PETTUS, W. Va. – Early this morning two concerned citizens, Dea Goblirsch and Nick Martin, locked down to a drill rig on Coal River Mountain’s Bee Tree mountaintop removal site, effectively stopping blasting. Two others, Grace Williams and Laura Von Dolen, joined them in direct support, holding a banner with the message “Save Coal River Mountain”.
These nonviolent protestors have taken this action to bring attention to the extreme danger facing residents of the Coal River Valley from blasting near the Brushy Fork Impoundment. They plan to stay locked down until law enforcement removes them.
Resident of Rock Creek, W Va., Delbert Gunnoe, stated his concerns with the blasting, “You know when they put a blast over there, and it shakes the windows over here, at what, ¾-a-mile distance, imagine what it does over there.” Gunnoe continued, “if [the impoundment] did bust…what would be the destruction? The town of Whitesville would no longer exist.”
The four are fearful of the blasting that Massey Energy began in late October. These blasts are 200 feet from the Brushy Fork Impoundment, permitted to hold nine billion gallons of toxic coal slurry. The impoundment sits atop miles of hollow, abounded underground mines, further endangering its integrity. By Massey’s own estimates, roughly 998 people will die should the dam break. The emergency evacuation plan states that a 40-foot wall of sludge, cresting at 72 feet, will flow through the valley, reaching 20-feet-high about 15 miles down the road. Apart from the initial flood, the impact of this potential spill would be felt along the Coal River’s 88 miles.
“The Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment keeps residents of the Coal River Valley up at night, waiting for eight billion gallons of toxic coal slurry to come rushing towards them,” said Dea Goblirsch, one of the two locked down. “I don’t know how Massey executives sleep soundly at night.”
Hydrologist, Dr. Rick Eades spoke of concerns about the stability of the dam as blasting occurs. He questioned “blasting where underground mines existed in the Eagle coal seam, the possibilities for adversely affecting near-surface bedrock in a way that could possibly enhance pathways for slurry to be released via the subsurface and bypass the dam.”
The concern is that slurry will break into underground mine shafts and blow out through old mine openings on the side of the mountain. This potentiality for Coal River Mountain mirrors the cause of the world’s largest slurry spill which occurred in Martin County, Ky. In 2000, 250 million gallons of slurry broke forth from a 2.2-billion-gallon impoundment, killing nearly all life in the Big Sandy River. Its impact reached all the way to the Ohio River, about 100 miles away.
Earlier this week, EPA sent out a letter to Marfork Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., airing concerns about the absence of a valley fill permit, and requesting an extensive amount of information concerning the mountaintop removal operation on the Bee Tree site.
In note of this, Nick Martin, currently locked down, said, “The EPA’s recent action proves that the communities’ concerns about this site are shared at the highest levels of government.”
Matt Louis-Rosenberg, a Climate Ground Zero activist, adds, “Coal River Wind attempted to get a meeting with the governor for a year and it took people sitting in his office to get him to sit down and meet with concerned community members, just like it takes our actions up on Coal River Mountain to get the federal government to step in.”
The concern showed by the EPA reflects what the residents of the Coal River Valley have known for a long time; the Brushy Fork Impoundment is putting lives in danger, and the blasting on Coal River Mountain only increases that danger. The protestors on the Bee Tree site are putting out a call to action to save Coal River Mountain and protect all those who would be impacted by a catastrophe there. This action fits into a larger fight against mountaintop removal in Appalachia.
On the whole, Gunnoe’s sentiment was, “Don’t like much about Obama, but he’ll have one heck of a supporter if he stops mountaintop mining.”
Note: More information available at http://climategroundzero.org.