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In This Section
pdf September/October 2006
e-mail June 30, 2006
e-mail April 28, 2006
 

 

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006
Studying for the Midterms
Renewables in Action
Just Transition
Blue and Green in Ohio
Battle of Blair Mountain, Again
Unseating an Environmental Foe
Gaining Ground
America's Wild Legacy
Car Talk, Sierra Club Style
Sierra Club Insider
   
Clubbeat
   
Who We Are:
Loyd Cortez
Christine Williamson
Erica Langenbahn
 

 

JULY/AUGUST 2006
Sewage 101
States Take Lead on Mercury, Global Warming
I Want My MPG
Postcard from Puerto Rico
The Birdman of Baghdad
Advocate for Safe Weapons Disposal Honored
Stop I-3
Family Planning Key to Sustainable Future
Sierra Club Insider
   
Clubbeat
   
Who We Are
Ken Smokoska
Larry and Vicki Patton
Claudia Hilligoss
   
 
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Back Issues
   

The Planet
Battle of Blair Mountain, Again

Razing Mountaintops, and History: Kenny King, of Logan, West Virginia, looks over the Arch Coal Co. site on Blair Mountain, which was shut down in 1999 and has lost all original forest and mountain topography. King is working to obtain historic status for Blair Mountain to help prevent further mountaintop removal. Mining proposals also threaten the nearby Ash Branch of Paint Creek, below.

by Tom Valtin

On Blair Mountain in 1921, some 10,000 West Virginia coal miners fighting for their right to unionize and improve working conditions faced off against armed federal troops in the largest armed conflict on U.S. soil since the Civil War. The federal troops prevailed, but the Battle of Blair Mountain became a pivotal event in the labor movement, building solidarity that later helped the union organize the coalfields.

Over the years, West Virginians have attempted to preserve the battle site, but have been blocked by lawsuits and other tactics employed by the coal companies that own or lease the land. Now coal companies appear intent on completely obliterating the intact, well-preserved mountain site through strip mining.

Traditionally, miners tunneled deep into the mountains to extract coal, but today coal companies all over Appalachia are embracing the cheaper—and far more destructive—method of lopping mountaintops right off their base. A mountaintop removal permit is pending on land where the battle occurred.

For more than a decade, Kenny King, a West Virginian whose ancestors fought in the Battle of Blair Mountain, has been documenting artifacts from the site and working to get the battlefield listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After the state Historic Preservation Office rejected his bid in 2002, he sought help from Regina Hendrix, a West Virginia Sierra Club leader and board member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. King needed assistance with the mapping, aerial photography, and historical narrative to accompany a revised, stronger nomination. Hendrix put out the call for other groups to rally to the cause. Among them was Friends of the Mountains, a consortium of environmental groups that includes the West Virginia Sierra Club.

At the request of locals, the Club initiated a series of meetings with residents of the town of Blair to help them lobby the state to protect the battle site. Activists organized letter-writing and postcard campaigns to build public support for protecting Blair Mountain. The West Virginia Chapter purchased radio spots promoting battlesite protection and hired local historian Frank Unger to prepare and submit a revised nomination.

In 2005, the West Virginia Archives and History Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the National Park Service that 1,600 acres of Blair Mountain be included on the National Register.
Coal mining companies and nearby landowners promptly sued to overturn the nomination. The Sierra Club moved to join the suit, and in May 2006 a West Virginia judge granted the Club’s participation. That same month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Blair Mountain battlefield on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. The United Mine Workers union also came out in support of the National Register listing because of its importance to the labor movement.

The coal companies contend that surface mining is the only practical way to get at Blair Mountain’s coal. But locals like Kenny King, who don’t oppose mining per se, argue that they should be willing to settle for a smaller profit in this case by deep-mining the coal and preserving the historic landscape above. Listing on the National Register won’t automatically stop mining, but would mandate a series of reviews that could slow or stop the permitting process.

“Destroying our mountains and our history isn’t the way to meet America’s energy needs in the 21st century,” says Sierra Club attorney Aaron Isherwood.

To learn more, contact Regina Hendrix, regina1936@verizon.net, (304) 343-5211; or Bill Price, bill.price@sierraclub.org; (304) 342-3182.

Photos by B. Mark Schmerling

 


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