CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has denied a petition asking that Blair Mountain be declared unsuitable for mining.
In a letter written earlier this week, a DEP lawyer called the June 2 petition, which was filed by several groups, "frivolous" under state law.
The largest armed confrontation in U.S. history took place in late August and early September 1921 along the Blair Mountain ridge, on the border of Boone and Logan counties. More than 10,000 union miners were marching toward the southern coalfields, attempting to organize nonunion miners.
Massey Energy, now part of Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal have indicated they hope to develop strip-mining operations on Blair Mountain.
Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, said Thursday, "I find it strange that an agency of state government would dismiss something as frivolous that involves an important historic event in the state's history.
"Blair Mountain has not been surface mined," he said. "You can still see the entrenchments from the battle in 1921. We have no objections to deep mining under the mountains."
Last month, about 1,200 people participated in a five-day march to preserve the site. Their march began in Marmet, where the historic 1921 march began, and ended up on top of Blair Mountain.
The June 2 petition was filed by the Sierra Club, Friends of Blair Mountain, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Labor History Association and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The groups are represented by lawyers Derek Teaney of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, and Jessica Yarnell of the Sierra Club in San Francisco.
"We have known all along that [the] DEP is a lapdog of the coal industry," said OVEC executive director Janet Keating. "We didn't expect any support from them."
Thomas L. Clarke, a DEP lawyer, wrote the letter on July 5 denying the petition.
"What we are doing is applying the rules about lands unsuitable [for preservation]," Clarke said Thursday. "There have been other efforts to list Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. There has been a listing and a delisting and other litigation over this issue."
Brandon Price, a local representative of the Sierra Club, criticized the DEP for making a decision without holding a public hearing.
"Their outright rejection of the petition without fair hearing should be condemned," Price said. "If the DEP cannot do their job, then maybe it is time for the Governor's Office to step in and help Blair Mountain obtain the protection it deserves."