From the Archives: The Indypendent, July, 2005


Ed Wiley is concerned for the safety of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, WV, above which sits 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge.
Ed Wiley is concerned for the safety of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, WV, above which sits 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2005

Coal Town Crusade

by Antrim Caskey

CHARLESTON, West Virginia—Tired of being ignored by a rapacious coal company and indifferent politicians, Ed Wiley of Rock Creek, West Virginia began a hunger strike on July 5. It was barely past lunchtime when he got what he wanted: a face-to-face meeting in the state capitol with Gov. Joe Manchin.

“I do believe we’ve opened up quite a can of worms,” says Wiley, who came to press his demand that the students of Marsh Fork Elementary be moved to safety from its current site, which Massey Energy has made toxic.

“You will see some changes in West Virginia, and I believe you’ll see some people shifted around,” adds Wiley, 47, whose 10- year-old granddaughter attends Marsh Fork Elementary, which lies directly beneath an earthen dam holding 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. Wiley refused to leave until Manchin spoke on the steps of the capitol. The governor promised television cameras that he would make sure the Marsh Fork students were safe. His impromptu press conference with Wiley came four days after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved a permit for Massey Energy to expand its coal operations in Sundial.


Wiley’s hunger strike was the latest challenge to the state’s political establishment, which traditionally has had a cozy relationship with the coal industry. 16 people were arrested on May 31 at a protest outside of Massey Energy’s coal preparation plant in Sundial, West Virginia. Four more people were arrested at a June 30 protest at Massey headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

Perhaps no one’s attitude toward the coal industry has changed more than Wiley’s. Six years ago he was helping Massey build roads, slurry lines and sludge ponds – the infrastructure of the devastating practice of mountaintop removal. “I was blinded by the $13.50 an hour I never had,” he says.

“I was blinded by the medical card I never had. I didn’t realize that I was setting up something that could one day kill my granddaughter. They’re putting a price on their own children’s head. Anybody who tells me these [dams] are not supposed to leak – that’s bullcrap. That is a lie.”

In Sundial, locals like Wiley and out-oftown activists are demanding not only that the children be moved to a safe school but that Massey shut down its preparation plant, coal silo, 1,849-acre mountaintop removal site as well as the 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge dam.

“Massey wants it all. They are a cruel people. They don’t care what they do to you,” says Jackie Browning, of nearby Horse Creek. “They make this place so ugly.”


Two days after his meeting with the governor, Wiley and his supporters met with the heads of all the relevant state regulatory agencies to discuss the Massey plant’s harmful impact on the health of the community.

The newly attentive group of government officials also toured a proposed new site for Marsh Fork Elementary students. Wiley and his supporters gave Manchin five days to respond to their demands before returning to their campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience. Wiley’s initial hopefulness waned. “I’m about tired of waiting on them. The governor is dragging his feet,” Wiley told The Indypendent on July 15, after not hearing from Manchin’s office for a week.

Hours later, the governor’s office announced that the permit for Massey to construct a second silo at the site had been revoked. Manchin’s made his decision following a meeting with activists including Jack Spadaro, a whistle-blowing mining engineer. Spadaro dug up information to prove that both the existing and the proposed silos were illegally close to the school – within the 300-foot buffer zone guarding schools from mining operations. Massey had begun construction on the foundation for the silo in April, three months before the DEP granted a permit. “The governor is an ex-coal operator,” Spadaro said. “He’s not an environmentalist. Because it involved children, he had to get involved.”

