MAC: Mines and Communities

North America Update

Published by MAC on 2006-04-27

North America Update

27th April 2006

Newmont, the world's second-largest gold mining company (now that Placer Dome and Barrick Gold have merged), may be making shareholders happy with its rising share price, but management was still worried enough about the rising global tide of protest against the company's irresponsible practices to actually move its annual meeting to try (unsuccessfully) to avoid them. It didn't help that several shareholders and their proxies were at the meeting to question CEO Wayne Murdy directly, including a delegation from the Western Shoshone, who contribute massively (if unwillingly) to Newmont's well-being and whose long-standing abuse at the hands of the US government was recently condemned by United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

If massive lead poisoning wasn't enough, the town of Picher, Oklahoma is also at risk of subsidence. On January 31. the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told townspeople that a study of crumbling underground mine shafts showed entire swaths of their community could literally cave in at any time. The town seems to have no choice but to close, and townspeople and businesses can only hope for a buyout from the government.

Coal mining is also in the news as reports emerge that a federal inspector tried to close down a portion of the Alma No. 1 coal mine operated by Aracoma Mining Co. in West Virginia just days before a Jan. 19 fire killed two miners, but was overruled by supervisors. In Sundial, West Virginia, students Marsh Fork Elementary School not only suffer coal dust and chemical contamination emanating from Massey Energy's coal silo just behind the school, but are at risk of being wiped out if the dam above the school holding back over 2 billion gallons of coal waste collapses. Farther west in Arizona, Navajo activists are protesting negotiations between the Navajo Nation and Peabody Coal just as a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council has concluded that Peabody is draining the Navajos' and Hopis' main source of drinking water at a rate that cannot be sustained. In the Northwest, Moose Mountain Member Corp. has received permission to explore for coal in an area near Glacier National Park, just north of the Canada-US border. The permit approval already has some south of the border worried about potential effects to water quality in Montana's Flathead River Basin.

Borrowing a convenient Canadian regulatory fiction, Northern Dynasty claims it can mine the Pebble gold and copper deposit in Alaska without a "net loss" of fish habitat.,2777,DRMN_23914_4650439,00.html

Crowd inside and out: Newmont meeting draws shareholders, protesters

[photo: Linda Mcconnell © News] Gabe Oner, left, Mac Liman, center, and Sarah Graves, all of Denver, protest Newmont Mining Corp. outside the Inverness Hotel on Tuesday. Newmont held its annual meeting at the hotel, where CEO Wayne Murdy discussed the gold mining company's strong financial results and defended its record in the communities around the world where it does business.

By Joanne Kelley, Rocky Mountain News

26th April 2006

ARAPAHOE COUNTY - Protesters outnumbered shareholders Tuesday at Newmont Mining Corp.'s annual meeting, but tight security kept most of the company's critics from getting close to the official event.

Company CEO Wayne Murdy, speaking before a standing-room-only gathering at the Inverness Hotel, spent a few minutes recounting the gold mining company's strong financial results.

He spent the rest of the meeting defending Newmont's record in the far-flung communities where it does business.

"It's all about balance," Murdy said in response. "Can we make everybody happy? No. We don't live in that kind of world."

Several shareholders or their proxies peppered Murdy with questions about everything from water quality to wages in some of the countries where the company operates its mines. Most of the concerns centered on operations in Nevada, Peru, Indonesia and Ghana.

"It's clear you have the impression progress has been made on many fronts - how do you account for the continuing level of protest?" asked Paula Palmer, executive director of Boulder-based Global Response, an environmental group.

The Rev. Marco Arana, of Peru, and Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, of Ghana, again traveled to the annual meeting to ask the company to do more for local residents or for the environment in their respective countries.

Newmont backed off plans to expand a mine near Arana's home base in Cajamarca, Peru. But Arana, who also heads an environmental organization there, wants Newmont to address his concerns about water quality and pay levels for local mine workers.

Murdy contended Newmont has brought "some good advantages," such as new schools and steady jobs, to areas where rural peasants depend largely on "subsistence farming and fishing."

In several cases, he said he would try to resolve some of the contentious issues raised by those who traveled to the meeting.

Down the road from the meeting, more than a dozen deputies from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office blocked the entrance and kept a close watch on several dozen assembled protesters.

Mark Tilsen, a community organizer from Porcupine, S.D., stood in the cold to hold up one side of a banner that read: "Our lives are more precious than gold."

Many of the protesters arrived on a red double-decker bus arranged by some of the protest organizers after the company changed the meeting site from downtown Denver because of concerns about security.

