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Introduction to Coal River Wind
“I would love to see the wind turbines go up on Coal River Mountain. That would be a ray of hope for me. It would be a ray of hope for a lot of young people in the area. That would mean jobs, that would mean that we could keep some of our clean water, that would mean that hopefully other people would come into the community because it’s not being destroyed. That would be hope…if there’s not a Coal River Mountain, how is there going to be a Coal River Valley??” – Debbie Jarrell, Rock Creek, WV
Welcome to Coal River Mountain, Raleigh County,
“Almost Heaven” West Virginia
Photo Courtesy of Rory McIlmoil
Coal River Mountain sits nestled in the Coal River Valley between the Clear and Marsh Forks of the Little Coal River, and spans an area of approximately 62 square miles. The mountain is blanketed with what is known as a mixed mesophytic hardwood forest, and is home to a rich biodiversity of both flora and fauna, as well as to the residents living in the many valleys around the mountain.
There are thousands who live in the hollows of Coal River Mountain, and who depend on it for sustaining their livelihood, just as generations of their families before them. Their families have been able to survive in these valleys for hundreds of years both because of coal mining and because they always had the mountain to sustain them. Now, the only reason many of them remain is because of their connection to the mountain. That connection, and the rich histories many of the residents carry with them, is now being threatened with permanent obliteration.
Images from Coal River Mountain:
From Top Left: Rock Structure, Blackberries, Spotted Newt, Apple Orchard. Center: Morel Mushroom ("Molly Moocher"). Border photos Courtesy of Rory McIlmoil, center photo courtesy of Matt Noerpel, Coal River Mountain Watch
Because of Mountaintop Removal coal mining on nearby Kayford, Cherry Pond and Bolt Mountains, Coal River Mountain stands as the last major intact mountain in the Coal River Watershed. For only 17 years of coal production, however, Massey Energy coal company wants to change all of that. Their plan is to strip-mine, largely using mountaintop removal methods, over ten square miles of the mountain and dump the resulting mining waste into nine miles of headwater streams below. This mining, if it proceeds, will devastate the last intact mountain ecosystem in the area, and it will endanger the lives and negatively impact the livelihoods of the residents living below the mining – many of whom have already felt the impacts of the mountaintop removal operations on Kayford and Cherry Pond Mountains.
Mountaintop Removal (MTR) exists as a cheap, profit-maximizing, last ditch effort by the coal industry to get what coal is left in these mountains after over 100 years of mining has removed all of the thickest coal seams. Its expansion alone is a sign that coal is running out in southern West Virginia, because more strip-mining suggests that the remaining coal seams are getting thinner. MTR buries and contaminates mountain streams, destroys mile upon mile of Appalachian mountain ridges, causes more frequent and more powerful flooding, sinks and helps to contaminate groundwater wells that many residents rely upon for their drinking water, lowers property values, and damages the psychological well-being of those living near the blasting. As this destructive practice of coal-mining expands, more and more of the Appalachian culture and history will be destroyed.
Residents of the Coal River Valley are showing, however, that MTR is not only destroying their health, their homes and their mountains, it is also destroying any hope of transitioning away from coal and diversifying the local economies. Despite the enormous devastation that has occurred due to MTR, there is a source of hope that blows across the very ridges of Coal River Mountain slated to be flattened by Massey – wind power. Since early in the Spring of 2008, local community members and activists have been pursuing the development of clean, sustainable wind power on Coal River Mountain, and have dubbed their efforts The Coal River Mountain Wind Project.
This campaign offers an alternative model for energy production and economic development in southern West Virginia that could provide the “coalfields” with new, stable, safe jobs and a source of county tax revenues that would last long after the rest of the coal has been mined out.
In the words of Gary Anderson of Colcord, WV:
“The wind farm, right now…right now would be the perfect time, as we’re starting to lay off miners and everything. The biggest thing we have in West Virginia is coal mining, [but] the can still mine the coal underneath, the way my dad mined coal, and the beautiful green mountain would still be there. Why wouldn’t we take that route? Let’s stop it, let’s put up the wind farm, let’s stop mountaintop removal. If you got the wind farm…the wind will blow forever.”
How to Use This Site
You can use this website as a tool to familiarize yourself with the wind campaign, while learning more about the campaign’s importance to the residents of the Coal River Valley, to the state of West Virginia, to the United States, and to the Earth as a whole. The Coal River Mountain Wind Project embodies important themes that impact not only Appalachia, but the entire global community and environment. These themes include Power and Empowerment, Sustainable Development, Environmental Justice, Climate Change and Cultural Preservation.
All of these themes are intertwined, they are all part of the story of justice and survival that the Coal River Mountain Wind Project symbolizes. The struggle to reconcile the issues related to Mountaintop Removal is reflective of similar struggles around the world, so by educating yourself about the wind campaign, you will be able to understand the need for transitioning the United Statesaway from coal and other fossil fuels and developing sustainable energy and economic alternatives elsewhere.
As noted by Appalachian author Erik Reece in his book Lost Mountain:
“What a strip-job demonstrate(s)….is the absence of any ethic or aesthetic. It is a moral failure; it is a failure of the imagination – a failure to understand energy and employment alternatives that would preserve the integrity and beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.”
Watch the videos below to hear the thoughts of Raleigh County residents regarding Mountaintop Removal and the Coal River Mountain Wind Project:
For more information on sources used in this theme, please see the Notes on Sources page.