During mountaintop removal, the tops of mountains are removed via blasting in order to reveal the coal seams below.
The introduction of 20-story draglines in the 1980s allowed for the swifter removal of coal by mountaintop removal.
Obtaining coal by MTR is a methodical enterprise comprised of several labor-intensive steps.
First, trees and vegetation are removed from the area to be mined. The trees are typically, though not always, leased to a timber company to be logged and sold. Then, the operator will either save the topsoil removed or spread it over an existing stripped site.
Next, the area is pre-stripped to make a foundation for the dragline, the piece of machinery that is crucial for MTR operations.
The dragline, a large earth-moving piece of machinery, can be as tall as 20 stories high when used in MTR operations.
This past year, the coalfields of southern West Virginia has seen environmental activists who have climbed and chained themselves to these draglines. It is this machinery that actually digs and removes the earth and coal.
The area is usually prepared for pre-stripping using shovel loaders and dump trucks. During this phase, access roads are constructed to reach the preliminary operation.
This activity continues throughout the life of the MTR operation as area after area is prepared for stripping.
The final extraction phase is ready to begin. The rocks are drilled, blasted and removed from the area being mined. Hundreds of feet may be removed from the top of a mountain during blasting. The now exposed coal seam is splintered through blasting, and the coal is then hauled away. The overburden is then placed on an already mined area and is compacted and used in re-grading. Any excess overburden remaining after the area is back-filled is placed into a valley fill. Then, reclamation, attempts to restore the area to a useful standard, occurs.
This could involve using the graded and compacted topsoil on the now stripped site as well as reseeding for vegetation. Or, the area could be leveled flat and paved for industrial and commercial use, wherein lies the aspirations of many enterprising residents of the coalfields.
A quick and efficient way to obtain coal, there was an upsurge in use of MTR methods during the 1990s.
As a direct result of mountaintop removal, the environment of southern West Virginia has been impacted as the conversion of continuous hardwood forests have been turned into a fragmented landscape interspersed with grasslands more characteristic of mid-western states than Appalachia.
The increase in mountaintop removal has impacted southern West Virginia not only environmentally, but socially and culturally as well.
Lindytown is a prime example of one Appalachian community that has experienced this ever-encroaching presence of mountaintop mining.
As the Coal Valley News reported last week, a drive through Lindytown looks more like a wild west ghost town than the once rugged and rural Appalachian community that dwelled in the narrow holler.
Continual blasting to the area prompted several area residents to verbalize their complaints – and this newspaper ran their stories of frustration.
Today, those same residents have relocated their homes, opting for a payout from Massey Coal, opting for relief from the constant blasting and dust that had become a part of their daily routine.
One family, the Richmonds, have yet to sell their property. Lawrence and Quinnie Richmond, as well as their son and his family, remain in their homes.
They’re not the only people living in the area however.
According to Michael Workman, who voluntarily patrols the area to protect area residents and Massey’s interests from looters, there are a few homes still occupied.
Workman speculates that at least one of the homes is being rented, while other residents who have already sold their homes have yet to vacate the premises.
According to Workman, many residents along the narrow main holler road were given until August of this year to pack up their possessions and vacate the property now owned by Ceres Land Company, a part of Massey Energy Co.
It is this land company that Workman was able to ascertain an agreement. Officially titled a “release and assumption of risk,” the release gives Workman permission to “enter, view and remove lumbar [sic] and other components from the dwelling purchased by Ceres Land Company.
“I’m not doing anything that anyone else couldn’t have done – legally,” Workman says.
Workman, who read last week’s article and recognized himself as the “guard” that former residents make reference to, say he was the one who approached Massey to bring to the company’s attention an increase in looting.
According to Workman, it was Massey’s land agent David Trent, who himself expressed concern for the safety of the residents still living in Lindytown, that said Massey did not have official security guards allocated in their budget currently. In essence, Workman says Trent was appreciative of the help in maintaining a safe area for those who remained in the area.
“We didn’t have to buy any of these properties for our mine plan; we bought them as an additional safety measure,” says Massey spokesperson Jeff Gillenwater this past Monday.
According to Gillenwater, Massey began purchasing the homes in Lindytown in December 2008. For those who took the option to sell, Gillenwater says Massey gave them enough time vacate the premises.
“Though I don’t think it was in writing. Mr. Trent worked with each family individually so they could get their personal properties and possessions out,” Gillenwater explained.
Gillenwater verified that Massey did not contract a security guard, but was aware that there was a person in the area patrolling for looters.
According to Workman and Gillenwater, previous reports that Lindytown would be bulldozed down is inaccurate.
“We are going to remove some of the houses on the left hand side of the road. They will be removed in a responsible manner,” Gillenwater said.
According to Gillenwater, the home currently occupied by the Richmonds, and his neighbors, will remain standing.
“There’s no particular plan for those that are left – at least one of them is being leased to somebody else,” he said.
Which begs the question, for this reporter, why it would be necessary to relocate the residents currently living there if the homes in question are to be leased to new tenants?
Again, Gillenwater says the rationale is that the purchase of the properties were made as an additional safety measure.
“We’ve done the due diligence before we bought the properties,” Gillenwater says in response to accusations from various community members that land was being sold to the coal company by persons other than those with a proper deed.
Gillenwater told the Coal Valley News on Monday that he was not aware of any plans by Massey to further their mining operations toward the neighboring town of Twilight. If you are a Lindytown transplant, or have memories of growing up in the area, the Coal Valley News is compiling memories from area residents for a future special issue on “Remembering Lindytown.” You can send your correspondence to Editor, Coal Valley News, 350 Main Street, Madison, W.Va. 25130.