Op-Ed

Benham, Lynch pasts and futures rooted in coal mining

At issue | May 1 Herald-Leader editorial, "Not 'frivolous' for state to save towns; restrict mining at Benham, Lynch"

While managing the coal operations around Benham and Lynch, I met with coal buyers from Norway who were seeking the unique qualities inherent in the local coal seams. In conversation, a reference was made to "historic Lynch." Our visitors informed us about the recent 1,000-year anniversary of "historic Oslo." Apparently, "historic" is a matter of opinion.

The editorial says Kentucky leadership needs to see "beyond the moment to do what's right for the future," promoting the cause of "saving" Benham and Lynch. It seemed apparent from the editorial that surface mining is all that is at stake. In fact, the filers of the Lands Unsuitable Petition seek to stop all coal mining, including underground mining (the primary reason Benham and Lynch are even on the map). What was not presented in the editorial was:

■ The Benham City Council, in response to the petition, passed a resolution supporting all mining within the city's limits.

■ There are active operations within the proposed petition area.

■ There are planned operations that would provide jobs for the next 50 years.

■ The reservoir for the "public water" system is actually owned by the mineral-holding company.

■ There has been surface mining all around Benham and Lynch historically,

■ The towns have benefited, and will benefit, from severance tax dollars generated by future mining operations within their boundaries.

What are we "saving" Benham and Lynch from? They are situated in a region whose primary business drivers are natural resources: coal, timber and natural gas. These industries led to both towns' creation and their economic sustenance for the past 100 years and will continue to do so with high-paying jobs for decades to come.

Killing good jobs in exchange for seasonal, low-paying tourism-related jobs is not what that area needs. There are adequate laws being enforced that balance environmental protections and property development by mineral owners.

Curiously, many commentators on this issue hail from other areas of Kentucky. The climate is ripe for an environmental group (which could be called Bluegrass Justice) to stand up for the Central Kentucky pasturelands.

We mountain folks are tired of driving to Lexington and beyond just to find that private landowners have committed the sin of selling land to developers who then pave it over and construct unsightly offices, business centers, housing developments and restaurants. We prefer to see green and this rampant development (by property owners who are using their legal rights to pursue economic benefit) must be stopped.

If Bluegrass Justice sounds ridiculous to you, perhaps you might need to realize that highly compensated workers in the coal industry might think it ridiculous that their employers sacrifice their rights and their employees' jobs just in case Bluegrass residents want to come to Eastern Kentucky to look at someone else's land development.

Benham and Lynch are not frivolous, but they need coal mining and its benefits to prosper. We shouldn't declare such an important energy source and industry "unsuitable."

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