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Mountains near Cannelton, WV

Blessing of the Mountain

Potentially volatile prayer vigil turns to calm discussion

ANSTED, W.VA. — Early Saturday (April 5) morning, dozens of mountaintop removal opponents converged on Gauley Mountain for Blessing of the Mountain II, intending to pray near a mountaintop removal operation above the Fayette County community of Ansted. But, a similar number of employees of CONSOL coal company were already there, blocking access to the prayer site.

So Reverends Roy Crist and Stan Holmes set up a music stand amongst the strip mine workers’ vehicles. The mountaintop removal opponents stood amongst the coal workers and services began.

“There are no enemies here,” Crist said. He made an effort to shake the hand of every one of the mountaintop removal workers present.

The mountaintop removal opponents read prayers, sang hymns and spoke against mountaintop removal. At one point, a CONSOL worker stepped into the midst of the service and it looked as if the situation could turn volatile. But the crowd began singing “Amazing Grace,” easing the tension between the two groups.

After the services concluded, many from both sides stood and talked calmly with one another about the need for change.

“We let our presence be known to the public. Even though we had opposition, everything came out in a positive manner,” said Ansted Historical Preservation Council member Karen Huffman.

Allen Johnson, a founder of Christians for the Mountains, said the event, “dissolved some of the polarization” between the community and the strip mine workers.

The Ansted Historical Preservation Council planned the vigil. Fliers for the event said people were invited to join in prayer, to seek “Divine intervention and wisdom to contradict the devastation created by mountaintop removal mining practices.”

The council has been organizing in Ansted and surrounding tourism-dependent communities, attempting to stop a 286-acre Powellton Coal mountaintop removal operation which would be visible from the New River Gorge Bridge and would affect the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The permit boundary allows mining right up to the boundary of Hawks Nest State Park.

Residents worry the mining might unleash flash flooding if old abandoned mines and tunnels in the area are breached. They also worry that blasting will send clouds of silica laden dust into the air.

A recent WVU study indicates that people living near coal mining operations suffer higher incidences of certain diseases and increased mortality rates.

“It was good to see both sides of the issue, and the vigil drew attention to the question of what is West Virginia going to do,” said Peter Bosch, with the Christian student group Restoring Eden.

“What are you going to do in a few years down the road when your job is gone?” Ansted community leader Cary Huffman asked a group of coal workers. They agreed there needs to be more conversation between the workers and community members. They exchanged names, handed out phone numbers, shook hands and went their separate ways.

For more on the organizing in Fayette County, WV go to:

All photos by Viv Stockman

Blessing of the mountain in Ansted, WV

Ansted, WV group fears devastation to local community

November 10, 2007

A preservation group in Ansted sponsored a blessing ceremony Saturday morning as they sought divine intervention to stop what they fear will be devastation in the area between the Gauley River and the New River.

Members of The Ansted Historic Preservation Council Inc. believe the timbering and mining proposed for the area just outside of Ansted will affect a nearly 3,000-acre watershed.

In September, members of the newly formed group testified at a packed Department of Environmental Protection agency hearing, and asked state officials to deny a national pollution discharge permit for Powellton Coal Co. LLC, the company that plans the large mining operation. The company wants to discharge into Rich Creek, a trout stream and a tributary to Gauley River.

At the hearing, they also voiced their fears that the coal seams to be mined will cause toxic levels of selenium to be released into the waters. Several communities use water from the upper Kanawha River for drinking water.

The area to be mined is covered with trees and creates a backdrop for the Gauley Mountain Recreation Area. People in Ansted are also developing a trail system that follows tributaries that could be impacted by water pollution.

Father Roy Crist, who heads the group, will offer the blessing Saturday. He is a Missioner of the New River Episcopal Ministries. He said he wants everyone to know his group does not oppose mining.

“Mining is an honorable profession. We admire and respect those who work in the mines. But mountaintop removal is a crime against man and nature and must be stopped while we still have mountains left. These corporations rip, rape and run, and leave us with unredeemable land, toxic streams and rivers and air pollution which cause illnesses and disease.”

In her communications with DEP officials, Katheryne Hoffman, secretary to the Hawks Nest State Park Foundation, wrote that the connectivity of the streams worries her.

“At Gauley Bridge is the confluence of three rivers, the Gauley, the New and the Kanawha. The New is a National River, the Gauley runs through the Gauley River Recreation Area and both flow into the Kanawha. Rich Creek flows into the Gauley. Bridge Fork, West Lake Creek, Shade Creek and Mill Creek may also be affected in various ways by this operation. That these waters remain as unpolluted as possible is critical to the economic engine now fueling Fayette County, which is not coal, but tourism.”

Although the operation is outside the corporate limits of his town, the mayor of Ansted, R.A. Hobbs, told DEP officials he worried about the company’s plans to use settlement ditches instead of settlement ponds. Hobbs also explained times when Ansted has flooded. He said he feared the increased potential for flooding from the proposed mine ditch system would threaten his town with flooding.

State inspectors have previously cited Powellton Coal for allowing sediment to enter Rich Creek and the Gauley River. Powellton Coal has an 18,000-acre tract located between Ansted, Gauley Bridge and Jodie in Fayette County. A spokesman for the company said Thursday that he could not comment for this story.

Reprinted from the Charleston Gazette
By Susan Williams

See more on the ongoing organizing in the Ansted, WV in the latest Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition newsletter.

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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