Blessing of the Mountain
Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
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: www.ohvec.org
All photos by Viv Stockman www.ohvec.org