Archive for August, 2011

Hearing on Strip Mining Coal River Mountain

Thursday, August 4th, 2011
posted by rampsmedia

As Catherine-Ann continues to occupy her tree on the Bee Tree permit (16 days!), local residents are gearing up for an important hearing next Tuesday on the renewal of the Bee Tree permit and the proposed new Collins Fork Remediation Project, a strip mine on the other side of the mountain.

The hearing will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, at the Raleigh-Boone Technology Center in Pettus, W.Va. If you’re not local, you can still submit comments to the Department of Environmental Protection opposing the renewal of the Bee Tree permit here.

The way the DEP has managed this hearing process is interesting for a couple reasons. First, it is highly unusual to combine what should have been two hearings for two separate permits into one hearing – especially when the mountain is as controversial as Coal River Mountain. Second, the public comment period for the Collins Fork permit closed back in 2008. Since then, there have been 8 revisions made to the permit, with no opportunity for public comment. The permit is also no longer on file at the local courthouse. Yet the DEP is holding the public hearing now, three years after the original comment period, without re-opening the public comment period and allowing people the opportunity to understand what is now being proposed.

The Collins Fork Remediation Project is an oddly-named strip mining project, where Alpha Natural Resources has proposed to strip mine near an old slurry impoundment, the Collins Fork impoundment. They plan to dispose of much of their mining waste by filling in the impoundment–apparently this constitutes “remediation” of the impoundment. Check back in a couple days for a more detailed post on this latest threat to Coal River Mountain.

Day 15: Update from Becks

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
posted by admin

I am officially down from the tulip poplar I was living in for the past 2 weeks. After a long day yesterday, I was released without bail on my own recognizance–something we never would have imagined happening. Immediately following my descent from the tree, I was arrested by WV State Police and taken to Whitesville Police Station where I was processed, fingerprinted, and told numerous times that Big Brother would now know who I was (as if he didn’t know already). After the lengthy time spent in the Whitesville Police Station, I was then taken to the Raleigh County Magistrate Courthouse and put in a holding cell with several other folks where we bonded over the destruction strip mining has caused in local communities. After roughly 45 minutes I was taken to Magistrate Tanner for my arraignment, where he, as unfriendly as possible, listed my charges: trespassing (originally I was given 13 counts of trespassing, but even he thought that was ridiculous), conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, and littering (even the tree huggers do it, huh?). He, with little explanation and with a very cold demeanor, ran through the numerous papers I needed to sign and with no pause told me I could leave and tell my friends my charges (Magistrate Tanner refused to let these friends into my arraignment). After all this, I’m still a little shocked that I was released on my own recognizance, something we have very infrequently faced in past actions. Although my legal strategy did specifically involve serving time in jail, I am happy to be out and to help support Catherine Ann, who still remains in her oak!

Thank you all for your support; Catherine Ann and I relished in it while we sat, sometimes very bored, in our trees. Although Catherine Ann is up there by herself right now, she remains very strong, and will love the time this solitude will give her with nature. Please continue supporting Catherine Ann and Ramps as she remains in her tree and we continue to stop work on the Bee Tree Hollow Permit!!!

Much love and solidarity!

Tree-Sit on Coal River Mountain Continues after One Sitter Arrested

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
posted by rampsmedia

UPDATED 5:00 pm 8.2.11:  Becks Kolins has been released without bail after being charged with trespassing, conspiracy and littering.

Marfork, W.Va. – Becks Kolins, who has been occupying a tree on the Bee Tree permit on Coal River Mountain for the last two weeks, descended the tree voluntarily and was arrested this afternoon by the West Virginia State Police.  Kolins, along with Catherine-Ann MacDougal, had been sitting in a tree eighty feet above the ground since July 20th to protest the strip mining of Coal River Mountain.  MacDougal remains in her tree, where she continues to stop work on the portion of the Bee Tree surface mine within Bee Tree hollow; she has stated no plans to come down.

