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Judge dismisses lawsuit to protect Blair Mountain

Oct. 02, 2012 @ 06:09 PM

CHARLESTON — Environmental groups who sued to prevent mining on Blair Mountain have no standing to bring the challenge, a federal judge in Washington ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and other groups, who challenged the removal of the Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1921, some 10,000 coal miners who had been trying to unionize for years marched to Blair and faced down a dug-in army of police and hired guns who had homemade bombs and machine guns. At least 16 men died before the miners surrendered to federal troops in what became the nation’s largest armed uprising since the Civil War.

The 1,600-acre battlefield in Logan County was briefly added to the Register then removed when private property owners objected.  

The case is part of a multipronged effort by labor, environmental and historic preservation groups to protect the site from mining.  

The groups claimed they would be harmed if the battlefield were mined because they would be unable to enjoy it as a historical resource.

Walton said that in order to intervene, the groups would have to show that failing to add the battlefield to the register would cause them actual harm. Because coal companies have owned permits to mine pieces of the property for decades and have not done so, Walton said that any threat of harm is “uncertain at best.”

“Although it is possible that the coal mining companies, despite not having done so before, will begin mining operations on the Blair Mountain Battlefield in the near future, it is also possible that the coal mining companies who own interests in the Battlefield will decide not to engage in surface mining for any number of reasons,” Walton wrote.

“...It therefore strains credulity to conclude that the issuance of a surface mining permit alone establishes that mining is imminent, when several of the permits that were issued more than a decade ago have resulted in no harm whatsoever to the Battlefield.”

Even if it were included on the register, Walton wrote, companies with existing permits still could mine the site.

The ruling was the latest setback for those hoping to protect the battlefield.

Last summer, the state Department of Environmental Protection ruled that about 30 percent of the land is exempt from that declaration because it’s already covered under mining permits, while other areas are exempt because there is clear evidence of past mining activity.