ARTIE, W.Va. — A line stretched down the sidewalk in front of Clear Fork Elementary School Thursday evening, but it wasn’t for a school-related activity.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a public hearing in the school’s gymnasium over a recent revision to a mountaintop removal permit on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County. This change to the plan would allow Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary Republic Energy to bury used tires on the site.
It would also allow the company to delay reclamation. Known as revision 7 to the Collins Fork mountaintop removal permit number S3000208, Republic Energy would be allowed to bury tires at the 292-acre site and store fuel, equipment and stockpile fuel for other sites.
Raleigh County resident Debbie Jarrell told MetroNews affiliate WJLS she feels the community doesn’t have a say in what’s happening in their backyards. She brought a folder to the hearing full of health reports and letters she wrote in opposition.
“I personally feel that the community isn’t given a thought in these permits. I feel that our voice is out in the wilderness hollering trying to get regulations where they should be. There’s abated regulations that this company has.”
According to Coal River Mountain Watch, Alpha Natural Resources has “over 10 square miles of active and pending mountaintop removal and sludge dam permits on Coal River Mountain”. The organization says the company has several violations at various sites in relation to reclamation requirements and sediment control.
“I know what coal mining is, I know what it means to families, I know the jobs,” said Jarrell. “It just sickens me that our politicians won’t bring something else to the table for our people. That our politicians allow mountaintop removal to happen. (We’ve) got higher rates of cancer and birth defects, a list of different illnesses.”
Billy Chapman is a coal loader for Alpha Natural Resources. He joined dozens of co-workers at Thursday’s hearing to fight for their jobs. He explained the used tires are an important part in the mountaintop removal process, as they help hold back water.
“I think all this is over is burying tires and stuff like that, and that’s all in the permits to do all that. So people are fighting over it trying to take our jobs and all that.”
Chapman, like many, thought the public hearing would involve speaking in front of a crowd and DEP representatives. Instead, the agency set up stations with a recorder where they could leave their comments privately.
Tables were also scattered around the gymnasium with photographs and documents explaining the mountaintop removal process and the revision to the permit.
“I think this is gonna help a whole lot for us. I think coal business will just be really good,” added Chapman after his friend left comments for the DEP.