Kolins intends to plead “not guilty,” arguing that trespassing was necessary to prevent greater harm.  “I have been trespassing yes, but in effort to save a place that I feel is doomed otherwise. I have been trespassing yes, but I have poisoned no one and destroyed not one irreplaceable mountain.”  By staying in jail and pleading “not guilty,” Kolins is making a statement about the injustice of the legal system in siding with powerful coal interests.  “How is it that the coal industry kills innocent people and faces no legal repercussions?”  (Read Becks’ complete statement)

While the tree-sit continues to demand an end to strip mining on Coal River Mountain, the RAMPS Campaign has organized a meeting today between Alpha Natural Resources senior management and residents of coal-impacted communities at Alpha’s regional headquarters in Madison, W.Va.  This meeting is a follow-up to a similar meeting in May, in which local residents’ discussed their concerns with the Massey mining operations that Alpha was poised to acquire. (more…)

The Real Deal on Coal River Mountain

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
posted by rampsmedia

Post by Rob Goodwin
On July 26, in conjunction with local protest of the renewal of the 1,095 acre Bee Tree strip mining permit on Coal River Mountain, we performed a citizens’ inspection of the Bee Tree site, owned by Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources.  Allies Ernie Thompson of Horse Creek, WV, Paul Corbit Brown of Pax, WV and I were accompanied by DEP Permit Supervisor Tom Wood, and two engineers employed by Marfork, Mark King and Barry Hudson.

The visit began with a brief safety training at Marfork Coal Company headquarters, just past the security gate in Little Marsh Fork holler.  The late Judy Bonds and her brother Ernie Thompson grew up playing in the creek only a couple hundred feet from this location. Unfortunately, this area has been gated off with strict security for several years now, denying local residents access to the  holler and much of Coal River Mountain.

The Bee Tree mine and the Brushy Fork Impoundment. Photo credit: Paul Corbit Brown

We traveled up onto the active portion of the strip mine to assess what land Marfork had mined recently, what land Marfork was mining presently, and to gauge how quickly and where Marfork is going to progress with its next destruction.  Marfork’s permit plans to use 200 of its 1,095 acres for non-mining purposes such as construction and roads.  From this portion of the land, the company can only collect ‘incidental coal,’ or coal that is acquired as a result of constructing roads.  Marfork currently plans to mine 200 acres, and has begun strip mining on a little more than 75 acres of this portion of the permit.  The EPA has stalled valley fill permits for the Bee Tree site, but Marfork is getting around this obstacle by strip mining without filling valleys.  It is likely that Marfork will submit plans to mine a significantly larger portion of the 800 proposed acres. Mark King repeatedly said that how far the company goes all depends on the market for coal.  He guaranteed us that he would get another five productive years out of this permit as it stands.

Marfork has already been issued several violations by the DEP.  We moved on to inspect the area where two violations were issued in March of 2011.  One violation was for material that had ventured down the slope off the permit area.  The company also received a violation for failing to establish proper sediment control at the top of the slope, likely resulting in the landslide.  The abatement requirements were very standard of the WV DEP enforcement; the company received a small fine of $3,000 and the DEP told them to remove the material from the non-permitted area and place it in a stable location. They were also required to revise their permit to include that area that had been disturbed.  Although they have mostly cleaned up the material, they have not done so to a satisfactory degree, and they have yet to submit the revision to include the additional area of the permit.

We examined a third violation at the part of the mine apportioned for non-mining purposes.   The company has created a deep cut in the mountain for a road called IBR 2.  Cutting this road provided an excuse to extract the “incidental coal.”   About a year ago, they were issued a violation for augering into the sides of the mountain in this area with the highwall miner, a form of mining growing in popularity with increased scrutiny of valley fill permits by the EPA.

