Missouri, West Virginia protests planned over Blair Mountain

Friday, February 17, 2012 | 10:21 a.m. CST

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Activists trying to save the Blair Mountain battlefield from coal mining planned Friday protests in West Virginia and Missouri. These protests would take place at the offices of two companies that control access to much of the land where unionizing coal miners fought authorities in 1921.

A coalition of historic preservationists, environmentalists and others targeted both the Huntington, W. Va., offices of Natural Resource Partners and the St. Louis headquarters of Arch Coal. They're among several coal companies that either own or lease land on the Logan County, W. Va., mountain and control its coal reserves. Some have permits to mine.

Neither company immediately commented Friday.

Activists have been fighting to protect the 1,600-acre battlefield and get it re-listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They've been promoting the two demonstrations on Facebook and waged a call-in campaign to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin this week.

Spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne said the governor's office received 115 calls between Tuesday and noon Thursday.

"While I understand the concern," Tomblin said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, "there are two lawsuits concerning this land that are working their way through the judicial process on the state and federal levels."

Tomblin also said that the state Department of Environmental Protection "has and continues to act in accordance to the law" in the dispute.

The battle at Blair was the nation's largest armed uprising since the Civil War, and the Logan County mountain is considered an important site in the American labor movement. Some 10,000 coal miners faced down a dug-in army of police and private security guards in a battle that left 16 men dead before the miners surrendered to federal troops.

Chuck Keeney, chairman of Friends of Blair Mountain, said his group is not endorsing the protests.

"We're obviously not condemning them, either," he said.

Friends of Blair Mountain is building a community center and museum in Blair and has developed a plan for a state park that follows the model of Stonewall Resort in Lewis County, W. Va., which is publicly funded but privately run. The group wants a moratorium on new mining activities and time to conduct a full archaeological study of the site.

Keeney said the protesters are continuing a momentum they developed last summer when hundreds staged a 50-mile march through West Virginia from Charleston to Blair.

They're also responding to what Keeney said are signs that Arch operations might be inching closer to the battlefield. The company is seeking new permits, and Keeney said some Blair residents have received buyout offers for their properties.

"I don't think that blasting is imminent," he said, "but by the time it gets to the point where blasting is imminent, it will be too late."

The battlefield was briefly added to the National Register, then removed when private property owners objected. A fight over whether it should be relisted is continuing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The activists also sued the DEP in Kanawha County Circuit Court last year after the DEP declared the site unsuitable for mining.

The DEP ruled that about 30 percent of the land is exempt from that declaration because it's already covered under mining permits, while other areas are exempt because there is clear evidence of past mining activity.

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