Raising the Dead: Memorial Day Activists Jailed in Protest to Stop 998 Coal Sludge Death
By Jeff Biggers, originally published on Huffington Post May 24
In three separate direct actions in the West Virginia coalfields May 23, nonviolent protesters launched the new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a growing national campaign to stop mountaintop removal mining and raise awareness of the catastrophic potential of government regulated blasting near a precarious coal sludge impoundment.
“The toxic lake at Brushy Fork dam sits atop a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines,” said Chuck Nelson, from Raleigh County, West Virginia. “Massey wants to blast within 100 feet of that dam. The company’s own filings with the state Department of Environmental Protection project a minimum death toll of 998 should the seven-billion-gallon dam break. EPA should override the DEP and revoke this blasting permit for the safety of the community.” Nelson did not participate in the civil disobedience actions.
The nearby Shumate Dam sits a few football fields atop the Marsh Fork Elementary School.
In a telling if not bizarre twist of violations and governmental priorities, Mountain Justice activists who floated a “West Virginia Says No More Toxic Sludge” banner atop the toxic multi-billion gallon Brushy Fork slurry impoundment were arrested for “littering.”
Facing a daily assault of over three million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives detonated at mountaintop removal sites in Appalachia, Coal River Valley residents joined with Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero activists at the entrance of Massey Energy’s Marfork mining complex in Pettus, West Virginia, on May 23. According to the Sludge Watch Collective, seven people approached the entrance to the dam facility and the Whitesville detachment of the West Virginia State Police asked them to leave. When the seven refused, the state police arrested them.
The police refused to arrest 94-year-old former Congressman Ken Hechler ( D-W. Va.), who first held congressional hearings on the egregious impact of mountaintop removal in 1971.