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The Charleston Gazette

Blair Mountain March, Fight Against Mountaintop Removal Continues

Paul J. Nyden

The marchers, who are fighting to end destructive mountaintop removal coal mining, stopped for lunch along Corridor G in Boone County on Tuesday, as part of their weeklong march toward Blair Mountain. (Lawrence Pierce)

RACINE, W.Va. -- About 200 marchers continued their 50-mile trip to Blair Mountain on Tuesday, and their biggest problem seemed to be finding a place along the way to spend the night.

The marchers hope to help save historic Blair Mountain from mountaintop removal operations that have already been discussed by Massey Energy, now part of Alpha Natural Resources, and Arch Coal.

They originally planned to spend Monday night at John Slack Park in Racine, but Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller told the marchers Monday evening they had to leave the site.

"Apparently, they don't permit camping there at any time," Miller said Tuesday afternoon. "We were the intermediaries between the county officials and the marchers.

"We facilitated working things out for them to leave without being arrested. We got everyone to a happy medium. We could please the county officials and were able to facilitate the marchers being able to leave.

Joe Stanley, a retired miner from Mingo County participating in the march, said the director of Slack Park apparently "exceeded his authority" in originally agreeing to let the marchers stay there.

"We stayed around 'till they could become mobile by the time the park closed at 10 p.m.," the sheriff said. "Just because people have different beliefs doesn't mean you have to take a hard line."

Stanley said a group wearing miners' clothing showed up at about 8:30, walked around the park, then left. After the police arrived and told the marchers to leave, they were shuttled back to Marmet, where their march began on Monday, he said. They were brought back to Racine on Tuesday morning.

The marchers ended up walking about 15 miles Tuesday, from Racine to a small park near the intersection of W.Va. 3 and Corridor G, just north of Danville.

They stopped briefly at about 2 p.m. outside the grounds of the Boone Career and Technical Center, part of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College near the town of Foster.

They originally planned to spend Tuesday night on the school's grounds, but were told by college officials they could not do that.

Rodney Smith, an administrator at the college, said on Tuesday he did not know why the marchers were told they could not stay.

"But we don't have much grass. Big Earl's Campground [about five miles north, near Julian] volunteered to let them stay there," Smith said.

But Stanley said the marchers were told they could not stay there either, and they would have to take shuttles back to Marmet to spend another night there Tuesday.

The marchers are retracing the route more than 10,000 miners took during their historic March on Blair Mountain in late August and early September 1921.

The miners, who wanted to help organize union mines in Logan and Mingo counties, got involved in the largest armed confrontation in American labor history. They were confronted by hundreds of Logan County deputies and coal company armed guards along Blair Mountain.

"We are not here to hurt anyone. We are here to save Blair Mountain," Stanley said. "Every ton of coal from a mountaintop removal mine eliminates underground jobs.

"There were a couple of very insulting coal truck drivers who passed us," he said. "But everyone else has been very nice.

Bill Price, from the Sierra Club's Charleston offices, said, "This march has been good. The temperature is hot. But think about what the original miners went through. This is easy.

"A few people have been yelling things at us. But we have received more actual support from people coming out of their houses, waving at us, taking our pictures."

A few signs criticizing the marchers were seen along the route, including a hand-painted sign that said, "Mountaintop Removal Feeds My Kids."

Noah Morris, an EMT from New Orleans walking with the marchers, said he was also a first responder during Hurricane Katrina.

"A big variety of medics are working with the marchers this week," Morris said Tuesday. "We have pulled up jewel weed to decontaminate people from exposure to poison ivy. Local coalfield residents taught me about that plant five years ago."

Morris, who began working with Coal River Mountain Watch a few years ago, said he hopes the march helps "preserve the lushness of these mountains in West Virginia."

Another marcher, Virginia engineer Vincent Pewlowski, said, "We have to save Blair Mountain and labor rights.

"We need energy. But we have a lot of choices. The real costs of coal are health costs -- health costs to miners and local residents."

Referring to the April 2010 explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, Pewlowski said, "I have never seen a solar panel that killed 29 people."

The marchers plan to resume their march Wednesday heading south through Danville and Madison.

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