A sign along Route 52 between Delbarton and the BP station at the top of the hill tells drivers when they have arrived at Pie. No sign marks the nearby community of Pigeon Creek, but its residents have made themselves known to the DEP over the past few years.
Water and wells have been the prime concern for people in Pigeon Creek for several years. The area has been extensively deep mined by Mingo Logan (a division of Arch Coal Inc.) and Old Ben Coal. In one six month period in 1995, at least 25 households lost their wells. Some replacement wells were 500 feet deep.
Nearly 100 Pigeon Creek residents met with then DEP commisisoner Eli McCoy in the summer of 1995. He commited to settling the drinking water problems and to try to raise money for a public drinking water system. After that, the mines started drilling "proactive" wells -- before they went dry.
One family who did not get a well replacement was Jimmy and Debbie Hatfield (house on left in photo). They and their next-
door neighbor have lived for some time with water tanks. The water is not fit for drinking, they say. It also runs out at inopportune times like during a shower or load of laundry. The Hatfields had inspectors from both the DEP and federal Office of Surface Mining. They all denied the water loss was mine related.
The Hatfields' 18-year-old house is also damaged from mining, they believe. The front porch brick wall has dropped two inches. The front door does not close properly, and the wood siding is cracked. There are cracked in the walls at the entrace of the stairway at the west end of the house.
However, an OSM inspector found that the mine was too far away from the house to be affected by mining. He said the cracks were caused by shrinkage of the soil. The Hatfields appealed, asking for an informal review of the decision by the Charleston OSM office. They said that the shrinkage did not occur until the mine had dewatered the aquifer.
A geologist at OSM determined there could be some connection between the mine activity and the loss of water. Finally in early January, several OSM and DEP officials returned to the Hatfields. An OSM official ordered DEP to have a well drilled within 30 days. A small victory.
Down the road about three miles, along Rover Branch, the problems come from the Cumberland River Coal Co. mountaintop mine. James Taylor and his family have lived at the end of the hollow for decades. Never did they have the flooding from the mountainside that they had in late June and early July of 1997. And it happened twice in 10 days.
Their photographs show the Taylors' yard entirely washed away after the second storm. They were in Tennessee and
decided to stay there for a month. Not only was their yard hit, but most of the road down to Route 52 was washed out. Now a new road has been built.
After the first flood, DEP officials told Taylor, "It was an act of God. He was skeptical. When the flood came a second time, the DEP official said, "You aren't going to believe this. But it was another act of God." Taylor didn't believe it.
Patricia Bragg lives up Nighway Branch, between Rover Branch and Pigeon Creek. She has been a community leader on mining issues for several years. "Our people are still being treated with the same disrespect and belittling attitude that our ancestors were.," she said. "Why, it's not because we are uncaring or a danger to society but simply because we are hill and holler people. They call it progress. I call it slaughter of a culture that has to fight to retain its way of life."