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The Charleston Gazette (West Viginia)

Mountaintop Removal: Fourth of July Festival Organizers Fear Violence

Paul J. Nyden

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Larry Gibson, the well-known, 72-year-old activist against mountaintop-removal mining, will host his annual July 4 music festival at his Kayford Mountain home above Cabin Creek Saturday and Sunday.

"I've been having this event, which is open to the public, for 23 years. Everyone is welcome," Gibson said.

Maria Gunnoe, a Boone County native, who won this year's international Goldman Environmental Prize in April for her anti-mountaintop-removal activism, is among the many planning to attend.

"A lot of elders and a lot of children, show up," Gunnoe said. "Normally, it is very peaceful.

"People get together, socialize and listen to very diverse music," she said. "Some is traditional Appalachian music. Some is music for younger teenagers, including rock music. It is a good time with your family and friends."

But both Gibson and Gunnoe worry this year's festival could spark hostility and possibly violence, especially after last week's arrest of demonstrators protesting Massey Energy's mountaintop removal operations in Boone County.

Gibson, in particular, said he has received threats since the arrests.

No one could be reached at Massey Energy's offices in Boone County on Friday.

A spokesman for the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department said he had heard nothing about any rumors of violence at Gibson's planned July 4 celebration.

On June 23, 31 picketers were arrested, including: actress Daryl Hannah, National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist James Hansen and former Democratic Congressman and West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler.

Protesting near Sundial, the picketers were charged with obstructing police officers and impeding traffic after sitting in the middle of W.Va. 3 near a controversial Massey coal preparation plant next to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

A nearby Massey dam impounds about 3 billion gallons of coal sludge from company mining operations.

Gibson's festival started out as a family reunion, but quickly grew into an annual community event.

Last week, Gunnoe distanced herself from "out-of-state environmentalists," explaining, "We are connected to the environment around our home lands. We care about our culture. But that does not make us tree huggers."

Gibson hopes today's event is well attended.

"Everyone is welcome. Bring a covered dish. But this is not a place for any kind of violence. But bring a conversation to the table. I would be glad to talk to anyone," Gibson said.

Gibson, whose family has lived on or near Kayford Mountain since the late 1700s, travels around the country speaking about mountaintop removal at colleges, churches, public seminars and community groups

"The stand I am taking here is not so much for myself," Gibson said, "but for all of the people living in this part of the country."

Gunnoe said, "Some people have had windows broken out of their vehicles because they had 'We Love Mountains' stickers on their bumpers.

"For years, mountaintop removal blasting has covered our homes up with dust and polluted our water," she said. "People fight mountaintop removal because they have lost their water, their land and their quality of life."

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