Residents Fight in Court to Protect Their Homes and the Streams of Appalachia from Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Groups challenging proposal to bury more streams in West Virginia on heels of recent court victory


Steve Roady / Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, (304) 645-9006

Boone County residents today asked a federal judge to stop a proposed valley fill at a mountaintop removal operation because it will decimate their community, disrupt their lives and devalue and damage their homes. The judge will accept additional briefs and expects to rule on this matter by mid-October.

The company has agreed to hold off on any activities in constructing the valley fills until the judge rules. The same judge ruled on two separate occasions in the past that permits very similar to the one being challenged today violated the law.

The residents joined local and national environmental groups to stop the illegal construction of a valley fill that would bury streams flowing at the site of the Callisto Mine in Boone County, West Virginia.

Shane Green, 35, grew up in the last house up Dry Branch hollow, closest to the proposed valley fill. “With all the blasting, the house will be completely unlivable; you will have to condemn this place.”

“The first good rain, then they’ll tell you: ‘We started a valley fill up there, if you get any mud coming your way…’ There’ll be floods and landslides,” Green said. “It’s disturbing the peace too. You’ll be sitting here one evening, the lampshades shake, stuff starts vibrating off the table. That’s disturbing the peace and they don’t care. We are like rats to them,” Green added.

Green’s brother Timothy said, “My dad won’t be able to retire in peace if that valley fill goes in up there. He was going to build a new place here and he’s not going to do it now.”

The mine, which is operated by Jupiter Holdings LLC, will permanently destroy 5,750 feet of streams in tributaries of Roach Branch, Dry Branch, and Lem White Branch of Pond Fork in Boone County. These streams eventually flow into the Little Coal River. Already, mountaintop removal mining has permanently buried or otherwise impacted more than 1,200 miles of streams and destroyed over 387,000 acres of the forests in central Appalachia.

“We’d rather not have the valley fill up there,” said a resident of Dry Branch who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation. “This is our home and we are not planning on moving. We’ve been here all of our lives, we’ve raised our children here. You could have a big rain and that valley fill would cause a flood and wash away the home we have lived in for over 40 years.”

“Our community is disappearing. If Jupiter gets this permit, it will be the proverbial nail in the coffin,” said Maria Gunnoe, a Bob White resident who lives in the shadow of the Callisto Mine and is an organizer with the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “It will literally depopulate the little bit that’s left of our home. Mountaintop removal is illegally polluting life-giving streams and depopulating communities for a few outside jobs and profits for coal companies. Nothing but devastation comes back to the communities where this coal is mined.”

“Coal companies are again trying to create a false economic crisis by threatening to lay off miners and scaring the public with fears about more job losses,” said Cindy Rank, Mining Committee Chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “This is a smoke screen that is designed to obscure the culture of lawlessness that pervades the permitting process for coal mines and valley fills. There are harms on all sides of this issue and brave residents are speaking up about the very real threats to their homes and the lives they’ve made for themselves in the area that will be impacted by this mine.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Callisto permit on March 15 of this year. Just a few days later, a federal judge ruled that four similar mountaintop removal mining permits violated the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Callisto Mine along with three other large surface mining permits were later added to the case.

The judge ruled in March 2007 that the Corps has no valid method for measuring the environmental harm from filling streams with mining waste. The judge also decided that the Corps has no scientific or rational basis for claiming that it can mitigate that harm. As a result, every new valley fill will add more permanent damage to the already enormous tally of streams lost and communities destroyed.

“The Corps is ignoring both the law and the science when it issues these permits,” said Judy Bonds, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Our state government needs to diversify our economy so that people can have jobs that don’t threaten communities and sacrifice our precious streams and life-giving waters.”

Today’s challenge and the March 2007 case were filed on behalf of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy by Earthjustice, the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Public Justice. The coal industry and the Corps have appealed the judge’s earlier rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

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