MARFORK, W. VA. – July 20 – Two protesters associated with the
RAMPS Campaign halted blasting on a portion of Alpha Natural Resources’
Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine on Coal River Mountain today by
ascending two trees. Catherine-Ann MacDougal, 24, and Becks Kolins, 21,
are on platforms approximately 80 feet off the ground within 300 feet of
active blasting on the mine. The banners hanging from their platforms
read “Stop Strip Mining” and “For Judy Bonds” in honor of strip mining
activist Julia “Judy” Bonds of Packsville, W.Va. who died of cancer
earlier this year. The activists demand that Alpha Natural Resources
stop strip mining on Coal River Mountain and that the West Virginia
Department of Environmental Protection prohibit future strip mining in
the Coal River Watershed.
“I feel, with the keen urgency of extinction, that Alpha Natural
Resources cannot be allowed to tear apart Coal River Mountain and allow
all those living below it to suffer for their profits. The Coal River
watershed cannot tolerate any more damage. There is no way that I can
begin to detail the comprehensive destruction that surface mining and
mountaintop removal wreak on the forest ecosystem of the southern
Appalachian mountains,” said Catherine-Ann MacDougal.
Coal River Mountain is the last major intact mountain in the
watershed, which encompasses roughly 570,000 acres in the heart of the
southern WV coalfields. Nearly a quarter of total land area in the
watershed is being mined or permitted to be mined in the future,
including over 5,000 acres of Coal River Mountain. As of January 2011,
Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha, has destroyed about 75
acres of Coal River Mountain on the Bee Tree permit, the only active
mountaintop removal permit on the mountain. Activists say they are
determined to prevent further strip-mining.
Elias Schewel, 27, and Junior Walk, 21, are supporting the sitters
from the base of their trees. Walk, who grew up in Eunice W.Va. at the
foot of Coal River Mountain says that he was inspired to take action, in
part, by his lifelong relationship with Judy Bonds.
“The last two families to be driven out of this holler we’re in today
were Judy Bonds and my great uncle and they both died of lung cancer.
Judy spoke often about how hard it was to leave, but black water spill
after black water spill, the blasting dust clouds, and fears for the
health of her family forced her out. Packsville is gone. We’re not just
losing our clean air and clean water. We’re losing our communities, our
history, and our culture.”
Judy Bonds’ fears of the health impacts from coal operations have
been increasingly backed up by research from WVU. A recent public health
study found a correlation between residence in a mountaintop removal
area and higher rates of birth defects, even accounting for other
socio-economic factors(i). Public health research has linked residence
in coal-impacted regions to increased rates of cancer, kidney disease,
and some chronic illnesses, confirming long-held community
“Those who are drinking tainted water, breathing coal dust, and
watching the mountains fall around them don’t need a scientific study to
tell them what’s wrong,” noted MacDougal. Fellow tree sitter Becks
Kolins remembers their first visit to the home of a Coal River Valley
resident last year.
“He showed me his yearbook and pointed out everyone that had gotten
cancer. The only teachers that hadn’t gotten cancer had made a point of
not drinking the water.”
Lisa Henderson, Judy Bonds’ daughter and Coal River Valley resident, sees this action as a continuation of her mother’s work.
“I hope that today’s actions serve as a symbol that the struggle to
live peacefully and pollution-free in the Coal River Valley did not end
when my mother’s life did. My mother and I often compared the fight to
survive here on Coal River to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. I
am sure that generations from now, our children will look back on this
movement also and the actions of the people involved, and ask the
question of their elders, ‘Whose side were you on?’”
i M. Ahern, M. Hendryx, J. Conley, E. Fedorko, A. Ducatman, and K.
Zullig, “The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects
among live births in central Appalachia, 1996-2003” Environmental
Research in press, 2011
ii N.P. Hitt, M. Hendryx, “Ecological integrity of streams related to
human cancer mortality rates.” Ecohealth. 2010 Aug;7(1):91-104.
iii M. Ahern, M. Hendryx, ““Relations between Health Indicators and
Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia.” American Journal
of Public Health, 2008.