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Marsh Fork Elementary School: Sundial, WV

High Resolution Historic Image Overlays

People often ask, “Are there pictures of the mountains before mountaintop removal coal mining destroyed them?” Thanks to the United States Geologic Survey and Google Earth, they are right here at your fingertips!
Load image overlay to show terrain near Marsh Fork Elementary School before
mountaintop removal coal mining began.

(Download these images by clicking on the pictures below)
Terrain near Marsh Fork Elementary School, Sundial WV 1986 Terrain near Marsh Fork Elementary School, Sundial WV 2003
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In the Grip of Terror at Marsh Fork

Debbie Jarrell, Rock Creek, WV; originally printed as a letter to the editor in the Appalchian Voice, June 2006

Dear Editor,
I hope this finds you doing well. I enjoyed the visit with you and compadres, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon. I am going to attempt to type my poem that I had printed in the newspaper. This was written when I had enough of just sitting quietly by and letting my granddaughter be one of the mice in the world’s dumping ground.


Photo by Kent KessingerI have sat quiet as the shiny sterilized truck marked “radioactive” slips up the hollow at the edge of dark.

I have sat quiet as the coal truck haulage covered by tarp, permeates the air with the stench smell of rancid garbage down Route 3.

I have sat quiet as the dark holes on Montcoal Mountain have been filled in and filled in, giving the impression of undisturbed graves.

I have sat quiet as the hoses have been laid over the edge of the slurry pond under the guise of darkness, pumping out filthy black slurry hurriedly before inspectors came.

I have sat quiet as the run-off from the ponds have been guided to our mountain springs- chemicals added making the water appear clean, preventing the glancing eyes from knowing their dark secrets.

I have sat quiet as the massive dirt dams have been erected, peering out over the mountains and looking as ominous as Godzilla in Hong Kong.

I have sat quiet as one by one our mountains are made to look like flattened biscuit dough as the chef rolls and manipulates it with his hand.

I have sat quiet as the men from the mines get their disability checks for black lung from the air they breathe, yet watch as my granddaughter mounts her schoolbus only to breathe the same air as the miner, day after day.

I have sat quiet as I tell my granddaughter, when rains trouble me, “stay home today, there may be a little flooding” not wanting her to be aware of the dark terror that grips my heart.
I can honestly say I sit quiet no more

Marsh Fork Elementary School

Reprinted from the Appalachian Voices website.

The Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia is located 400 yards downslope from a mountaintop removal mine. Sundial is a community in the coal river valley about 10 miles south of Whitesville. The mining site above the school, operated by Massey Energy, houses the Shumate sludge impoundment. With 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge held back by a 385-foot-high earthen dam, it is one of West Virginia’s largest impoundments. These two photos are of Marsh Fork Elementary School (left), and the 2.8 billion gallon coal sludge impoundment directly uphill from the school.

Coal sludge is created when coal is washed – a process required to remove soil and rock from the coal prior to being shipped. According to the Sludge Safety Project,

“sludge contains carcinogenic chemicals used to process coal. It also contains toxic heavy metals that are present in coal, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium, boron, selenium, and nickel.”

Earthen dams used to hold back sludge impoundments are notoriously unstable. A Massey Energy dam failed in 2000 in Martin County, KY dumping 300 million gallons of sludge in streams. A more tragic example is the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster in which, according to the West Virginia Division of Culture & History:

“in a matter of minutes, 118 were dead and over 4,000 people were left homeless. Seven were never found.”

Should the earthen dam of the Shumate impoundment ever be breached, there would be less than three minutes to evacuate the Marsh Fork Elementary School before the water reached 6 feet. The maps below show the evacuation area below the impoundment and the approximate depth the to which the floodwaters would rise – 15 feet at the school.

Herb Elkins is one resident of the Coal River Valley that lives with his 8-year-old son attending Marsh Fork Elementary, directly below the impoundment. He finds little reassurance in the emergency response plan, which, in the event of a dam failure, calls for notification of people at risk by “bullhorn.”

On June 29th, Mr. Elkins refused to leave Massey Energy headquarters in Richmond, Virginia until Massey responded to his concerns for his son’s safety and was arrested for trespassing. Mr. Elkins stated,

“I promised my son that I would not send him back to that school. His health and peace of mind are too important. No child should have to attend class in a climate of fear.” (more…)

VIDEOS: Marsh Fork Elementary

Protests at Marsh Fork Elementary

Courtesy of upcoming documentary: Coal Fired

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VIDEOS: Cherry Pond and Kayford Mountain

Courtesy of upcoming documentary: Coal Fired

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