An Alternative to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in West Virginia

Lorelei Scarbro lives in a place most of us would envy - on 10 acres of lush, green southern West Virginia mountain, where deer, turkeys and other wildlife make regular appearances.

Now Scarbro's land is threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining. If you're not familiar with this practice - it's the most destructive kind of coal mining out there. Companies literally blow up the tops of mountains to reach the coal beneath - leaving a barren, rocky landscape. The companies fill nearby valleys and streams with the waste rock - ruining entire watersheds and frequently the water supplies of nearby communities as well. (You can learn more about this type of mining by visiting our coal website.)In Scarbro's case, Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, has applied for four permits (two have been approved) to mine 6,600 acres of Coal River Mountain, including land bordering Scarbro's. The permits would also allow for the construction of at least 19 valley fills, which means mining waste would be desposited in nearly every headwater stream originating from the mountain.

Scarbro and a coalition of environmental and community organizations aren't taking this news from Massey lying down. Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) and these groups have an alternative they say the state coal association claims coal opponents never have: The Coal River Wind Project.

The Coal River Wind Project is a proposed 440-Megawatt wind farm consisting of 220 wind turbines to be constructed on the land slated to be blown away for coal mining, and the coalition has done extensive studies on the area to show just how viable an alternative this wind farm would be. According to the project's study, the wind farm would:

• Create 440 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 150,000 homes in West Virginia.
• Create more than 200 local employment opportunities during the construction phase, and 40-50 permanent operations and maintenance jobs during the life of the wind farm.
• Provide Raleigh County and West Virginia with a source of clean, renewable energy, as well as a sustained tax income that could be used for the construction of new schools for the county.
• Allow for concurrent uses of the mountain that could revitalize the local economy and bring sustainable economic development for the surrounding communities.

Adding that the jobs would be longer lasting than the proposed mining jobs, Scarbro said, "This is the viable alternative."

For Rory McIlmoil, who works for CRMW with Scarbro, if the mountain must be developed to meet the growing energy needs of the state, then why wouldn't you choose the option that's less destructive, much cleaner, and creates a more viable economy in the long run?

"This is definitely a 'much lesser of two evils' in terms of environmental impact," said McIlmoil. "The strip-mines will lead to the clearing of over 6,000 acres of native hardwood forest, whereas our maximum estimate for the clearing that would be related to the wind farm is 200 acres."

McIlmoil can get even more detailed in the numbers for turbine siting, just ask him. He's also tallied the wildlife impact.

"And when you talk about the birds and the bats, the loss of 6,600 acres of natural habitat is likely to have a much greater impact on populations than the wind farm would, especially considering the fact that a 10,000-plus acre mountaintop removal site (Kayford Mountain) sits to the north of Coal River Mountain and another 8,000-plus acre site sit to the southwest (the Twilight Mining Complex). So Coal River Mountain is basically a habitat buffer zone between two existing mountaintop removal sites."

Scarbro and other Coal River Wind Project supporters have met with officials from just about every city, state and private agency and organization you can imagine to garner support for the plan - and many like the idea. They also have nationwide support from a number of organizations (including the Sierra Club national and local groups).

McIlmoil added the wind farm isn't just an idea - they even have developers highly interested in it.

Now McIlmoil, Scarbro and the coalition want to meet with Massey Energy and the company that owns the Coal River Mountain property to see if this wind farm plan can become a reality.

"We're hoping (the meeting) happens soon so we can sit down and try to work out possibilities here," said Scarbro.

The coalition behind this wind project has covered all the bases - even answering the question about whether post mountaintop removal land can be used for wind turbines: Scarbro said studies show that post-mountaintop removal land is too unstable for turbines, and trying to stabilize the land would make the building costs exceptionally higher. And because the mountain would be significantly lower than before, building turbines makes no sense due to the dramatic loss of wind power potential.

McIlmoil and Scarbro need all the support they can get, so we urge you to check out their website and help them build a wind farm instead of watching yet another Appalachian mountain get blown away.

"This is not just about green jobs, even though we desperately need those,"said Scarbro. "It's not just about renewable energy, even though we desperately need that. This is about saving the mountain and keeping it intact. We want to save vegetation, wildlife, and continue the Appalachian way of life - hunting, fishing, gathering herbs, and more. These are things we can't do if Massey comes in and destroys everything in its path."

Tags: Coal | Electricity

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