For more, see and

this article originally appeared in the New York City Indymedia project, The Indypendent, a bi-monthly newspaper, July 2005

Five more arrested protesting Massey Energy mountaintop removal, blasting near sludge dam above Marsh Fork Elementary

Contact: Nicole Motson – 304-854-1937

March 05, 2009

photograph by antrim caskey
photograph by antrim caskey

Five more arrested protesting Massey Energy mountaintop removal, blasting near sludge dam above Marsh Fork Elementary

Around 1:30 today, just three days after the Power Shift Conference and Capitol Climate Action in Washington, DC, and less than a week after Raleigh County Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison granted Massey Energy’s Temporary Restraining Order against Mike Roselle and other members of Climate Ground Zero, a new group of protesters took action to bring a halt to mountaintop removal mining on Massey Energy’s Edwight mountaintop removal coal site above Marsh Fork Elementary in Sundial, WV.
Building upon the momentum of the conference, the growing movement against mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and the urgency of protecting the children at Marsh Fork Elementary from the pending danger of a massive dam failure of the Shumate sludge impoundment above the school, activists were once again arrested during a protest on the Edwight MTR site.  This time however, was different.
Displaying a banner stating “STOP BLASTING, SAVE THE KIDS” atop Massey Energy’s Edwight MTR site, all 5 were arrested and charged with trespassing. Among the group were Joe Gorman, a student from West Virginia University, Cassandra Rice a native of Fairmont, WV, Andrew Munn of University of Michigan and member of Student Environmental Action Coalition, Nicole Moston a freelance videographer and Mat Louis-Rosenberg of the group Mountain Justice.

Since 2005, local citizens have demanded that Marsh Fork Elementary School be moved to protect the children from a massive dam failure like the one that happened in Harriman, Tennessee on December 22 of last year.  The Schumate Dam holds back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal waste in a sludge pond above the Marsh Fork Elementary School and upriver from the towns of Whitesville and Sylvester in the Coal River Valley, about an hour from Beckley, WV.  If the dam were to fail, students and teachers at Marsh Fork would have less than a minute to get upriver before being lost under the rushing toxic spill.

Thursday’s protest shows that the concern for the health and future of southern West Virginia’s mountains and residents spans across the state and even across the nation.  It also shows that not only an isolated group of residents and activists that oppose MTR, but increasingly more people are moved to the point of personally standing up to the coal companies in order to bring more attention to the inherent dangers and destruction that come with mountaintop removal coal mining.

“Personally I see this as an act of violence. It’s violence against nature and an act of violence toward the people who live here. Ethically it’s wrong, and it’s not even economically viable anymore. It’s just wrong on all fronts.” says Cassandra Rice.

Joe Gorman,  “I believe this is the most important battle facing West Virginia.  MTR specifically is the most horrific means of destroying jobs, health, and communities. When the coal is gone, I want there to be jobs for my children and grandchildren.”

Andrew Munn stated “Just across that valley is Coal River Mountain. There’s a dream on that mountain – wind energy promises long term prosperity to the community here. That’s why I’m here. The kids at Marsh Fork – the communities all around Coal River Valley – they deserve better than another destroyed mountain and the dangers that come with it.”

To which Mat Lewis-Rosenberg added, “When you combine that with the danger of going to school below a massive sludge dam, it’s obvious that Massey Energy needs to stop blasting the mountains now, and enable the development of safer and more economically stable alternatives.”

Today’s protest stands as a symbol of the growing movement against MTR.  Over 150 residents from West Virginia joined a hundred other Appalachian residents at last weekend’s Power Shift Conference, which was marked by a substantial focus on mountaintop removal coal mining.  Thousands of protesters stood in solidarity at the conference with those being impacted by MTR and cheered Judy Bonds of Rock Creek, WV as she spoke of what was happening in southern West Virginia.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was also interviewed on the national Fox News network wearing a Coal River Mountain Wind button and spoke in great detail about the issues facing Appalachia. “”I flew over these mountains and I saw what [the coal companies] were doing and if the American people could see what I saw there would be a revolution in this country.?? We don’t have to go to Appalachia and cut down the mountains and poison our children and subvert our democracy.  We can get cheap, abundant energy from the heaven and that’s the way America oughta be.”
full Powershift speech from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Area resident Bo Webb stated, “This assault by Massey Energy on our mountains and surrounding communities will no longer be tolerated.  Our rights have been stripped aside as our mountains have been stripped away.  Americans of good conscience everywhere have been taking notice and now they are taking action.”