Community letter to W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin
October 19, 2009
Dear Governor Manchin,
As residents of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley we write you to declare a state of emergency. Coal River Mountain is our last mountain untouched by mountaintop removal and it is in imminent danger of blasting. This would not only threaten our communities, it would also destroy our chance to have permanent jobs and renewable energy through ridge-top wind power. You have the power to rescind these permits.
At any moment, Massey Energy could blast part of the Bee Tree site, on the containing ridge of the Brushy Fork sludge impoundment. Brushy Fork impoundment, permitted to hold 9.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge, is the tallest dam in the hemisphere, and it sits on top of a network of abandoned underground mines.
We live in fear that the blasting could cause the dam to fail and create one of the greatest industrial disasters in our nation’s history. The emergency evacuation plan for the Brushy Fork sludge dam states that should it fail, a wall of water 50 feet high would hit Whitesville and result in the deaths of at least 998 people. Given this risk, blasting should not be allowed until your Department of Environmental Protection has conducted a thorough geo-technical examination of the impoundment’s stability in regards to the underground mines.
"Yes, I'm not certain how close the -- I haven't actually been there to determine the how close the blasting is but blasting in the vicinity of a coal waste impoundment can cause problems, can cause fracturing of rock and create situations where there might be stability problems with the impoundment," former MSHA engineer Jack Spadaro said.
At the same time, we also stand to lose our most valuable natural resources. Massey Energy not only plans to blast the Bee Tree area, but has also applied for a new surface mine permit, in addition to permits for over 6,000 acres of mountaintop removal mining on the mountain. If Bee Tree is blasted we lose 16 megawatts of wind potential, and the new permit is approved, we lose 30-40 megawatts of wind power. Between the two permits, we lose wind potential that could power over 10,000 homes.
Governor Manchin, you have the power to rescind these permits and urge your regulatory agencies to protect the people and land of West Virginia. If you do not prevent mountaintop removal mining on Coal River Mountain, we will lose nearly $2 million annually in county severance taxes, enough renewable wind energy to provide West Virginia with 1.2% of its energy, and jobs that will last forever and do not depend on the boom-bust cycles of coal.
The whole world is watching. Allies, nationally and internationally, are holding up Coal River Mountain as the symbol of a government’s choice to remain stuck in its old ways or build a healthy, prosperous future. Even at the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen in December, the most powerful leaders in the world will watch Google Earth’s flyover tour of Coal River Mountain, as one of approximately 15 tours of global crisis hotspots. You have the power to show the whole world that West Virginia can blaze the way forward – choosing permanent jobs and clean energy over threatening the lives of its own residents.
Chuck Nelson, Glen Daniel, WV
Lorelei Scarbro, Rock Creek, WV
Diane Hodge, Ameagle, WV
Delbert Gunnoe, Rock Creek, WV
Judy Gunnoe, Rock Creek, WV
BJ Lesher, Naoma, WV
Jim Lesher, Naoma, WV
Gary Anderson, Colcord, WV
Barb Anderson, Colcord, WV
Mike Maynor, Dorothy, WV
Lessie Maynor, Dorothy, WV
Emmett Withrow, Colcord, WV
Roger Fraley, Dorothy, WV
Statements from Coal River Valley Residents
My first and main concern is for the safety of the communities that live downstream of the Brushy Fork sludge impoundment, including many of my friends and family and my birthplace and hometown, Sylvester. Again, we have an opportunity to continue to be an energy leader and keep Coal River intact, with a wind farm which has proven to be more economically viable than blowing the mountain up for coal. If we proceed with the plan for mountaintop removal mining, we destroy the wind potential. This ridge is the backbone of our community and the only mountain left intact in our area. We can have both energy resources: underground coal and the wind, which can produce power for many, many homes. The jobs produced by mountaintop removal are temporary and provide only temporary energy. By blasting away our wind potential, we risk losing the opportunity to have jobs that would last forever. As we face the climate crisis, we need to set an example in creating renewable energy. Therefore, the most logical option is deep mining, but leave the mountain intact for the future of Coal River and the future of our state.
