The bottom line is very simple - the coal operators, in conjunction with the State Department of Highways, plan to cut off the only public road to the Blair Mountain battlefield, effectively preventing scholars and the general public from studying and visiting the area.
Here are the details as sent to me...
Recently, coal operators moved a much closer towards eradicating one of the most important labor heritage sites in America. On May 17th, the West Virginia Department of Highways held a hearing on the proposed abandonment of County Route 119/7, which will essentially allow the destruction of key elements on Blair Mountain.
Don't be surprised if you weren't aware of that hearing, because the Department of Highways District Manager where the abandonment is proposed never knew about it either! But thanks to the Friends of Blair Mountain, it has come to my attention that we do still have until June 17th to submit our written comments to persuade the agency to make the right decision.
The coal operators and their land company obviously hope this'll pass without opposition, but with your input we can keep this part of people’s history accessible. And it won't cost you a thing, other than a few moments of your time.
According to archeologist Brandon Nida:
"This area is extremely important, as it is one of the only places where both the defensive positions and the miners' approaches are still relatively undisturbed. While some archaeological research has been done in this portion, much work is still needed to comprehend the dynamics of the battle at this location.
If this (abandonment of right of way) happens, the coal operators will control the only route into the southern end of the battlefield, and access would be completely cut off to the general public.
This would then enable lumbering and coal extraction operations to be undertaken in the heart of the battlefield. In addition, without this access, our ability to monitor the site will be severely impeded."
- As of now, the state of WV does not spend any money whatsoever on maintaining the road. It does not cost the state anything, but has the potential to generate funds in the future.
- Alternative proposals for County Route 119/7 that could benefit the public over the long term should be considered. The road could serve as an interpretive hiking trail that showcases the history of miners' struggles and the battle itself. There are many more possible usages and development ideas for the battlefield in which the road would play a central part, and these alternatives could generate long-term employment and public money.
If passed, the abandonment of right-of-way will grant the coal operators the ability to bulldoze one of the most important sections of the Blair Mountain battle sites. The attorney representing Natural Resource Partners, L.P., has stated candidly that it is the intention of his clients to surface mine the area.
If you're opposed to it, please direct your comments to:
Paul A. Mattox, Jr., P.E.
And be sure that you get your comments there before June 17!