People and Community
In many ways it's become near-unbearable to live in the Edwight area. Noisy trains all hours of the night, coal dust on everything and blasting all contribute. Water, one of the key sources of life, is being destroyed. Water here flows downstream to quench the thirst of the big cities that surround Appalachia. People feel like the coal companies are robber barons aided and abetted by the state. And the coal companies are taking away access to the mountains that have sustained residents' families for generations, residents who feel like Massey Energy is trying to force them out.
Rick and Sylvia Bradford are one of the few people still living in Edwight.
Their house is on the Marsh Fork of the Coal River near the mouth of Hazy Hollow. A CSX railroad was built just behind their house, between it and the river. Coal is often loaded into the rail cars in the middle of the night, which is difficult for them to sleep through. “[It's] just like a warzone, except they're not shootin' at us with guns,” Rick said. “They're shootin' at us with these big trucks and trains a-rattlin' and a-rollin',” Sylvia said. “...they wanted my property—and they're not going to get it—and so they're trying to drive us out. That's exactly what they're trying to do.”
Town of Edwight. Photo by Rick Bradford.
Edwight was once a lively community. According to Sylvia:
They're tearing up your home, they run people out. This, at one time, was a large community, right here, where I live. And now, there's seven families here. And there was, oh good heavens, at least 150 wasn't there?
I miss the old communities, with people that lived here. And the fact that they're poisoning me, and I know that they are. It's so different than when I grew up. And, you would think, of the coal camp, as, well, something very bad. But it wasn't. People had good times, they went to church, they sent their children to Sunday school, and they'd get out and have ball games, and the women would get out and they'd pick the greens and we'd go in the hill and we'd pick the flowers. Beautiful flowers! Wild flowers. I remember them.
Edwight bridge over the Coal River. Photo by Rick Bradford.
A member of the Pettry family has been in Edwight and Hazy since the early 19th century “to observe the fortunes and misfortunes of the town,” Rick wrote. Jacob Pettry moved with his father, Martin, in about 1820 to the area and settled at the mouth of Hazy. Martin settled six miles away at Packsville, on the Little Marsh Fork of the Coal River. “Jacob was a farmer when he moved here, and by 1855, had become a miller as well. People would come from miles around to have their grain ground and their wool carded at his mill located in the bottom across the river from Shumates Branch,” Rick wrote.
But things are different now. “It's terrible, what they've done to people. It's terrible.” Sylvia said. “This is absolutely killing our community, what communities we have left, it’s killing them.”
<< The Bradfords on how mountaintop removal has impacted their lives.
“You know they treat us just like—you could imagine how they treated the serfs back in the Middle Ages—that's the way it is. They're the robber barons, and they got the state police to maintain order, and they got us serfs to do the work,” Rick said. “The state's getting all this severance tax and stuff off of this. And I guess there's a lot of money under the table down there too.”
“Our leaders... All they know is this is where the coal comes from: get it, let’s get our money and go on,” Rock Creek resident Debbie Jarrell said. "The only thing they are looking at is the bottom dollar. What they can make off of that. They're not looking towards the future. They don't care if there's no clean water, they don't care if we're flooded out. They try to say it was an act of God, but no one in this area buys that. I don't buy that."
Getting run out
“As a matter of fact, I think, they're trying to run us out,” Sylvia said. “They wanted to buy this property, and there's not so much as one, little, square inch. They don't have enough money to buy one little square inch. No way!”
“That man, come up here one time, said, 'Well, what would you take for it?' I said, 'I wouldn't sell this for $17 trillion.' He said, 'Oh, we wouldn't go that high,'” Rick said. Both he and Sylvia broke out in laughter. “Don't guess you would,” Rick said.
“What they're depending on doing, is driving us out, making it unbearable to live here,” Sylvia said. “Not unbearable to me! I'm too old to be run.”
Loud and heavy coal trucks often run past their house day and night. Trains on the CSX tracks behind the Bradford's house bang loudly together as they're lined up and filled with coal, usually in the middle of the night. The train whistle often blows for ten minutes, too.
<< Bradfords and trains.
“And you know they don't take any pains to be quiet either,” Rick said.
“Ohh, yesss,” Sylvia said.
“I know they can't be totally quiet, 'cause that's a raquetty business, but they don't take any pains.”
The Bradfords believe Massey knows when people are over gathering information, because the trains are always quieter. "There was a man here last summer, he was interviewing me and Molly out there on the porch, that's where they had their things set up, you know," Rick said, "and, this guard, he came down through there and he seen 'em, and he went down there and turned and went back, and went up to the guardhouse and phoned in that they were here and he went back and he was looking at them all the time."
