed."

 The district court's October ruling stated that the groups opposing the Blair Mountain mining permit lacked "legal standing" to challenge removing the site from the National Register because there was insufficient proof of an imminent threat of coal mining at the site.

"This decision ignored abundant evidence that coal mining companies continue to seek permits to mine the battlefield and continue to block efforts to list Blair Mountain on the National Register," according to a statement released on Thursday by the six groups filing the appeal.

Regina Hendrix, from the Sierra Club's West Virginia chapter, said Blair Mountain "is a vital part of U.S. labor history. The archaeological record waiting to be explored will clearly show the places where the battle occurred, as well as the intensity of the battle at different sites.

"The archaeological record has lain dormant for 90 years along the Spruce Fork Ridge from Blair Mountain to Mill Creek and it cries out for our protection."

Kenny King, a leader of Friends of Blair Mountain, has lived in the town of Blair his whole life.

"Blair Mountain must not fall to the insatiable greed of the coal industry, but rather stand as a monument that honors the gains for which those miners sacrificed their lives and livelihoods. Never before, nor since, have so many American workers taken up arms to fight for their constitutional rights," King said.

Julian Martin, of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said, "Blair Mountain is an important part of my family's history. My grandfather and great uncle fought at Blair Mountain in 1921 on the side of the United Mine Workers of America. It would be a huge loss for Blair Mountain to be unprotected from mountaintop removal strip mining."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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