Op-Ed

Sturgill: Coal companies take what they need, leave destruction

FootPrints for Peace walk down Ky. 114 in Floyd County to protest mountaintop removal coal mining Feb. 3. The group plans to join the "I Love Mountains" rally today in Frankfort.
FootPrints for Peace walk down Ky. 114 in Floyd County to protest mountaintop removal coal mining Feb. 3. The group plans to join the "I Love Mountains" rally today in Frankfort. Dori Hjalmarson | Staff

At issue | Jan. 23 Herald-Leader editorial, "Strip-mining would destroy historic towns" and Jan. 31 commentary by Bill Turner, "Hallowed hills: Protect Black Mountain towns from strip mining"

Lately it seems every time you pick up a newspaper you read something about the small coal camp towns of Lynch and Benham.

If you're not up to snuff on things, you're probably asking what's the stir about these little towns?

Just imagine living your life in these towns and now finally being able to retire. Then you find out you may lose everything: home, mountains, drinking water and the only way of life you know and would ever want to know.

Our towns have been blessed with many good people over the years. Some left for other areas, but some like me remained. Most all return at one time or another. It's hard to stay away.

I'm an old underground coal miner. I live at the foot of the highest peak in Kentucky — Black Mountain. Coal has been mined from under Black Mountain for almost 100 years and there are still many years of underground mining that remain.

Now this is what the stir is about. Coal companies that have moved into our area over the past few years now threaten to destroy our way of life.

Arch Mineral was first, then Massey Energy, and now Alpha Natural Resources will acquire Massey. The first two coal companies gave us the same story: They are community oriented and their goal is to make everything better for everyone. Sorry, but it just hasn't worked that way.

None of these coal companies is from our area. They talk a good game, but they're like any other for-profit company — only here for the money. They get as much as they can, as quickly as they can, for as little cost as they can, then move on. Then our problems begin.

The best way their goals can be met is through surface mining, whether it is strip mining, auger mining or mountaintop removal. The parent company — formerly Arch, now Massey — leases the coal reserves to surface mining companies such as A&G Coal Corporation of Virginia or Nally and Hamilton Enterprises, Inc., of Bardstown.

The entire area around Lynch, Benham and Cumberland is now under immediate threat by A&G's and Nally and Hamilton's weapons of mass destruction (huge drills for blasting, massive earth moving loaders, gigantic bulldozers, monster haul trucks like you would never imagine, etc.).

If you have never seen surface mining in action, it would behoove you to check it out on some of the Web sites like "I Love Mountains," or just punch in "mountaintop removal."

It's a sad sight during and after the process, as it levels mountains and poisons streams, creeks and rivers.

If you've never lived in an area that is being blasted, you are very lucky. In Lynch, we can feel blasting tremors from surface mining in Harlan and Letcher counties. It scares the grandchildren. It shakes windows. It cracks home foundations.

In the immediate areas of blasting, water wells are sunk. Perfectly pure drinking and bathing water is turned red, gray, muddy or black. Dust is so rampant it is an unhealthful atmosphere for everyone 24 hours a day.

These are just a few reasons why we are about to lose our way of life, our heritage and anything else that is still standing.

Kentucky politicians, from our local representatives to the governor, have told us they cannot help, because they don't want to help. To them, I say: "Get off your backsides! You can help us. Stop putting us down for companies that only want to surface mine."

I thought the governor was a learned person. Does he not know that if surface mining was curtailed, underground mining would boom and thousands of underground miners would be back to work? Help create new jobs.

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