The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

February 3, 2013

Fayette project seeks to keep community informed about mining

OAK HILL — For communities near strip mines, the issue of how coal is mined can draw lines of division between neighbors and even families.

But a new project focused on the Loop Creek area of Fayette County wants to start a different kind of dialogue.

The Coalfield Environmental Health Project begins by “acknowledging that the environmental and health impacts of surface mining are real and important, and that the economic lifeline it is for the workers it does employ is also important.”

Both “sides” are right, said the project’s coordinator, Andrew Munn.

On Monday in Oak Hill, they kick off the first in a series of discussions aimed at keeping people informed about mining in the area and the laws that give residents some level of protection from possible negative impacts.

The forum on “Our Community and Surface Mining” will introduce attendees to the project, provide updates and begin the process of creating a “community assessment.”

Participants will identify places in the community that are meeting their needs, whether related to recreation, education, health, energy or work.

“It’s a way of looking at what we already have ...  and then how we can build on them to improve our communities,” said Munn.

“Ultimately, whether or not there is surface mining, we all live together and we will all continue to live in the same communities, and we shouldn’t let the issue hold us up from making improvements.”

Four surface mines are permitted and active in the area between Page, Kincaid, Beards Fork and Dempsey Branch, according to Munn. Frasure Creek Mining has applied for five more surface mine permits. If approved, the total mined area would expand to 3,263 acres.

The project’s organizers hope that residents with a variety of viewpoints who have “an intent of having a good, real conversation” come to the forum. After all, people who work on surface mines are community members, too.

They are also hoping to see local government officials participate.

Munn says the science on surface mining is in and that it is correlated with bad health. But the economic realities of surface mining for coalfield families are just as real.

“We see it as our responsibility, and the responsibility of all Fayette County communities, to really put our heads together and find a better way,” said Munn.

“We should use the fact that surface mining is a lightning rod for public dialogue to get the dialogue going but keep it future-focused.”

The “Our Community and Surface Mining” discussion will take place Monday at 6 p.m. at the Historic Oak Hill School, 140 School St., Oak Hill.

Additional forums and trainings will take place through September.

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/SALSCEHP or contact Munn at 304-924-1506 or anromu@gmail.com.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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