At the hotel, screeners used handheld security wands to check shareholders and guests before permitting them to enter the meeting room. Despite the handful of pointed questions aimed at Murdy, most Newmont stakeholders stayed mum until after the meeting.

The company's stock has increased about 7 percent this year.

"The stock is up - we're very pleased," said Clark Upton, a retiree who lives in Greenwood Village and came to the meeting with his wife, Pat. "I feel like investing in Newmont is a better way to participate in the rising price of gold."

Activists set to protest Newmont's practices

25th April 2006

Investors at the mining company's annual meeting today will also see demonstrators who say the firm hurts people and the environment.

By Tom McGhee, Denver Post Staff Writer

[Photo: David Silver, associate clinical professor of preventive medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, speaks Monday at the Auraria campus at a conference on the impact of mining on indigenous peoples. Silver discussed Newmont's mining in Indonesia. (Post / Cyrus McCrimmon)]

Newmont's mining practices threaten the lands and lives of native people in areas where mines are located, activists preparing to protest at Newmont's annual meeting said Monday.

Organizers plan anti-Newmont demonstrations outside the meeting today at the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center south of Denver near Interstate 25 and County Line Road as well as downtown.

Newmont spokeswoman Heatheryn Higgins denied the accusations and said the company is committed to responsible environmental management at its mines.

"Our mines are often some of the first industrialization in the countries where we operate," Higgins said in an e-mail. "This carries huge responsibilities and makes ... Newmont a target."

Newmont, the world's No. 2 gold producer, has encountered opposition to its mines in countries such as Peru, Indonesia and Ghana, and here in the U.S. from the Western Shoshone tribe in Nevada.

"We are not against mining, we are against irresponsible mining," said Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, head of Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining, a Ghanaian organization.

The company's mines contaminate water, destroy land, threaten ecosystems and force native people off their land, the activists said.

A new group, the Stop Newmont Mining Coalition, held a conference Monday that included a panel of scientists discussing the environmental impact of gold mining.

Last week, Newmont received an e-mail invitation to participate in the panel discussion on the Metro State/University of Colorado at Denver campus, said Higgins.

No one from Newmont attended because the company's employees have been too busy preparing its earnings report, delivered last week, and arranging the annual meeting, she said.

Newmont's open-pit mining relies on cyanide and other harmful chemicals to extract gold, said Robert E. Moran, a partner in Michael-Moran Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Golden.

Moran said he has worked for both nongovernmental organizations and mining companies, and isn't opposed to mining.

But mining always has an effect on the nearby land and water, said Moran, a hydrologist and geochemist.

"These are huge operations, sometimes the pits are a mile or two miles across. I have never seen a mine that didn't have a major impact."

Higgins said Newmont is committed to responsible environmental management at every stage of the mine life cycle, from exploration and operation through closure and reclamation.

Staff writer Tom McGhee can be reached at 303-820-1671 or

Newmont moves annual meet

24th April 2006

Gold producer fears disruptive Denver protest. Peaceful demonstrations are nothing new to the firm, but one group could turn up the heat.

By Greg Griffin, Denver Post Staff Writer

Newmont Mining Corp. was nervous enough about security at its annual meeting Tuesday to move it from its downtown Denver headquarters to a hotel in the southern metro area.

Protest organizers say as many as 200 activists could show up for anti-Newmont events in Arapahoe County and downtown Tuesday. The downtown protest could involve "acts of civil disobedience," an organizer said.

Newmont decided a few weeks ago to move the meeting to the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center for "meeting logistics and security considerations," spokeswoman Heatheryn Higgins said. The meeting is at 1 p.m.

"We take security seriously," she said.

Protests at Newmont's annual meetings are routine - the world's No. 2 gold producer has encountered opposition from Peru to Indonesia to Ghana. But this year a new group called the Stop Newmont Alliance is trying to turn up the heat ... and the rhetoric. The group claims Newmont's gold mines damage the environment and disrupt native populations.

The Arapahoe County protest will be peaceful, organizer Glenn Spagnuolo said. But the downtown protest is likely to be more disruptive, he said.

"We put out a call for everyone to act within their conscience," Spagnuolo said. "We don't want people to act in violence to any other human beings. But besides that they should take as hard a stance as they feel is appropriate.

"We hope nobody destroys property, but if a couple windows get broken ... you have to remember that the real perpetrator of violence is Newmont," he said.

Protest organizers have met with officers from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department and Denver Police Department, Spagnuolo said.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said he will deploy plenty of officers. Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said the department will respond as needed.

