Vicki Moore has battled the mine above her home for more than two years. Often she has fought the Division of Environmental Protection. It's been hard. But she can deal with it. What is tearing her up is the announcement of the closing of the elementary school down the road in Sharples. Her son will have to go to school in Boone County and will be in three different school in the next three years.
"This coal company did take everything. The school is closing," she said. "Everywhere we turn a coal company has messed it up. Everywhere a school closed, a coal company came by. This school closing has tore me up because when it closes, we lose everything."
Already nearly two-thirds of the some 200 homes in the historic town of Blair are gone. A real estate subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc., which owns the mine above Blair, bought the houses over the past couple of years. At least two dozen of the houses were then burned, including the fire above on April 13, 1997. Arch said it is not responsible for the fires. The remains of the burnt houses littered the community for months. Last summer, a good amount of the rubble was cleaned up.
The first sight of the mine above Blair is startling as you drive up from Sharples. Several hundred feet have been cut off the mountain above Vicki and Tommy Moore's trailer. They had to move to Sharples because the dust aggravated their son Dustin's asthma. In April 1997, the mine had only gone a few hundred feet by the Moore's trailer. Now it stretches another half mile down the road, all the way to Pigeon Roost. Every time one drives through Blair, it seems as if more of the mountain and the community have disappeared.
For about six months, the mine has been directly behind Carlos Gore' s house. Earlier in the year, he hadn't fought the mine: it wasn't affecting him. "Now it's me and Vicki," he said. The 20-story dragline that towered over the Moore's trailer in the Spring now sits behind Gore's house, clanging and clacking as it chews away the mountain 24 hours a day. In early August, an especially hard blast sent rocks as large as footballs sailing into Gore's yard.
The DEP ordered the mine to move blasting back 1,000 feet. Then Gore showed his rocks during the Citizen's Mine Tour. DEP officials announced they would move the mine back to 2,000 feet from Gore's property. This forced the dragline to shut down. Mines never stop draglines. They are the sun around which the entire operation revolves. So much capital is invested in this $100 million machine, that stopping it makes the mine lose thousands of dollars an hour. Immediately, Arch's attorneys went into action. DEP was able force Arch to modify its blasting plans. But it could not keep the mine 2,000 feet from Gore's house. By law, a mine is allowed up to 300 feet of a home.
Gore has become one of the most outspoken about the problems of mountaintop removal. On Jan. 21, he spoke to more than 250 representatives of the coal industry, officials from the Office of Surface Mining, Environmental Agency and other agencies at a symposium on coal mining in Washington, D.C. "You are destroying our community," he said.
Arch Coal has applied to mine 3,200 more acres.
It would fill down the valley at the bottom of the photograph. The valley fill would end about half a mile from the main road through Blair. More than a 100 people turned out for a public hearing on the mine in early December. Many spoke out against the mine. A smaller number, some employees of Arch, spoke in support. The DEP denied the permit because it lacked some key technical information. DEP will make a decision after it receives additional material. The verdict should come within the next six months.
Recently Vicki Moore got a bit of good news. The school closing has been delayed for awhile. It is quite possible the Sharples school will still be open in the fall. Dustin won't have to ride the bus to Boone County.