Coal dust and blasting are also a problem. During one interview with the Bradfords, Sylvia showed how one swipe of a towel on the TV turned the towel black. She had cleaned the TV the night before. Link to audio about this. "We already feel [blasting] from the surface mine behind the school. It's just two mountains over, is all it is," Debbie said.
Sylvia Bradford wipes less than a day's worth of coal dust off her TV. Photo by Jen Osha.
"It's uh, you know this is like a war zone around here. A war zone; like they've declared war on us. Nothing said..." Rick said.
The area's housing stock is mysteriously disappearing too. Debbie:
There is no housing here period in this area. When one person moves out, the house is either burnt down by someone or it's tore down. I don’t think that they want anyone in this area.
'Cause if you’re moved out of this area, you have these young families moving out, moving your grandchildren out because there's nothing here. How are you going to teach them where their food comes from, how are you going to teach them where they come from if they have to move because there’s nothing here, 'cause there’s no clean water, because they’re afraid of getting flooded out, no schools or whatever?
A West Virginia jury in May 2006 found mining and logging companies responsible for flooding damage that occurred downstream of their projects in 2001. See this release.
Water, topsoil, sun and air are necessary for life, but coal companies are burying Appalachia's topsoil beneath tons of rock and poisoning the air and water. The cities surrounding Appalachia depend on that water for their survival. “People’s wells are getting sunk, getting slurry dumped in them,” Debbie said, “A lot of people think that the next war that we have is going to be because of water. And here in WV our politicians are allowing every stream that we have to be destroyed. Its ludicrous. Ed Wiley said:
And it's happening in our backyard, but it's also your backyard. It's everybody's backyard, the Appalachian mountains. This is, you know, we are the sponge, we are the filter and we are the discharge of the water system. And all the major cities around the Appalachian mountains as a whole need to know that without these mountains, we'll have no fresh water. Water issues are going to be very very important in the United States before long, it's already becoming a problem. And we need to protect these mountains. These mountains should be recognized as national monuments just for the water issue itself.
“You used to be able to go up any holler, kneel down and get you a drink out of the creek. Not anymore, not anymore. That clean water is gone for the most part in most of our little hollers,” Debbie said.
People are particularly concerned with coal companies taking away their access to the mountains that sustain them. They say it has to be addressed. “I tell you the one thing that's affected me more than anything, is the lack of access. That's what I hate most about this. I mean it's terrible the other part, but what I hate most is the lack of access,” Rick said. “' 'Cause I was always used to goin' where I wanted to go.”
Debbie said, “You used to be able to go up any holler and pick black berries
or molly moochers or ginseng. Not anymore. It’s gated off, it’s protected by security guards. So MTR has changed a lot in this area.”
Bear print. Photo by Sam McCreery.
Family cemeteries are now, too, behind locked gates. “And when they do come in and want to decorate, like Memorial Day, guard goes with 'em so they, a lot of people just, 'Forget it,'” Rick said.
<< Bradfords on lack of access.
Appalachia was also a thriving area with thousands of people and colorful culture before the people were forcibly removed to make way for European settlers after the Revolutionary War. If you want to remove entire communities that belong to the land, you have to destroy their culture. Rick Bradford:
You know, in history you read about the white man invading the Great Plains and herding the Indians up on reservations and some of 'em fought back, and you can read about the Americans when they invaded the Philippines just after the Spanish-American War and that man he took to the mountains and they had a guerrilla war for thirteen years and stuff. And then you can read about the Japanese, some of them took to the mountains and stuff. And, you know after Massey came in here and started invading this place, and you can just about see why they conducted the guerrilla warfare, and you can just about see why the Indians fought back and massacred a lot of people. You can just about see it now.
But, ye see, they've even come and changed the names [of places]. I guess that's all part of the game plan isn't it?” Rick said. “Alter the culture and, pretty soon I guess there is no culture.
But, like the West Virginia motto says, mountaineers are always free, and mountaineers don't give up easily.
“Well, the thing is, I was born here, I don't wanna leave here, and I'm NOT leavin' here. And they're destroying my home, and they've destroyed my life,” Rick said. “They're poisoning the water, they're poisoning the soil, they're poisoning the air, and everybody's mining that. You can't live here,” Sylvia said.
Early 2009 saw an escalation of the resistance to the Edwight mine, highlighting the need for a safer school for the kids at Marsh Fork Elementary: