Going Up Against Big Coal in West Virginia On Cherry Pond

Mike is one of the co-founders of Earth First!, Rain Forest Action Network, and The Ruckus Society.  He is now standing with the people of Coal River, Mountain Justice, and Appalachia to say No More! to Mountain Top Removal.’

By MIKE ROSELLE

On Cherry Pond.
marfork
The first time I was on Cherry Pond it was ramp season, and I joined Judy,
Bo Larry and Ed for the much anticipated spring ritual, in which the tasty
wild onions are harvested and cooked in butter with potatoes. It was a
steep hike through rugged country, and from the ridge you could see Coal
River Mountain, the highest peak around, all the way up to Kayford
Mountain, which is no more. Kayford Mountain is now a huge pit, where
bulldozers, trucks and dynamite can be heard for miles around.

Larry Gibson, one of the most vocal opponents of mountain top removal coal
mining, used to look up at Kayford Mountain and thank god that he was
lucky enough to live in West Virginia. Now, on must be careful when
looking the top of a high wall; a man-made cliff that is perfectly
vertical.

Larry lives on the top of the cliff and Kayford Mountain is two hundred
feet below Larry’s House. His property line is at Kayford Mountain by
default. Larry refused to sell out to the coal companies and has been
fighting mountain top removal for the last twenty years of his life.
Thousands of people have come to Larry’s to see how coal is really mined,
and few are prepared for the site they will see when they peer over that
high wall.

If you drive a few miles north of my house on Highway 3, you can look up
Clay’s Branch, the creek that leads to Cherry Pond. It is famous among
turkey hunters, mushroom hunters, ginseng pickers and bird watchers. The
people who live along Clay’s Branch are used to people driving by their
houses, some of which sit so close to the road that they could hand you a
beer as you drove by without getting off their porches. This is because
the holler is steep, and what little land is flat enough to put a house on
is usually right near the road by the creek. You can still see Clay’s
Branch today if you drive by, but you won’t see Cherry Pond Mountain.

Cherry Pond is gone.

Last Thursday the US Fourth Circuit Court ruled that Massey Energy and
every other mine owner in West Virginia does not have to obey any
environmental laws when they dig for coal. That’s right, any of the laws,
like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act.
The coal companies are getting away with murder and the court turned the
fate of the Appalachian Mountains, the oldest on Earth, to the Army Corps
of Engineers and the wholly coal owned West Virginia Department of
Environmental Protection, an agency that has never denied a mining permit
and dose not regulate the permits when they sign off on them.

On a Friday a couple of weeks ago, Massey Energy blew the top off of
Cherry Pond Mountain.

Like a Navel gun salute Massey signaled there approval of the coal owned
Federal Court’s decision by drilling a few hundred holes, inserting
nitrates and filling them with diesel fuel, and setting off the loudest
explosion that anyone has around herd around here before. A large boulder
was sent air borne, flew off of the ridge and continued to roll, Johnny
Cake-like, sticking to the road, even making the tight curves, and stopped
a few hundred feet from Kenny’s place, which is the last house on the
road. Dust from the blast, silica mixed with chemicals and fuel oil,
blanketed his vegetable garden. One window in his house was shattered by
the force of the explosion.

On Saturday, James “Guin” McGuinn took me to Clay’s Branch so we observe
for ourselves what had happened. You could see the wreckage of the
mountain even before you got off of Highway 3. High above Clay’s branch,
the ridge top is being lowered, and the mountain is disappearing. How much
of this is enough?

On Monday Guinn and I got two lengths of chain and two locks, painted a
banner and marched up the mountain. They knew we were coming because we
had posted a press release on the Climate Ground Zero website before
leaving the house. We were accompanied by two photographers, who followed
us into the mine area. We climbed onto the site and were immediately
spotted by the Massey Security guards who spoke to us over their bullhorn.
We walked straight towards the drilling rig that was preparing for another
blast. Directly to our right a truck was hauling the stones that had for
millions of years had been lodged at the top of the mountain. We turned
and approached it. The big truck continued forward as we walked up the
step road and we essentially had it bottled up, unable to proceed any
further without running us over. It stopped. It backed up. The two
excavators were now idle, unable to load another truck. About thirty
minutes went by and we observed that to our left several trucks holding
the explosives went down the mountain and the drilling was halted.

An hour went by and the Massey security trucks still waited about a
hundred yards away. Above us the truck once again approached our position.
We stood our ground and raised our hands. Stop. He once again continued
forward, perhaps thinking we would step aside and he would run over our
banner, which we had spread across the road. It read: “Wind Mills Not
Toxic Spills”. The truck came closer.

Then it stopped.

After a few more minutes passed, a West Virginia State Trooper, Sgt.
Michael Smith appeared on the scene. We had met before, last week, when
seven of us, including Guin, had chained ourselves to the excavators not
far from here. We had time to talk as he had driven us, without handcuffs,
to the State Police station that sits at the end of Marsh Fork, and at the
entrance to the mine. He knew why we were here.

“When I got the call, I knew it was you guys. I read your press release on
the Climate Ground Zero website. Do you ever do these when it’s not cold
and snowing?” he said. “Get in the truck”. We rode down the mountain again
with Sgt. Smith. He told us about his new granddaughter. “I understand
what you’re doing. You know you’re up against big money.” It wasn’t a
question.

There was no blasting on Cherry Mountain that day. There was on Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Today is Sunday and they don’t work. If
nothing is done, they will blast on Monday. Isn’t time to stop this
insanity? If two burned out old hippies can stop the blasting on one
mountain for one day, what would happen if thousands of people did the
same? That wasn’t really a question either because I already know the
answer. They could stop it.

Mike Roselle lives in Rock Creek, West Virginia. He can be reached at:
mikeroselle@hotmail.com

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