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COURT HEARS 2ND BATTLE OF BLAIR


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Wednesday, May 08, 1991
Page: P7A
Byline: PAUL NYDEN

The second battle of Blair Mountain moved to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, where lawyers debated whether the historic mountain should be saved or strip-mined.

Much of the 45-minute debate focused on why Blair Mountain - the site of the largest armed confrontation in U.S. labor history _ is not on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aracoma Coal Co., a subsidiary of A.T. Massey Coal, wants permits to construct a 500-foot dam, a 300-acre sludge pond and a 912-acre mountaintop removal mine there.

For the first time, DOE argued publicly it already has enough information about the historic resources to determine whether or not the permits should be issued. In its permit applications, Aracoma Coal made no mention of the historic importance of Blair Mountain.

""This was not a good faith application," said Grant Crandall, who represented the West Virginia Wildlife Federation, the United Mine Workers and the West Virginia Labor History Association.

""They filed an application and tried to slide it through." Crandall wants the court to order DOE to require Aracoma to re-submit the application, adding information about historic resources.

Assistant Attorney General Russell Hunter said Blair Mountain is not listed, nor presently eligible to be listed, on the National Register of Historic Places. Robert McLusky, a lawyer from the firm of Jackson & Kelly, represented Aracoma and backed Hunter.

""Are you saying it Blair Mountain is not eligible because it has not been nominated?" Justice Margaret Workman asked.

""My house is on the National Register. I would think that Blair Mountain could be. Did the bureaucracy run amok here? Why hasn't this been nominated?" William Farrar, the state's deputy historic preservation officer, previously stated, ""Blair Mountain is clearly eligible to the National Register; a defined boundary of the area of significance is all that is missing in the existing nomination." Justice Richard Neely questioned the value of an historic park on Blair Mountain, as opposed to hundreds of new jobs the mining complex would create. ""Who is going to come from Montana, Minnesota or Iowa to look at Blair Mountain?" he asked Crandall.

""We are living in what could easily be called the welfare capital of the world," Neely said. ""McDowell County is so poor that we have to advance them money before they can hold a jury trial.

Should we take the one industry that wants to come in here and make it hard for them?" Hunter called the Aracoma applications ""the most voluminous in the history of DOE." Hunter said state and federal regulations do not make it clear ""how the state regulatory agency is supposed to coordinate work with the state historical agency." At one point, Justice William Brotherton suggested that officials of the two agencies might use telephones to call each other Chief Justice Thomas McHugh said to Hunter, ""It seems to me that you are very uncomfortable being here and that DOE is very uncomfortable. Maybe the Supreme Court has to step in and say there has to be some coordination between state agencies." The court is likely to rule on the petition late this week or early next week.

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