Brandon Nida, who does archaeological research at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a member of Friends of Blair Mountain, said that, since 1991, multiple archaeological surveys have "uncovered artifacts and information that have contributed immensely to our understanding of the significance of the battlefield."
That research uncovered 15 previously unknown battle sites at Blair Mountain, Nida said.
In April, the United Mine Workers joined a lawsuit filed against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, seeking to restore Blair Mountain to the National Register.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also was filed by the Sierra Club, OVEC, Friends of Blair Mountain and West Virginia Labor History Association.
The federal district court has not made a decision yet.
In his July 5 letter, Clarke called the petition filed with DEP "frivolous" under state law because it "exempts certain lands from being designated as unsuitable for mining."
Clarke said lands cannot be designated as "unsuitable for mining" if they were covered by mining permits before August 1977, after a new federal law regulating strip mining was passed.
Clarke also wrote that the DEP "shall not consider a petition for an area which was previously and unsuccessfully proposed for designation which does not present new allegations of facts."
A significant portion of the 1,668 acres on Blair Mountain the environmental and public interest groups hope to preserve, Clarke added in his letter, "has been affected in the past and continues to be affected by oil and gas and logging operations."
"We don't dispute that the area is historic," Clarke said Thursday. "We apply regulations. . . . Our rules say, if an area has been confirmed for mining by a permit in the past, it is exempt from being considered for historic preservation."
Teaney, of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said he wouldn't comment on what the groups' next steps would be.
"We have not ruled out any options," he said, "but our policy is not to comment on things that are in litigation or could be in litigation."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.