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Should Arch Coal Be Allowed to Destroy Historic Blair Mountain Battlefield?

Arch coal may be planning mining and mountaintop removal operations within the boundaries of one of the most important labor and civil rights monuments in the nation.

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We have followed up on that most specifically by opening the Blair Community Center and Museum, in Blair, WV. This came directly from the march, when the son of Winnie Fox, an ardent anti-MTR activist who passed away this year, agreed to let us use an old Methodist church he owned in Blair. So, the march ended with something very concrete in that we have a foothold in Logan, WV, the belly of the beast of the coal industry, in a community that supports the work we do.

JB: Describe the plans for your new Blair Community Center and how people can support you? Are you working with WV schools, as well, to teach the history of Blair Mtn, coal mining, union rights?

BN: First, the community of Blair was almost destroyed in the late 1990s by an Arch Coal MTR operation directly behind the town. Currently, multiple MTR permits are converging on the town, plus a longwall miner underground. The community has gone from about 700 people in the 1990s to about 90 people today. Quite frankly, Blair is being destroyed by Arch Coal.

So, the Community Center and Museum has multiple purposes. We educate and raise awareness of the history of coalmining and struggles for union rights such as at Blair Mountain. We also operate our Friends of Blair Mountain office out of here to preserve the battlefield. Additionally, we work to bring vibrancy back to Blair by stimulating local economic developments centered on tourism of the Blair Mountain battlefield. We also maintain a space within the community to socialize. We’ve already had multiple events, and we are developing more for the spring and summer. We work with community members to address their problems when Arch Coal tries to treat them roughshod. We just try to be good neighbors, to contribute to the community as best we can.

One of our major projects is attempting to bring a heavy-duty reverse osmosis water filtration system to the Community Center. Blair has completely toxic drinking water, and everyone has to buy their water since municipal water lines do not run to the town. We are working on getting a filling station constructed where people can get free and clean drinking water.

People can support us in many ways, from donating money, to spreading the word, to writing their congress people, or even joining in the effort by getting in with a working group, just contact us at friendsofblairmountain@gmail.com. If you’d like to donate, you do so by going to either of our sites, www.friendsofblairmountain.org or www.blairmountainmuseum.org.

JB: While UMWA officials are supporters of preserving the Blair Mtn. Battlefield from strip mining, the UWMA has openly supported non-union mountaintop removal operations (proposed at Spruce, for example) and defends other massive MTR operations, such as Hobet. Do you consider the impact of MTR on Blair Mtn and its residents more important than the impact of other UMWA-supported MTR operations, and why should funds and resources be expended to protect the battlefield, as opposed to other areas being destroyed by the UMWA?

BN: The Blair Mountain battlefield is only one of hundreds of mountains that have been destroyed or are slated for destruction. Every single mountain deserves to be saved. I am first and foremost an Appalachian, and my allegiance is to the people around me rather than any single organization. The UMWA has done a lot of good for coalminers, ones I know personally here in Blair. But, on the mountaintop removal issue, I believe they are on the wrong side of history. We’re working on engaging in dialogue to change this. There are some really good people in the UMWA, and we hope to continue to build unity and pragmatic solutions where we can.

 
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