Despite a specific and clear provision in the permit disallowing highwall mining in this area, the company went ahead and used the machine.  Coal River Mountain Watch had warned the DEP of this potential problem just weeks before it happened and the DEP failed to prevent the company from willfully violating the law.  Although the wall is now covered up, we were told that there were about 6 holes drilled into the side of the mountain. The company received a $774 fine for this violation.  Marfork made a lot more money off the coal recovered than that violation cost them, and they likely would have made a lot more if CRMW had not raised concerns because who knows how far they would have gone unchecked.

It seemed as if the company wanted to give the impression of being environmentally conscious, which fits well with the intensive green washing campaign Alpha has launched to rid of their scarred Massey image.  When we examined a valley fill that is being constructed at the head of the Brushy Fork Impoundment, engineer Mark King explained the benefits of the upstream valley fill construction method, in which reclamation of a valley fill is preformed during construction as opposed to after the fact.  DEP Supervisor Tom Wood added that this type of construction is better for water quality.  In this case, water quality is not particularly an issue because discharges from the bottom of the fill flow into the Brushy Fork impoundment, a pond filled with seven billion gallons of toxic coal slurry.

I still believe that Alpha is incapable of reclaiming land in a way that comes even remotely close the way it existed for thousands of years.   Chief Engineer, Barry Hudson agreed with me that compaction of the top four feet of soil should be minimal because it allows for better development of a root base to re-vegetate the area quicker.  It’s great that Mr. Hudson understood the myths about compaction, but minimal compaction is only worthwhile if you are planting trees.    Marfork would like to save money by not compacting the soil and planting grass but the company is still not willing to pursue the costly option of planting trees.   Furthermore, the soil composition is far from appropriate for adequate growth. Mr. Hudson is under the wrong impression that before long, the rocky material thrown into the reclamation site will become weathered sandstone and be just as good as the original soil.

Before the hearing for the renewal of the Beetree permit on August 9th, we are going to file a request to return to the site and inspect the seismographs, piezometers, blasting logs, and seven-day impoundment inspection reports to verify Marfork’s data on the effect of Bee Tree blasting on  the Brushy Fork impoundment.

After analysis of the water quality data of Beetree Branch, we found quickly escalating levels of aluminum in a stream into which the Beetree mine discharges.  Armed with this data, we will make our case that the Beetree permit should not be renewed.

At one point, Mr. Hudson asked me to explain the community’s concerns, who I was, and where I was from.  I needed to respond strategically to the typical “you are an outsider, what are you doing here” language, so I said, “I grew up in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.  You know – way up north near the Canadian border.”

“That’s glacier country up there, isn’t?” Mr. Hudson replied.

“Yes,” I said.  “There were glaciers that covered much of the mountainous eastern US, but Southern Appalachia is unique.  Because there were no glaciers here, the topsoil is some of the oldest in the world and that’s why there are ramps, ginseng and molly moochers among other valuable species.  What you are doing here on this mine site is destroying the 10,000 year-old species that, regardless of what you do, will not grow back. Even if you wait 10,000 more years, there is no guarantee it will ever be like it was.  People in the community are concerned because they have thrived off harvesting these species for generations and now they are being destroyed. This destruction, combined with a lack of access to the mountain due to security, blasting, and active mining is a huge concern of the community.  That just may be why so many people are protesting this.”

Update After Day 12

Monday, August 1st, 2011
posted by rampsmedia

Monday marks 13 days in the trees for Becks Kolins and Catherine Ann MacDougal.  They remain in high spirits, their main hardship seems to be staying occupied on their small platforms day after day.  They have been spending time at one another’s platforms, and earlier this week received strong enough cell phone service to do their first interview with a local paper, which they were very excited about.  Becks was delighted to be visited by a tree mouse on Friday night.

Catherine Ann and Becks have been weathering inclement weather the last few days, and had this to say about the water that drips on their tarps,  “we have been staying dry in the afternoon thunderstorms.  Even the rainwater that drips from the trees is soiled heavily with gray dust from the mine site. ”

Please keep Becks and Catherine in mind as their tree sit closes in on the two week mark, and considering supporting the RAMPS campaign through words of encouragement, donations or physical help!