Of all the medium-sized communities in the coal fields, Delbarton would probably win the award for enthusiasm and progress. Located about eight miles southeast of Williamson in Mingo County, the little town is undergoing a revitalization under Mayor John Preece. Several dilapidated store buildings have been torn down, while some are slowly being replaced with modern look alikes.
Photo from Delbarton web site. Find out more about town and its history.
The first renovation created the Delbarton Inn. The rambling old storefront was recreated, and a modern motel was added in the back. Located in the center of town, guests can walk to downtown attractions, such as the open-air bluegrass on Saturday nights.
The town has installed public water and sewer and is hoping to extend the lines towards Ragland, which badly needs public sewer. A community center is being created. Tourism is increasing rapidly thanks to the Moonshine Hill motorbike hill climbs several times during the summers. Mayor Preece regularly posts progress reports on the web site.
Delbarton is in the heart of the "Billion Dollar Coalfields" as the billboard states in nearby Williamson. Coal trucks rumble the six or so miles from the four-lane Route 119 up to the preparation plant about two miles before the center of town. The plant processes coal from at least three Massey Energy mines: Delbarton Mining deep mine, a surface mine near Holden and the Alex Energy surface mine near the Harless Industrial Park, which straddles the Mingo-Logan County border about 15 miles northeast of Delbarton. Truck traffic increased significantly in February 2003, local residents say.
Prep plants need to be close to roads, railroads and year-round streams (which supply water for washing coal). Sometimes they start out fairly small, but grow as mining operations increase. Often, they are within a half-mile of homes. But this preparation plant sits closer than most to a substantial residential area. It also recently got permits to expand.
Entrance to prep plant on Route 65.
Slurry impoundment from above. (photo by Larry Maynard)
Slurry impoundment as seen from Route 65 and community.
The increased truck traffic and coal moving at the plant is covering homes with dust. People have to clean their air filters every month, and wash their homes frequently. Some say they are having trouble breathing. These problems are much like what happened in Sylvester in Boone County after that plant was built in the mid-1990s. Citizens there sued Elk Run, a Massey subsidiary, and recently won small monetary awards. More importantly, the judge in Boone County ruled that Massey must install state-of-the-art dust controls and eliminate the dust. Though the Department of Environmental Protection had forced Elk Run to build a dome over the coal stockpiles, the judge's order requires far more extensive controls.
One area resident says that Mingo County is the only place where the snow coming down is black. The coal dust and truck traffic have made her ashamed of where she has lived her entire life. Recently, a sister she had not seen for 38 years planned a visit. The reunion never happened: the road was too dangerous and the community too dirty.
What is equally worrisome to Delbarton residents, is the slurry impoundment that is being built on the hill above the plant and in view of the houses below. (See photos above). Right now Elk Run is blasting to open up an area for building the dam out of black coal fines. The blasting is damaging residents, homes, they say. They also fear what would happen if the dam should break and millions of gallons of coal slurry spill out as happened in October 2000 at a Massey mine in Kentucky. Like the Kentucky operation, this slurry impoundment is built over a mined-out deep mine that closed down in the 1930s.