“This wasn’t the first time,” Cook said. He explained, “On June 30, I had taken a photographer with me to the cemetery. These cemeteries have been in the family since the 1800s and I was working on a family tree and family history.”
“We discovered that the coal company that is strip mining — it’s called the Cook Mountain Strip — they have blocked the access road from James Creek,” he said.
“The only way to get to the cemetery is to go over a man-made road block. We used to be able to take 4-wheelers to these cemeteries, but right now, the only way to get to these cemeteries is by crawling over the road blocks,” Cook explained.
Horizon Resources LLC is operating a surface mining operation on the mountain, and though by state law, coal companies mining near cemeteries must allow family members access to those cemeteries, that does not appear to be the case on Cook Mountain.
According to West Virginia State Law, article 37-13A-1, “Access of certain persons to cemeteries and graves located on private land. For the purposes set forth in section two of this article, the state recognizes that the owners of private land on which a cemetery or graves are located have a duty to allow ingress and egress to the cemetery or graves by family members, close friends and descendants of deceased persons buried there, by any cemetery plot owner, or by any person engaging in genealogy research who has given reasonable notice to the owner of record or to the occupant of the property or to both the owner and occupant. The access route may be designated by the landowner if no traditional access route is obviously visible by a view of the property.”
According to family members, there are two access roads into the Cook family cemeteries – one through James Creek and the other by way of Lindytown.
“I talked to a guy from the DEP and a guy with Horizon on the 30th and they told me that they did have Lindytown-side open but had to keep James Creek side closed because of work on the strip mine,” Cook said.
Cook says a representative with the DEP told him that the Lindytown side was open and the mine had taken a grader half-way down the mountain.
“Yet, I tried going up yesterday and it was blocked off at Lindytown, too. The only access road to the cemetery is through the mine site itself and the entrance to the mine site is at Wharton,” Cook told the Coal Valley News this past Monday evening.
“They won’t let our families go up because of the blasting,” he said. Cook and his family frequently visit the graves of his fifth great grandfather, civil war veteran William Chap, who is buried on the mountain.
“My sixth great grandfather and four other relatives are buried about fifty yards from where the big cemetery is,” he shared. “I enjoy going to these cemeteries to take care of them and visit with my family and I have been blocked from doing this now,” Cook said.
Cook says he is asking that the mining operation reopen and maintain the access road to these family cemeteries.
“We want the company to open both these routes so people on the James Creek side and the Lindytown and Twilight side can get to the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried,” he said.