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Huckleberry Ridge, KY

Fighting for their land

Taken from the Courier-Journal 6/18/06 in Louisville Kentucky

By Dianne Aprile
Special to The Courier-Journal

Two weeks after coming home from a tour of mountaintop-removal mining sites in Eastern Kentucky, one particular image lingers in my mind. More than all the other sights and experiences of the trip – and they were plentiful – I remember the figure of Daymon Morgan, an 80-year-old World War II veteran, wearing bib overalls and a wide-brimmed hat, standing in the lush green woods of his Leslie County farm, holding a broken wildflower in his hand.

Daymon MorganBeneath a canopy of trees, he described in plain but stirring terms his love and concern for the mountainous land above Lower Bad Creek, land he has nurtured and defended for half a century. It was here, among his family and friends, that he returned to build a home after serving his country.

The wildflower he held in his hand was bloodroot, one of the first signs of spring in Kentucky. It was broken because Morgan wanted to demonstrate how the flower got its name. He showed us that when you snap the root, it bleeds a sticky, red-orange sap. Long before Kentuckians inhabited the commonwealth, Indians used the plant for medicinal purposes as well as a dye to paint themselves for battle.

Morgan’s woods are teeming with bloodroot, as well as golden seal, ginseng and wild ginger. Not too long ago, these native plants grew wild and plentiful not just in Morgan’s woods but in the neighboring mountaintops adjoining his property, on the tree-laden slopes that have been part of the majesty of the Appalachian landscape – and integral to the lives of his community – for generations.

But now, the mountaintops surrounding Morgan’s land are bleeding. More precisely, they are being blown apart with explosives. Mining companies are blasting the tops off the mountains, pursuing a technique that makes it easier and faster and cheaper to remove coal from the earth that holds it. It’s an efficient technique: Explode the mountain; remove the coal; shove the waste over the nearest hillside; “reclaim” the site; move on to the next site.

But Morgan is a hold-out, a resister to this process. He’s told the mining companies they’ll never take his mountaintop. Therefore, his land – untouched by their equipment – is a good starting point for understanding exactly what this brutal mining technique is removing from Kentucky’s land, people, communities and natural ecology.

One has only to drive a short distance from Morgan’s home, down dusty, eroded, pot-holed roads, to get a glimpse of what he fears and wants to stop: barren plateaus of land, flat as airstrips and far more desolate, that once, before the bulldozers and explosives had their way with it, looked just like Morgan’s lush woods. Today, many of the neighborhood’s streams – once home to fish and wildlife – are dried up, vanished, filled with sediment or, worse, with the demolition debris that is allowed to tumble down newly decapitated mountains into once-running, now unrecognizable creeks and brooks.

Fears for many (more…)

An Outlaw Industry

Daymon Morgan
Huckleberry Ridge in Leslie County, KY

We made the biggest part of our living on that land. We planted vegetables, and we had apple orchards. And there was a lot of wild huckleberry back up on that mountain. Actually huckleberry is a wild blueberry. And wild berries, we picked them. And I’ve hunted in there, I’ve dug herbs. And now, that is all gone. It’s completely moved away.

Horizon Resources and International Coal Group, the coal companies that have worked near my home, have trespassed along one of my property lines. They have done damage to the land and to my personal property – trees, rock and dirt debris have been pushed onto my property and down the side of the mountain. This damage causes erosion and may even damage the creek at the bottom of the hollow.

The Coal Industry is an outlaw industry that does not consider the rights of its neighbors or the rights of the land and environment. The industry is out to make a profit and has no regard for the damages done to the citizens of this country.

Aerial of Daymon Morgan's home by Thomas ShelbyThis trespassing issue is just another example of the coal industry’s blatant disregard. Within the last five years two homes on my property have been damaged from the blasting. I believe that almost everyone up Bad Creek has sued the coal industry at least once for damages done to their property.

And my community is not the only community affected by this outlaw industry. Folks over in Raccoon Creek, in Greasy Creek, Viper and Vicco also are complaining.

This is not just a private property issue. It is everyone’s problem and something must be done. The coal industry and our state regulators need to have more respect for the mountains and people of this region.

The coal industry is leaving us destroyed, with no water, no trees, no wildlife habitats or any economic prospects for our future. This must stop.

You know, people have a tendency to not be interested in anything unless they are directly affected by it. Actually, what the coal industry does, it affects everybody. It affects air quality, the water quality, it affects the wildlife habitat, and certainly that’s everybody’s problem.

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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