Newmont agreed to meet with representatives of community groups from Peru, Ghana and elsewhere, Higgins said. But the company did not receive such a request from Stop Newmont, she said.

Newmont critics also are organizing an all-day seminar on the Auraria campus today about gold mining's impact.

Staff writer Greg Griffin can be reached at 303-820-1241 or at

Newmont Shareholders Groups Support UN Decision and Western Shoshone - Call for New Corporate Policy on Indigenous Lands, Including Treaty Recognition


More information: WSDP - J. Fishel, 775-397-1371

25th April 2006

Denver, Colorado (April 25, 2006). After an historic United Nations decision last month, a coalition of Newmont Mining shareholder groups have called upon Chairman and CEO Wayne Murdy, to respect the UN decision and to "develop a policy toward Native American peoples in the United States and address the specific concerns of the Western Shoshone." (Letter attached hereto). A delegation of Western Shoshone will address the CEO and Board of Newmont during today's Annual General Meeting in Denver, Colorado. Newmont currently operates gold mines across Western Shoshone territory in Nevada - equating to nearly 40% of its equity base and is seeking a host of new exploration in the area. Last month, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) rejected the United States' claim that Western Shoshone lands somehow transferred to "federal" or U.S. ownership putting into question the legality of Newmont and other corporations operating on these lands without Western Shoshone consent. (CERD decision attached).

The Shareholder sign on letter was led by Boston Common Asset Management and includes six other faith-based health and investment services groups. In the communication, the shareholders call upon Newmont to:

Kristi Begay, Western Shoshone leader who addressed Newmont last year and returned this year: "We want to thank the shareholder groups for their support. Our land, water and air is sacred to us and is recognized by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley and yet the government and the companies have been acting as if it means nothing. Our voice and our message remain unwaivering. We are here to speak for the land and for our inherent rights as traditional Western Shoshone and will continue to do so until our voice is heard and respected." Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone grandmother: "U.S. laws violate our basic rights as indigenous peoples - the U.S. claims that it can take Indian lands and push Indian peoples aside whenever and however it wants - that violates our human rights. If Newmont allows its company to merely go by those discriminatory laws, then they are a party to those violations as well. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination agreed with us last month and has told the U.S. to "freeze" any efforts to privatize our lands, and to "stop" any new mining projects or other resource extraction and exploitation."

Joseph Moon, Western Shoshone: "As a young native, I want to know more about these mining companies who are impacting our land, water, air and traditional beliefs. I want them to know that we, as young people, care about the survival of our people as Western Shoshone and we are part of this struggle. With elders passing on that just helps our bond become stronger and we realize more and more that we need to carry that torch as our elders have before us."

Julie Fishel, Western Shoshone Defense Project stated: "We are very pleased to receive the support of the shareholders. For too long, corporations have reaped huge benefits off the ongoing legacy of physical and spiritual genocide of indigenous peoples, and the destruction of our land, air and water. Times are changing and this behavior will no longer be tolerated. We are very disappointed in Newmont's posturing last year that they would listen to Shoshone concerns and instead, they turned around and supported the U.S. Mining Industry's legislative push to open up these same lands for privatization to benefit the companies. The United Nations committee was resoundingly clear on the issue of privatization and new exploration of mining: it must stop now."

Western Shoshone Defense Project
P.O. Box 211308
Crescent Valley, NV 89821
775-468-0237 (fax)

Defiance in the land of the free

The Sunday Times Magazine,,2099-2142374.html

23th April 2006

A Native American woman is at war with the US. For 30 years she's been fighting to keep her ancestral land and now the United Nations is on her side. Report by Nicola Graydon

The government came for the horses at dawn. It was spring 2003 and it was foaling season. A helicopter flew low over Pine Valley, herding them to corrals. Some prematurely gave birth, others were trampled. Armed federal agents stood by. By the end of the day, over 500 horses were taken to be auctioned off to a local rancher. Not long afterwards some 50 carcasses were dumped the horses had starved to death.

Carrie Dann, a diminutive Western Shoshone grandmother who owned the horses, refuses to talk about it. "Indians love horses," is all she'll say. But she thinks it caused the death of her sister, Mary, who died last April. "After that," she says, "Mary went down real fast."

The 2003 round-up was the fourth military-style operation in one of the longest-running land disputes in the history of America. For over 30 years, Carrie and Mary Dann have fought the US government for Western Shoshone rights to 60 million acres of land that stretch through Nevada into neighbouring states. Until now, the harassment has hardly scratched the conscience of America, but that might be about to change.

