Photo Essay: Kayford Mountain Lock Down

8 Activists Arrested at Kayford Mountain Lock Down
Antrim Caskey

Kayford, WV — Eight activists with a coalition of groups including Mountain Justice and Climate Ground Zero walked on to the Patriot Coal mountaintop removal coal operation on Larry Gibson’s Kayford mountain in the early morning hours of March 23, 2009. Six of the protestors locked themselves, in groups of three, to a piece of massive earth moving equipment–referred to as a Yuke–with tires 24′ tall and hung a banner reading “Never Again” on the machine. The activists locked down for five hours. Ten officers from three different state and county authorities responded to the protest on Kayford, the largest number of people to be arrested during this sustained campaign of non violent civil disobedience that began in February, 2009.

The eight activists arrested include Kim Kirkbride, Ash-Lee Henderson, Tanya Turner, Jared Story, Willie Dodson, Will Wickham, Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, and Glenn Collins.

The activists were arrested and taken to Boone County seat at Madison, were processed and released on their own recognizances.

Kayford Mountain Action, May 23, 2009 - Images by antrim caskey

GUNNOE WINS GOLDMAN FOR WEST VIRGINIA Maria Gunnoe Wins Goldman Environmental Prize Second Appalachian Activist to win prestigious prize– Bonds and Gunnoe both radicalized to action in southern West Virginia by atrocities of mountaintop removal coal mining.


Maria Gunnoe, of Bob White, WV, wins the Goldman Environmental Prize today.
Maria Gunnoe, of Bob White, WV, wins the Goldman Environmental Prize today. photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2009

Bob White, West Virginia — Maria Gunnoe, renowned Appalachian activist, has received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize today, awarded each year to grassroots activists working on community environmental issues from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions.

Gunnoe has spent the last seven years of her life fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.  Gunnoe’s activism began when her family home-place in Bob White, southern West Virginia, was flooded in 2003.

During an interview in May, 2005, Gunnoe described the June, 2003 flood, the largest of seven floods the Gunnoes endured between the years 2000-2005, to this reporter,

“There was a 30 foot wall of water washed down from this mine site and destroyed not only our property but our lives.  The water took a swath 20 feet deep and 67 feet wide right through the middle of everything we owned.  It filled my barn full of rock and debris so much that we can’t even open the doors.  It washed through the barn and continued down to where our family dog was tied and ripped him right out of his collar as we watched helplessly.  Then it took out our only access bridge blocking in the equipment we needed to make our living.  After the water took out the bridge, it then washed out the septic system, contaminated our ground water, and washed away about 5 acres of our property including our orchard. We were trapped in with no way out and the emergency services could only get within yelling distance. We came back to the house and went inside. The water was now about 20 feet from the foundation of our home and it wasn’t stopping.  I dropped to my knees and begged for God to stop this water.  ‘Please God, don’t let this water take our house and our lives, it’s already taken our home.’ ”

“It was like a ragin’ river coming out of there.  We sat here all night long listening to trees and tin, you could hear it but you couldn’t see it.  It was pitch black.  It was an eerie sound.  I can’t explain it. You’d have to have been here to understand.  you could hear it all night long…There was water washing underneath the concrete floor in the garage.  The garage was poppin’ and crackin’… What we’d done through the evening, We got the kids dressed. Plastic bags in their pockets. Coats. Hats…”

“We were haulin’ all that stuff outta the garage.  It was five am, I fell asleep sitting up on the couch.  Daylight came.  I woke up.  I looked up and I lost it.”

“I went straight up to the mining company.  I told that lady guard that I wanted to talk to Bob Cline now.
She said to me, ‘I’ll give ’em the message but they are busy men.’ “

“That made me even angrier.”

Fifteen minutes after Maria got home, Bob Cline, the chief mining engineer from Patriot coal, which operated the 2200-acre mountaintop removal site behind her home arrived at her house.

The first thing Cline said to Maria was, “you know we are not liable for this.  This is an act of God.”

Soon after the horrendous 2003 flood, Gunnoe met face to face with Joe Manchin, III, who was campaigning for Governor at the time. Maria described the encounter this way,

“Joe Manchin looked me and my daughter in the face and said, ‘We’ll see if we can get you some help up there.’  Three days later someone calls promising help, but we need you to sign a waiver to release the coal company from all liability,” Gunnoe recalled.

Gunnoe’s resolve to stand up for her rights only intensified in the face of such callousness — it fueled her fight for justice. Gunnoe’s life has been “turned upside down” by what the coal operators above her were doing to the land, all in the quest for the dirties fossil fuel, coal. Patriot Coal decapitated Big Island mountain–removing the top 400 feet, this is mountaintop removal– and buried Big Branch creek, an Appalachian headwater stream that meandered through the Gunnoe home-place, providing fresh mountain water to drink and play in. Today, Big Branch creek is a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stream, or in layperson’s terms, “a pollution spillway.”

Thousands of miles of these vital headwater streams have been buried by valley fills, giant plugs of crushed mountaintops that are dumped into Appalachian valleys after the mountaintops are blown up with explosives, which according to Dr. Benjamin Stout, a biologist at Wheeling Jesuit University, has put the drinking water source for the southeastern United States at risk.

Virtual Flyover of Maria Gunnoe’s home produced by Benji Burrell and

Crackdown on Coal

Mike Roselle and James McGuinness shut down massey Energy on Cherry Pond mountain in southern West Virginia, February 25, 2009.  photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2009
Mike Roselle and James McGuinness shut down massey Energy on Cherry Pond mountain in southern West Virginia, February 25, 2009. photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2009

ROCK CREEK, WVa — The gig is up on mountaintop removal coal mining. The Obama administration has spoken out on the issue for the first time. Today, Lisa Jackson, director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced plans to place a hold on hundreds of permits for mountaintop removal coal mining, for review, to determine the “effects on streams and wetlands.”

It’s an excellent first step towards ending the appalling practice of obliterating the ancient, forested Appalachian mountains and running out her people who’ve lived and depended upon the bounty of these hills for centuries.

But what about the hundreds of permits that have been granted already?  It will take at least five years for active permits to run their course of destruction. With only 3% – 5% of post-mined lands reclaimed, cleaning up after Massey Energy in Appalachia is a shovel ready proposition.

Today’s announcement is certainly a harbinger for positive change but today’s announcement does not stop the three million pounds of explosives used in mountaintop removal operations every day in West Virginia. Today’s announcement does not stop the blasting on Cherry Pond mountain and the toxic aftermath that rains down on Bo, JoAnne, Danny and Rosa.

We now need to halt all mountaintop removal operations. Shut them down.