The lawsuit accuses Alpha of grave desecration, violations of the state Surface Coal Mine Reclamation Act, negligence and infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified compensatory damages for cemetery repairs and punitive damages to deter future bad conduct, as well as a court order that prohibits Alpha from denying reasonable access.
The family has tried for years to preserve access to the cemetery, but the expansion of the Twilight Surface Mine crept closer, eventually swallowing what was once the community of Lindytown.
Nada Cook-White says the operation forced people away from their homes, and the Jarrell Family Cemetery is the last evidence that Lindytown ever existed.
"This is a place of vital importance to our cultural heritage,'' she said. "The people buried there tell the history of the town and its families.''
To reach the cemetery, relatives must request access with the mine's safety coordinator, who has 10 days to respond with a date. Visitors must show an ID to get in, including providing Social Security numbers.
Pile said Alpha is trying to ensure their safety, and the visitors don't always have to wait 10 days.
"What some of the family members and visitors have done is intentionally violate these state and federal safety guidelines,'' he said. "On one occasion, they unlawfully entered the property without a safety briefing and without an escort -- unnecessarily putting themselves and others in danger.''
Pile said Alpha has hired outside contractors to survey the cemetery and document its condition before mining. Alpha also placed seismographs to ensure that all blasting complies with state and federal law.
"Our records and documentation show that we have not affected the integrity of the grave sites,'' he said.
He said Alpha also re-graded and re-stoned the road for the families in anticipation of Memorial Day visits and cleaned the headstones after a forest fire.