In March, in an unprecedented document, the UN demanded that the US government halt all actions against the Shoshone and find a solution acceptable to them and in accordance with their rights. This landmark decision could force the government to transform antiquated federal Indian law. And if it does it will be in no small part down to the Dann sisters.

What she lacks in physical stature she barely scrapes 5ft Carrie Dann makes up for in presence and sheer bloody-mindedness. Her face is weathered by decades in the saddle and a 20-a-day habit and her swearing doesn't endear her to government officials. "The Indian wars ain't over yet," she says fiercely. "They're still happening here and now." But, despite her defiance, she admits she's still afraid the US government will confiscate her ranch to pay outstanding fines for disputed grazing fees.

The Dann ranch isn't much to look at. A single-story rambling clapboard house, it's surrounded by tall cottonwood trees and rusting wrecks. Uncle Clifford, who famously threatened to douse himself in gasoline when the "feds" first confiscated the family livestock in the early 1990s, earning nine months in state prison as a result, lives in a trailer in the garden. He's now profoundly deaf. Carrie's severely disabled son is playing in the cabin of a tractor in the front yard.

Panes of glass have been replaced by cardboard and there's no central heating. Cooking is done on a wood-burning stove. The only things that place the ranch in the 21st century are the solar panels that replaced the generator last year. But Carrie doesn't care about home comforts. Her grandmother, she tells me proudly, never had a bed. Anyway, the land is all that matters. "We've been here since time immemorial," she says, as we make our way to a small dam to catch brown trout for dinner. "I was born here and this is where I'll die, whatever the government says."

The ranch is dwarfed by the Nevada landscape. Crescent Valley stretches away from it for miles like a vast carpet of desert shrubs and wild flowers.

To the naked eye, it's a vast plain of nothing much but the ranch is on some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Carrie Dann is, quite literally, sitting on a gold mine.

Just down the road, the Carlin Trend, discovered in the 1960s, is the second largest gold depository in the world after Witwatersrand in South Africa, but the entire state is covered with open pits. Mining has always been Nevada's raison d'etre. There was a lull at the beginning of the 20th century; silver ran out and gold was yet to be discovered so the state legalised divorce, gambling and prostitution. But today nearly 10% of the world's production of gold ? over half of US production comes from Nevada.

Carrie's ranch sits on the slopes of the Cortez mountain range, first prospected in the original gold rush but as yet untapped. Not long before the 2003 round-up, Cortez Mining (a joint venture between Placer Dome, the largest mining operation in the area, and Rio Tinto) tried to introduce legislation to privatise 60,000 acres for mining around Mount Tenabo, the most imposing mountain in the range. Tenabo is sacred to the Shoshone for reasons other than gold, and the ensuing uproar killed the bill but, for the Danns, this was just another battle in an ongoing war of attrition.

The Danns' legal dispute began in 1973 when the Bureau of Land Management fined the sisters for grazing their livestock on "public lands": that is, land owned by the federal government. The sisters never had any intention to pay. As far as they were concerned, they were grazing ancestral land ratified in the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863. Collection notices still arrive at the tiny local post office but Carrie doesn't even bother to open them. "I probably owe $5m by now," she laughs hoarsely.

From 1974 to 1991 their case was shunted from court to court: through the US District Court and bouncing backwards and forwards between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, which ruled against the Danns in 1985. "It was all totally wrong. I felt like we were being screwed by the federal court system all the way along. But sometimes I think that being Indian means they can screw us whichever way they want."

The Western Shoshone had been screwed by earlier findings of the Indian Claims Commission on which the Supreme Court based their final ruling. Set up by President Truman in 1946, ostensibly to honour Indian rights and treaties, the commission ruled in 1977 that the Shoshone had "lost" their lands in 1872 by "gradual encroachmemt" and awarded $24m as compensation "Gradual encroachment by what?" Carrie Dann sweeps her hand angrily over the emptiness. "There's nobody else here but the drilling rigs. In 1965 the word was 'taken'. T A K E N. Now it's become 'lost to gradual encroachment'. As far as I know, the constitution states that nobody can take another's land unless it's by the federal government for public use: and, even then, there are procedures to follow." However, the Western Shoshone refused to take the money. "It's still there drawing interest," says Carrie. "I understand it's now over $130m." She snorts in derision. "But no amount of money will make us give up the rights to our lands."

The Peace and Friendship Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863 is one of the few Indian treaties that didn't cede land, because nobody wanted it. It was a parched high desert; vicious in winter and equally so in summer.

