Friday, September 1st, 2006
Penny Loeb is a distinguished author and the web designer for http://www.wvcoalfield.com , 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.
Blasting 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.”