Rest in Peace – but Not in Coal Country
In “Blast Rites” Grist Magazine reports on the grievous leveling of family cemetaries in Southern Appalachian as a result of mountaintop removal coal mining. In many cases, the coal company now owns the land where family cemetaries lay. By law, mine operators are not allowed to mine within 100 feet of a cemetary, but that doesn’t always stop them, nor does it lesson the damage incurred by blasting and coal dust, regardless of the 100 foot buffer. Reader beware, the following snips will make you sick.
So when Bowe pulled up on his four-wheeler in early April and spotted a coal company drilling in the middle of what he says was a known, if unnamed, cemetery on White Oak Mountain, he was livid…”I don’t see how the company wouldn’t have known — there was a tombstone sitting there,” he said later. “You can’t miss that. When you see crosses on top of something and sandstone markers, what do you usually associate that with?”
There are hundreds of accounts of sunken graves, uprooted Indian and slave burial grounds, family cemeteries blown to smithereens and compacted into valley fills.
Industry leaders Massey Energy Company, Arch Mineral, and their subsidiaries are accused of drilling under, mining over, or raining sulfurous and acidic emissions down on tombstones and graves across the region. “Many a known burial ground has been annihilated by drilling and blasting,” says Maria Gunnoe, a member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Stover [Cemetary] sits on land now owned by Catenary Coal, and prospective visitors must obtain written permission from the company in advance. When Young and Gibson arrived for a visit last fall, they were refused entrance because guards could not find the email authorizing admission. After a few hours, they gained access, and Young was shocked at what she saw: about two-thirds of the gravestones were scraped to one side of the cemetery, and the wire perimeter fence was knocked over. Many of the graves, Young says, “were sinking into the ground because there were mining cracks, holes that were opening up because of the long wall mining that had been done underneath.”
Sarah Hamilton, a member of Coal River Mountain Watch, had to go through a safety class and sign a waiver absolving Massey of responsibility for her well-being before guards allowed her to enter the Marfork cemetery.
Werry recently discovered that previously readable headstones had become illegible after just 10 years of exposure to the air. And Young has noticed unusual wear and tear on the headstones in her family cemetery, which houses more than 200 graves.
*To be eligible for protection under federal law, a cemetery must be included in the National Register of Historic Places. Prospective registrants must complete a lengthy, multistep application and submit a detailed land survey to establish historical or archaeological significance, and Bonds believes hundreds of cemeteries were already lost by the time residents realized what the registration process entailed. The process of fighting offending coal companies is even more complicated: citizens must not only prove that a cemetery existed, they must provide evidence that the company was aware of that cemetery when it applied for its permit.Advertisements
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