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STRIP MINES SURROUND FAMILY CEMETERY


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Sunday, April 13, 1997
Page: P1C
Byline: Ken Ward Jr.

SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL Earl Williams was 14 when he was killed in the mines in 1909. Today, a red ribbon tied around his grave marker tells Princess Beverly Coal how close it can bring heavy equipment and dynamite blasts to Williams' family cemetery.

White wooden crosses dot the cemetery, which sits on top of Kayford Mountain at the head of Cabin Creek.

A few graves are decorated with plastic flower arrangements or tiny American flags. The dirt still seems fresh on one of the latest graves, that of Delbert Fraker, who died in 1994.

The headstone for the family patriarch, Jack Stanley, and his wife Ella, says the couple is "Resting till the resurrection." Larry Gibson, Stanley's great-grandson, is trying to save the cemetery and a nearby park that he created for community picnics and family outings. But it's a tough job these days.

Strip mines have him surrounded.

On one side is Princess Beverly Coal. On the other is A.T. Massey.

Just over the ridge is Arch Mineral Corp. Over the other side of the hill, there is another Massey mine.

At the end of a long ride up a battered dirt road, the cemetery sits as a solitary island of grass, brush and scattered trees among the strip- mined moonscape.

Huge shovels have flattened out the hill across from the graves. Dump trucks with tires a dozen feet tall haul out more rock and earth each day.

"This is the last 54 acres the coal companies don't own," Gibson said.

"They own all the rest. I don't think the coal companies have the right to take everything." Gibson and his cousins, Andy and Red Fraker, say the coal companies shower the cemetery with rocks when they blast away part of a mountain to get at the coal underneath.

"I've been up here when they're blasting and the place turns so black with dust you can't see a thing," Gibson said.

Gibson called the state Division of Environmental Protection last month when he found a couple large rocks he said were tossed into the cemetery by coal company blasting.

DEP inspector Phil Mooney asked Princess Beverly Coal to remove the rocks, but didn't cite the company for any violations. Agency officials said it would have been too hard to prove the rocks came from the mining operation.

But DEP did find some rock and earth that the company improperly dumped on Stanley family property as part of mine reclamation. The company was ordered to clean up that mess as well, DEP officials said.

Now, Gibson worries that Massey or Princess Beverly plan to ask DEP to let them move the cemetery access road, or eventually close off the road altogether.

"I'd like to get along with the coal companies," Gibson said. "But I don't have to just sit back and let them do whatever they want." Gibson's fight has started to get more media attention, including a recent visit by a reporter from U.S. News and World Report magazine.

"I told the company they could have my right arm, but they couldn't have the mountain," Gibson said. "We're here and we're here to stay.

They just don't know it yet." The companies have tried to buy the property. But disputes among the many Stanley heirs - not to mention a confusing mess of property rights and survey map problems - have stymied those efforts, state officials said.

Bill Marcum, a spokesman for Massey Coal, says his company has no intentions of shutting off access to the cemetery.

And Ed Griffith, assistant chief of the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, says the agency would never allow that anyway.

Peter Moran, the president of Princess Beverly, doesn't understand what Gibson is complaining about. He says Gibson is just upset because Princess Beverly stopped making donations to the Stanley Heirs Foundation.

"There is nothing happening to this cemetery," Moran said. "It's not being touched. It's not being disturbed." Moran said the cemetery is actually on property owned not by the Stanleys, but by the Kay-Ford-James family partnership in Huntington.

Moran said Kay-Ford-James and Princess Beverly are losing a lot of money by not mining the coal under the cemetery. The companies are also being nice enough to allow the family road access to the cemetery, Moran said.

Moran said he wouldn't mind if a strip mine moved in next to his family cemetery.

"What's the difference, walking downtown [to a cemetery] or seeing an interstate highway beside it?" Moran said. "I'm up there running a strip mine and putting it back. I could look at it all day long.

"That place will look 200 percent better when I get done than when I started."

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