Order puts small part of Blair Mountain off limits to mining

A new order from the state Department of Environmental Protection will put a small area of an Alpha Natural Resources surface mining permit near historic Blair Mountain off limits to mining, DEP officials said this week.

DEP inspectors on April 29 ordered Alpha subsidiary Aracoma Coal to add a 1,000-foot buffer zone to prohibit mining activities too close to boundary of the area that had been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harold Ward, acting director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, said the order affects about 50 to 60 acres of the company’s Camp Branch permit, located on the southern end of the Blair Mountain battlefield site.

“That pretty much stagnates those reserves,” Ward said.

Ward said that DEP inspectors discovered that the agency’s 1,100-acre permit for Camp Branch did not include the same 1,000-foot buffer that was included in a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The DEP move comes after the state Surface Mine Board ordered the agency to follow through on a promise to take citizens from the group Friends of Blair Mountain on an inspection tour to investigate allegations that parts of the historic battlefield site had been damaged by mining activities.

Friends of Blair Mountain, the United Mine Workers union and other groups want to preserve areas on the border of Logan and Boone counties that were the site of the largest armed conflict in American labor history. Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921, more than 10,000 union coal miners fought armed coal company guards, a battle that ended only after federal troops intervened.

Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for Alpha, said that the company does not consider the change to the DEP permit to be an “adverse impact” to its permit.

Ward, the DEP acting mining director, said his agency is trying to work with citizens, the UMW, Alpha and landowners from Natural Resource Partners in a programmatic agreement through the Corps of Engineers that would spell out the historic preservation needs of the site and resolve the ongoing disputes over Blair Mountain’s future.

“There needs to be some resolution to it,” Ward said. “This has been going on since 1990.”

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.

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