Blasting within 200 feet of the sludge impoundment is dangerous for everyone 20-30 miles downstream. If the dam failed, it would be the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. The DEP’s job is to protect the environment and community, and allowing Massey to blast this close jeopardizes everyone who lives downstream. It’s a no-brainer not to let this permit go forward. Stop blasting! -- Chuck Nelson, Glen Daniel, WV
As a native West Virginian and a long-term resident of the Coal River Valley, I am very concerned about the current activity by the coal company on Coal River Mountain. My property borders Coal River Mountain, and so does many of my family, friends and neighbors. For the past 19 months we have worked very hard to save this mountain from destruction. We are supported by over 13,000 people from across this nation including many residents of this state.
Governor Joe Manchin has refused to meet with the residents whose very existence is at stake if this destruction is allowed to go forward. Today we are asking that this governor have the foresight to see past his allegiance to coal and advocate in every way possible for job diversity in the coalfields. We can mine coal responsibly underground and create jobs and renewable energy at the same time. It is not “either-or.” We can have both if the governor is a good steward of the power he has been given. -- Lorelei Scarbro, Rock Creek, WV
To me, it’s not just the impact that the mountaintop removal would have on the water and the plant life, but that this will impact us. The authorities need to know that there are people living here in this area. They need to know that the impact is not just on Ameagle, it’s not just on Sycamore, it’s on the whole state of West Virginia. How many mountains are they going to have to take down and how many lives are going to be disrupted before they move on? -- Diane Hodge, Ameagle, WV
Massey needs to think about the people that are below when they are thinking about mining. These are the homes where we raised our family. Stay out of Sycamore Hollow – we have already had one flood in 2001 and lost about all we had. -- Anonymous, Raleigh County, WV
Speaking economically, I want a rough estimate of the acreage that has been mountaintop removal-mined on Coal River Mountain – what would be the loss of the timber that could have been harvested every 40-50 years? Also I want to know the impact of destroying the oldest mountains in America. -- Delbert Gunnoe, Rock Creek, WV
I care about West Virginia for the long term, not just for a quick buck. I am very upset about the mountaintop removal that is going on all around me. Not only is the image of a war zone, it has a very negative effect on not only animals but human beings. Our mountains and creeks are very important to me and many others. I supposed it would take someone who had the money to bring a wind turbine company to West Virginia for clean energy that will keep us safe from the negative effects of strip mining and create jobs long after the coal is gone. -- BJ Lesher, Naoma, WV
Why should we sacrifice Coal River Mountain for the sake of a few years of coal, if we could have wind farms forever? The destruction of our mountaintops is really an act of terrorism because the people that live in the valleys below are living in terror of the blasting, the pollution of our waters; they poison our air; they destroy the beauty of our mountains, which is what drove people to our state.
We must stop mountaintop removal, which only produces 5% of America’s electricity. Mountaintop removal not only destroys our mountains, it destroys our way of life and in the end it creates poverty. -- Gary Anderson, Colcord, WV
We want the coal companies to know we are real people with lives, dreams, and hopes not only for ourselves, but for our children, grandchildren, and other people’s children. We lost our home and all our personal belongings we had worked for and saved for 37 years in July 2001, and our concern with more and bigger sludge ponds being made now puts us at much more risk than ever before, even after we have built a new home and raised it more than 7 feet higher than our old home was, that we will be washed away. It seems the only thing the coal company wants is to be rid of us all and turn all our homes and land into one big landfill. -- Mike and Lessie Maynor, Dorothy, WV
I oppose mountaintop removal in all forms. Our mountains are being removed and our valleys are being filled in by debris. The blasting of our mountains is putting off rock dust along with the blasting agents, and is poisoning our water and our air. The dust is so bad that if you wash your car, it’s dirty before you get done with the job. Our community is being destroyed by Massey Coal Company in the name of energy. That is being run by greed from the coal company. Coal in this valley will only last about 15 more years. Then what will be left? Nothing. If the legislators want people to have jobs, then make the coal companies employ deep mining. It takes more people to deep mine than to destroy our mountains by blasting them away. -- Emmett Withrow, Colcord, WV