Bee Tree Mine

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Bee Tree Mine is a southern West Virginia operation in Coal River Mountain formerly owned by Massey Energy and now operated by Alpha Natural Resources. It is the site where environmentalists had hoped to put a wind energy facility. Instead, Massey made it a mountaintop removal job, and began blasting there in October 2009.[1]

In November 2009, after urging by activists including Coal River Mountain Watch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials began investigating the Bee Tree site and Massey’s operation there without first obtaining a “dredge-and-fill” permit under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act. Massey had made a change in its surface mining permit from the state that the company believed allowed it to not need a 404 permit. Massey had applied for a 404 permit, but then withdrew that application.[1]

Residents concerned blasting at mine could destabilize coal slurry dam

On July 5, 2011, Coal River Mountain Watch and the Sludge Safety Project will gather supporters outside the federal Office of Surface Mining office in Charleston. Chief among their concerns is a planned permit renewal and proposed blasting for the Bee Tree Mine, which they fear could destabilize the nearby 7 billion-gallon Brushy Fork coal sludge impoundment. Residents note the dam was built by the same engineers behind the Martin County, Kentucky dam, which failed and released some 300 million gallons of coal slurry, creating a flood as wide as a football field and 6 feet deep.

Regulators ordered stability tests on the 7 billion-gallon Brushy Fork coal sludge impoundment in response to residents' concerns. Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement said mining laws require them to assume a citizen complaint has merit, while it is up to the state to determine if the threats of failure and flooding are real. Harold Ward, also of the DEP's mining division, said state inspectors who visit the Brushy Fork impoundment have found nothing to suggest a defect, but that the DEP is working with engineers and Alpha Natural Resources to devise a testing plan to prove it is safe. OSM cited Alpha subsidiary Marfork Coal Co. on May 26, 2011, "for failure to prevent liquification and provide safeguards against the development of this condition."

The dam above Marsh Fork Elementary School has a capacity of more than 8 billion gallons. Emergency response documents say that if it failed, the resulting flood would hit Pettus in just 12 minutes and the communities of Whitesville, Seng Creek and Sylvester within 36 minutes. It would travel through Orgas and Coopertown in the first 90 minutes to Fosterville, Prenter, Comfort and Bloomingrose. In about three hours, it would hit Racine and Peytona.[2]

Citizen action

July 2011: Tree-Sit on Coal River Mountain

Treesit on Coal River Mountain.

On July 20, 2011, protesters associated with the RAMPS Campaign halted blasting on a portion of Alpha Natural Resources’ Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine by ascending two trees and hanging banners that read “Stop Strip Mining” and “For Judy Bonds” in honor of the strip mining activist. The activists demand that Alpha Natural Resources stop strip mining on Coal River Mountain and that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prohibit future strip mining in the Coal River Watershed. As of January 2011, Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha, has destroyed about 75 acres of Coal River Mountain on the Bee Tree permit, the only active mountaintop removal permit on the mountain. Lisa Henderson, Judy Bonds’ daughter and Coal River Valley resident, said she saw the action as a continuation of her mother’s work.[3]

On July 27, 2011 it was reported that that two tree-sit activists, Junior Walk and Eli Schewel, were arrested by state police on the first day of the tree-sit protest and charged with trespassing at the Bee Tree surface mine site.[4] It was reported on August 3, 2011 that Becks Kolins, who had been occupying a tree in protest, descended the tree voluntarily and was arrested a day earlier by the West Virginia State Police. Kolins, along with Catherine-Ann MacDougal, had been sitting in a tree eighty feet above the ground since July 20th to protest the strip mining of Coal River Mountain. [5]

Catherine-Ann MacDougal remained in her tree remained in her tree until August 19, 2011 at which point she descended. “The reality of limited resources now necessitates my descent but this is not the last they will see of us. I plan to remain here and fight for this mountain for years to come,” said MacDougal.[6]

Marfolk Coal sues protestors

On Sep. 15, 2011, Marfork Coal Co. sued the Bee Tree mine protesters, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages. Marfork is also seeking orders against Becks Kolins and Catherine-Ann MacDougal, and their ground support crew, Elias Schewel and Junior Walk, who are with Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival. Marfork wants fines imposed if any of them "trespasses" again. Parent company Alpha had previously said the tree-sitters disrupted blasting for only one day, and did not comment on the lawsuit.[7]

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