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.
Residents discussed the documented connections between mountaintop removal mining and degraded water quality, flooding, and serious public health impacts. A study published just last week by WVU’s Dr. Michael Hendryx found elevated cancer rates in a survey of Coal River Valley residents, further confirming the allegations of area residents and the two tree sitters. At the meeting, residents requested that Alpha make specific changes to reduce the impacts of the Massey operations that it has inherited, including halting blasting near the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment which is located near the Bee Tree permit where the tree-sit is occurring.
Paul Corbit-Brown of Pax, W.Va., attended the May meeting and will also attend today’s meeting. He is hopeful that these meetings will provide a path forward to mitigate some of the impacts of mountaintop removal mining on communities: “Its long overdue that the people in the communities affected by this corporation have a voice. If these talks will create more livable conditions in the communities that are so terribly impacted, it will be hugely important.”
At the May meeting, Alpha Natural Resources expressed that they would continue mountaintop removal mining as long as the practice is legal and economic. Corbit-Brown notes, “We told them that, as long as you keep mining, we’ll continue to fight it. Becks and Catherine-Ann are continuing to fight it. So we’re both doing what we promised to do.”