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Blair Mountain defenders protest in W.Va., Mo.

Blair Mountain defenders protest in W.Va., Mo.

February 18th, 2012 by VICKI SMITH, Associated Press in News

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Activists trying to save the Blair Mountain battlefield from coal mining protested Friday in West Virginia and Missouri, at the offices of two companies that control access to much of the land where unionizing coal miners fought authorities in 1921.

A coalition of historic preservationists, environmentalists and others targeted both the Huntington offices of Natural Resource Partners and the suburban St. Louis headquarters of Arch Coal. They're among several coal companies that either own or lease land on the Logan County mountain and control its coal reserves. Some have permits to mine.

The battle at Blair was the nation's largest armed uprising since the Civil War, and the Logan County mountain is considered an important site in the American labor movement. Some 10,000 coal miners faced down a dug-in army of police and private security guards in a battle that left 16 men dead before the miners surrendered to federal troops.

Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said about 25 protesters gathered outside the company's offices for a peaceful protest monitored by police. No arrests were made. NRP declined to comment.

"The protesters are asking us to stop mining Blair Mountain, when in fact we have no immediate plans to mine on leased reserves in the area," she said. "Our recent activity in the general vicinity centers on reclamation at two existing mine sites."

Arch owns less than 2 percent of the land in question, she added.

Activists have been fighting to protect the 1,600-acre battlefield and get it re-listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They've been promoting the two demonstrations on Facebook and waged a call-in campaign to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin this week.

Spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne said the governor's office received 115 calls between Tuesday and noon Thursday.

"While I understand the concern," Tomblin said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, "there are two lawsuits concerning this land that are working their way through the judicial process on the state and federal levels."

Tomblin also said that the state Department of Environmental Protection "has and continues to act in accordance to the law" in the dispute.

Chuck Keeney, chairman of Friends of Blair Mountain, said his group is not endorsing the protests.

"We're obviously not condemning them, either," he said.

Friends of Blair Mountain is building a community center and museum in Blair and has developed a plan for a state park that follows the model of Stonewall Resort in Lewis County, which is publicly funded but privately run. The group wants a moratorium on new mining activities and time to conduct a full archaeological study of the site.

Keeney said the protesters are continuing a momentum they developed last summer when hundreds staged a 50-mile march from Charleston to Blair to raise awareness of the mountain's history and build support for preserving it.

"I don't think that blasting is imminent," he said, "but by the time it gets to the point where blasting is imminent, it will be too late."

The battlefield was briefly added to the National Register then removed when private property owners objected. A fight over whether it should be relisted is continuing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The activists also sued the DEP in Kanawha County Circuit Court last year after the DEP declared the site unsuitable for mining.

The DEP ruled that about 30 percent of the land is exempt from that declaration because it's already covered under mining permits, while other areas are exempt because there is clear evidence of past mining activity.