It's an old-fashioned service station, the kind that dotted the nation in the middle of the 20th Century. The station itself is clapboard, with an office on one side and work bay on the other. There is a wooden canopy stretching over the space between the station and the gas pumps. Area residents can remember the days when their parents would set out for a day trip to Beckley--making their first stop at Brown's Service Station for a fill-up of gas.
The service station has been in the Brown family for more than 80 years. It lies along the Gauley River, just south of the junction of Routes 16 and 39 in Fayette County. Now that the Gauley River area is becoming a tourist attraction, the quaint gas station just adds to the charm.
Mountaintop removal mining seems somehow out of place along the Gauley River. Yet as you drive north near Brownsville, a bit of bare earth can be seen on the mountain to the west, the early signs of the Vandalia/Appalachian Mining complex. This is an older mine that was mostly idle at the end of the 1990s. With coal prices up, mining resumed and expanded in 2000.
And it's right above the picturesque Brown's Service Station. The Browns' home is tucked into a steep hillside above the gas station. A half dozen rocks from 6 inches to 2-feet in diameter have come off the mine site and landed close to or right by the house. The rocks come rolling down after blasts, she said. There was an old deep mine in the hillside years ago, and a DEP inspector thought that the rocks may be coming from there.
So far, none have damaged the house or hit anyone working in the yard. Nadine Brown is afraid it is just a matter of time before the rocks do real damage. She and her husband used to sleep in the back bedroom, closest to the mine. They have moved to the front of the house now.
This is the closest mining has ever been to the Brown's house and service station. The blasts shake the house. In the beginning, the mine used to call Mrs. Brown when they were about to blast. "They told me to get out of the house," she said. The calls stopped around the beginning of 2001.
The Browns complained to DEP several times. But the inspector always reports that the blasts were in compliance. "Maybe when the rocks come through the house, they will do something," she said.
The Browns aren't the only families with problems from the blasting. There are 149 homes, churches and businesses within seven-tenths of a mile of the blasting. After one complaint in November 2000, the DEP inspector noted that the decibel level was close to the legal limit. The person said that the blasting was too strong and it was shaking his house and had damaged his chimney.