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COW CREEK

Marvin Pennington and Kenneth Nunley have never seen the Left Fork of Cow Creek flood the way it did Memorial Day 2004. And they think they know why.

"Never had high water like this before strip mining," Nunley said.

The storm washed out the bridge at the edge of the Pennington's property near the bottom of Left Fork.

    Old and new mountaintop mining does encircle much of the head of Cow Creek. One reclaimed mine is visible as you drive over the mountain from Cow Creek to Ragland. This has the experimental agricultural development with orchards and cattle.

    Pennington went to a meeting on one of the permits several years ago. DEP officials said the valley fill was allowed because Left Fork was not a perennial stream. "I've lived here 60 years," he said, "And I've never seen it dry."

    Now Pennington expects the mines to all join together eventually. "Seven or eight years ago, I thought we were going to turn away from mountaintop," he said, "But not anymore."  He's not against mining, he said. His dad was a union miner. But he worries about the future, especially after a DEP inspector told him he wouldn't want to live up Cow Creek now.

    "People want to stay here," Pennington said. "Their family is buried here."

    "It would be nice," he added, "If the mines gave something back."