Posted by: JohnnyRook | December 16, 2008

Anti-Mountain-Top-Removal Activist Harassed for Trying to Save Her Home

It’s Getting Hot in Here is reporting that anti-Mountain-Top-Removal activist and community organizer, Maria Gunnoe and her family are being harassed by thugs egged on by Jupiter Coal’s Callisto Mine against which local environmental groups recently won an injunction halting mining above her house. The company responded by laying off 39 miners and threatening further layoffs. This are tried and true coal company techniques to turn one group of victims against another.

Photo credit: endmtr.com

Maria Gunnoe is mentioned prominently in Jeff Goodell’s book, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future. Here’s an excerpt from pages 25-26:

Gunnoe came to her views the hard way. In the spring of 2003, Big Branch Creek, which ran only a few hundred feet from her house and was usually small enough to jump over, became a wall of black water roaring down of of the hollow. In the 50 years her family had lived in Bob White, nothing quite like that had ever happened before. Rocks the size of Volkswagens tumbled down the river. The force of the water yanked Rowdy, her rottweiler, right out of his collar and carried him off. Gunnoe dashed through waist-deep water to fetch her daughter at a neighbor’s house, then carried her back through the rising current. She believed they would both drown. Somehow they made it through, and Gunnoe and her family spent the night huddled in her little house above the Big Branch, wondering if the water would wash them away.

Until that moment, Gunnoe had never quite grasped the consequences of the big new strip mines that had opened in the hills above her in 2001. She had heard the blasting and swerved out of the way when the coal trucks came barreling around the corner on one of the local roads. It was scary, but she’d dealt with it. Then the flooding began. In three years, the Gunnoe was flooded six times. It was no mystery what was happening: as the mountains above her were disassembled, the rock and debris was dumped into the headwaters of creeks and streams, creating what the coal industry innocuously calls “valley fill.” When it rained, the naked mountains guttered the water into the hollows. The filled-in headwaters of the creeks only accelerated the momentum of the runoff during storms, often turning a small docile-looking creek like the Big Branch into a raging torrent. This was not a problem particular to Bob White. More than seven hundred miles of streams had been filled in throughout Appalachia, changing the natural drainage patterns and making catastrophic flooding a springtime ritual in the southern coalfields.

Even more dangerous, Gunnoe realized , were the big slurry impoundments ponds that are often built at mining sites–huge man-made lakes designed to store the runoff from coal washing, which are often filled with sludge containing high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and selenium. In heavy rains, the earthen dams that hold these impoundments back sometimes fail, sending tidal waves of black,polluted water down over the people living in the hollows below.

Below you can listen to Maria describe the danger posed to Marsh Fork Elementary School by coal slurry impoundments.

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