America's Most Endangered Mountains - Ison Rock Ridge, VA| 4mins
Director: Appalachian Voices | Producer: Appalachian Voices
Focus Years: 2009 | Country: United States
Ison Rock Ridge lies just outside of the small town of Appalachia, Virginia in Wise County near the Jefferson National Forest. The ridge runs off of nearby Black Mountain, home to a massive operating mountaintop removal mine just a few miles shy of the Virgina/Kentucky border. Nestled at the foot of the Ison Rock Ridge are communities of Andover and Derby, home to hundreds of people whose health and property would be destroyed by the proposed blasting. The mountaintop removal permit for Ison Rock Ridge has been a contentious issue this year. The permit, currently owned by A&G Coal Company, threatens 1,300 acres of land and three streams that feed into the Powell River watershed, and portions of the permitted mining area lie within the corporate limits of the town of Appalachia. The proximity of the mining to so many homes is an issue of grave concern for the community, and many are weary of A&G's dubious track record. On August 20, 2004, two A&G workers were widening a haul-road that led to active mine site just outside of Appalachia. Their front-loading bulldozer pushed a half-ton boulder off of the mountain, where it tumbled 650 feet and smashed through the back wall of the Davidson's home, killing their three-year old, Jeremy. After two years of trials, the family eventually settled with A&G in civil court for a $3 million settlement. The company was also fined $15,000 by Virginia's Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy for "gross negligence", a sum which A&G officials called "too steep" and appealed in court to reduce. This April, the EPA wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, who controls mountaintop removal mining permits, asking them to deny A&G permission to mine the site. Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division Director John Pomponio wrote, "EPA Region III has extensively investigated the downstream effects of surface mining and associated valley fills. These published findings indicate the type of activities proposed by the applicant are strongly related to downstream biological impairment. [Our] findings also indicate that there may be significant degradation of the waters of the United States and a violation of ... water quality standards." Residents of the effected communities were initially overjoyed by the EPA's letter. Kathy Selvage, vice president of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, said "I am hopeful it means the beginning of the end of the wholesale destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, its watersheds, its streams, its people, and its soul." However, with the mountaintop removal permit still in bureaucratic limbo, the fate of the people and environment of Ison Rock Ridge remains uncertain. If the Army Corps of Engineers were to allow the pending permit, blasting near these communities could begin immediately. To support the communities of Andover and Derby, please contact Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards at (276) 523-4380, or www.samsva.org. SAMS is committed to stopping the destruction of communities by surface coal mining and to help rebuild sustainable communities.