Volunteers learned from local residents about the links between flooding and surface mining, a press release from Mountain Justice reported.
When volunteers inquired about the history of flooding in the area, Wilma Steele, a resident of Meador replied, “I did not build my home in a flood plain, and I lived here for 39 years and have only had flooding after I was surrounded by pipe lines and strip sites.”
“Whereas rainfall is normally soaked up by the temperate forest ecosystems blanketing the mountains, it flash floods right off of the clear-cut and strip-mined lands above Appalachian communities,” Willie Dod-on, a Mountain Justice organizer, explained to other workers after the day of service ended.
The West Virginia De-partment of Environmental Protection estimates that 50-60 percent of coal production in Mingo comes from mountain top removal mining, and surface mining has more than doubled since the 1990s. According to United States Geological Survey and the WVDEP, Mingo County’s total acreage is 271,208 with 29,246 acres of strip mining sites and 6,603 acres of valley fills.
This is not the first time flooding has been attributed to mining. In May of 2001, a jury in Beckley found that mining and logging companies were responsible for $143 million in flood damage that occurred downstream from their projects. Federal mining regulations for the state indicate that coal operators must design and operate their mines to “provide protection against flooding and resultant damage to life and property.”
When asked about solutions to prevent flooding, Joe Tamson, a resident of Williamson said, “It’s simple, we need alternatives. “Around here, coal is king. What we need is a little more democracy, a choice.”
Just one week following the flood clean-up service day, Mountain Justice service volunteers participated in a separate event to prevent blasting at a surface mine located just above Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County and about 100 feet away from the Brushy Fork slurry im-poundment. With the knowledge that there are several underground mines beneath the impoundment, the group attempted to raise immediate awareness within the community concerning the risk of a toxic spill.
Sage Phillips Russo, from Ansted, W.Va., said, “Many of us participating in the action at the impoundment on Saturday were involved in relief efforts in Mingo County last week, shoveling mud from basements and garages, delivering water and bleach, and helping to clean homes.”
Jared Story, a student who participated in both events took some time to reflect.
“The residents that we worked with in Mingo County were extremely grateful for the labor and were, in many cases, open about the reality that strip mining was the cause for the intensity of these floods,” he said. “Every time I looked at my boots and saw the mud from the Mingo County floods, my resolve to stop mountaintop removal was strengthened.”
Highlighting the necessity of local involvement, Russo said, “While people came from all over the country to help out with both efforts the majority of folks were from Appalachia, including Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and right here in West Virginia.”
MJS volunteers are continuing their efforts in Mingo and elsewhere by focusing on preventing further damage as well as relieving the existing effects of strip mining. “Solutions are what we need, and the renewable energy promised by Obama is the way we can achieve them,” said Tamson.