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Glen Alum Mountain, 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 Glen Alum Mountain’s terrain before
mountaintop removal coal mining began.

(Download these images by clicking on the pictures below)
Glen Alum Mountain West Virginia 1986 Glen Alum Mountain West Virginia 2003
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Penny Loeb is a distinguished author and the web designer for , who has generously allowed her articles to be reprinted here.

Mary Farley was sound asleep on the couch when the a loud blast went off from the mine above her small house.

“It woke me from a sound sleep,” said the 71-year old Farley. She and her husband built the modest white house 48 years ago. After following her husband’s changing jobs around the country, Farley had returned to live in Wharncliffe. A couple of years ago, she had open-heart surgery and has been slowly recovering She was delighted when her son, who works for a builder of upscale homes in Ohio, treated her to a new kitchen floor.

Then the blasting began from the Mingo Logan Coal Co. (a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc.) above her house. First the kitchen wall above the sink separated from the ceiling in a 1-inch crack. Next the floor dropped 6 inches in one corner. “I thought the house was coming down around me,” said.

The inspector from the Division of Environmental Protection checked the seismograph records at the mine. He reported that the blasts were all within permitted limits. A spokesman for Mingo Logan confirmed that no violations occurred. Farley is not satisfied: “They have the audacity to tell me they are within the legal limits.”

The adequacy of the standard limit for blasting vibrations is much in question. Usually the DEP limit states that the house nearest to the mine cannot vibrate more than 1 inch per second. Citizens who have been impacted by blasting say that an arbitrary limit does not apply to all areas. It does not account for geological differences that can sometimes amplify vibrations and make some houses more susceptible to damage. In fact, investigators from the federal Office of Surface Mining ruled that such amplification occurred in Laurel Creek.

Mary Farley's house photo by Penny LoebJust a few houses down from Farley, Melvin Brooks also believes blasting has damaged his house. His Tudor house is much newer, only 15 years old. It is within a half mile of the mine, so he was offered a pre-blast survey. In fact, his house was given three surveys. None showed any significant damages. So when he noticed several new cracks and other changes after the blasting began, Brooks thought he had provable damage.

A fairly large crack appeared in the brick wall in the family room. In the bedroom the frame on the door into the walk-in closet is separating. The hall into the bedroom is tilting to one side. Outside, small cracks are beginning to appear in the roof. But so far, the mine refuses to acknowledge the damage. Two representatives from the mine have examined the damage, as has the adjuster from Brooks’ insurance company. All three called the damage inconsequential and attributed it to settling. “We don’t know what to do,” Brooks said.

Brooks, whose house is just to the left of the one in the photo, is a certified (blasting) shot fireman. He did blasting in deep mines before becoming a teacher. Since he and his wife are both teachers, they aren’t home for the blasts during the day. But they are there for the one set off around 5 p.m. At least three times, those have blasts have been unusually large. It seems, Brooks said, that the men are in a hurry at the end of the day and shoot too hard.

Beech Creek

Penny Loeb is a distinguished author and the web designer for , who has generously allowed her articles to be reprinted here.

Beech Creek is over the mountain from Wharncliffe, way down in the southern part of the state, nearly an hour south of Logan. Despite the distance, Beech Creek residents have managed to make themselves known. Led by Tom and Deanna Hatfield and Freda Simpkins, they have voiced their concerns to an array of public officials, from DEP Director John Caffrey to Delegate Arley Johnson.

Aerial photo of Glen Alum Mountain, photo by Kent KessingerBlasting has been the leading problem in Beech Creek for the past few years. Surface mines, as well as deep mines, are on both sides of the creek, like the mine in the picture gallery. The mines aren’t exactly removing the tops of the mountains. So far they have been removing the sections right below the peak. Nonetheless, the process still requires large blasts.

A number of people thought their houses and wells had been damaged. But the mines refused to acknowledge the damages. Mine officials said all blasts were within the allowed limits. Nor did the Division of Environmental Protection inspectors cite the mines for violations. So residents invited DEP Director Caffrey to visit the community. On Aug. 7, 1997, about 50 people met with Caffrey, Environmental Advocate Wendy Radcliff and inspector Harold Ward.

West Virginia Organizing Project member Tom Hatfield led Caffrey on a tour of six homes. “These are not the only homes that have been damaged,” he told Caffrey. “We selected these homes because they show the different types of problems we have suffered.” Damage included cracks in walls and foundations and homes where wells had gone dry. He also saw where a major slide had threatened a house.

Freda Simpkins, a WVOP member, said the drilling crew was still at her house when a blast caused a newly drilled well to fall in. “What more evidence do you need?” she asked Caffrey.

Later in the month, a joint inspection of the damages was done by investigators from DEP and the federal Office of Surface Mining. This group also met Janice Allen, a woman in her 70s who had to run from flyrock while hanging out her laundry. “Missy run, we’re going to be killed,” she told her cat.

The final report had not been issued as of the end of January. However, residents learned of a preliminary report. It stated blasting had caused damage to two houses, both of which had pre-blast surveys.

Beech Creek residents stand up for their community. A few years ago residents got together and raised money to build a new volunteer fire department building.

More recently, the community came together and had a park put in where their grade school once stood. Still, they feel the loss of the school, which closed down five years ago. At an early meeting of Beech Creek members of the West Virginia Organizing Project, Tom Hatfield reflected, “You know, if we had worked together and stayed organized five years ago, we would still have that school. We shouldn’t ever let anything like that happen again.”

Appalachian Voices  •  Coal River Mountain Watch  •   Heartwood  •  Keeper of the MountainsKentuckians for the Commonwealth 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition  •   Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowermentSierra Club Environmental Justice

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards  •   SouthWings  •  Stay Project  •   West Virginia Highlands Conservancy

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