The white settlers were looking for safe passage to the gold mines in California during the great gold rush that began in 1848. Until then, the Indians of the interior had barely come into contact with white people. But once the rush began, thousands of settlers began moving west with rifles to shoot wild game and herds of livestock that grazed Shoshone land to dust. In just one year, 70,000 gold-seekers passed through Shoshone territory.

The gold rush was devastating for native peoples. From 1848 to 1870 the population dropped from 150,000 to 31,000. According to Carrie, only 10 families survived massacres in Ruby Valley itself.

The treaty allowed settlers to mine, ranch, cut timber and extract natural resources but, crucially to the Danns' case, it recognised the Western Shoshone as landowners.

The Shoshone nation stretches over four states: from Snake River in Idaho, through much of Nevada to the edge of the Mojave desert in California and taking up a small corner of Utah. The treaty awarded the Indians compensation for use of land at $5,000 a year for 20 years. It was never paid, and neither was a promised royalty for extraction.

The HQ of the Western Shoshone Defence Project (WSDP), set up by the Western Shoshone National Council in 1991 to help the Danns' case, is a trailer on scrubland off 6th Street in Crescent Valley, a barely-there town that is mainly made up of mine workers.

Julie Fishel, a human-rights lawyer who's been with the WSDP for three years, points out of the window: "There it is: the mountain they're desperate to get their hands on." Mount Tenabo dominates the horizon. Fishel became involved with the Danns in 1998, beginning full-time work on their case in 2001 when she received a desperate call asking her to help them respond to a bill that was being introduced by Harry Reid, Nevada's Democratic senator, to force the distribution of the disputed monies the Shoshone have never claimed. Fishel began to turn their case around.

Reid has widely-reported links with the mining and gaming interests that have made Nevada one of the fastest growing states in the US. The Los Angeles Times recently revealed sizable sums his sons and son-in-law have received for lobbying on behalf of mining companies in Nevada.

"They really needed my help. The spin against them in Washington was claiming, basically, that they were almost terrorists. That really alarmed me. I finally got to talk to someone in authority. When I explained the situation, he said, 'This is completely different to what I have been told.' I asked him where he was getting this from. And he said, 'Senator Reid's office'."

Nonetheless the Western Shoshone Distribution Bill was signed by George W Bush in July 2004, forcing the Western Shoshone to accept the award at $20,000 at person. But still the money is languishing in state coffers.

While the first gold rush was devastating to native peoples, the modern gold rush that began in the 1980s and intensified in the 1990s is disastrous for the environment. Thousands of acres of woodlands have been cleared, streams have been contaminated with cyanide and mercury, wildlife is disappearing and the landscape is scarred by open pits a mile wide and towering waste dumps. Environmental experts say it could take 100 years for the land to recover, and fear the consequences of the rapid depletion of the aquifer a vast underground lake by an industry that wastes some 10m gallons of water a day per mine in the most arid state in the US. About 383 billion gallons of water have already been pumped from one mine alone. Yet the gold industry remains one of the least regulated of all extractive industries, with no federal environmental guidelines and no requirements to clean up after the mines become defunct.

In a memorable indictment in The New York Times recently, John Leshy, a lawyer for the Department of the Interior in the Clinton administration, said: "Nevada is being written off as a sacrifice area for gold."

For the Indian communities that, like Carrie, still rely on the land for ranching and subsistence farming, sacred pools used for ritual are diminishing or poisoned; mountains of legend and folklore are dynamited and turned into toxic waste dumps. "For us, the Earth is a sacred thing," explains Carrie, seeming slightly frustrated at having to explain once again what is, to her, a basic tenet of life. "We were taught the Earth is like our mother, and we have to take care of our mother because she gives us life.

The Earth, the air, the water and the sun are all sacred to us and they are being destroyed, polluted and contaminated. For us, this is like spiritual genocide."

She admits that the treaty allows mining on Western Shoshone lands but points out that, in 1863, this amounted to a few men with pickaxes and explosives. But she's still willing to talk with mining representatives. "We're prepared to meet with them. Is there such a thing as responsible mining? I'll have to work that out for myself."

The Danns were one of the few Indian families who avoided moving to the reservations or into town. They would retreat to caves in the mountains to avoid trouble. Once, her grandmother told her, they had hidden for months during an epidemic when clothes distributed as gifts by the military infested the tribe with smallpox. "Their own records tells that 98% of our people died killed by bullets or disease," she says bitterly. "If you don't call that genocide, what is? But they still treat us badly."

In 1951 the Atomic Energy Commission chose Western Shoshone land to set up a test site for nuclear weapons. Between 1951 and 1992, the US and Great Britain exploded around 1,000 nuclear devices there. More recently the Western Shoshone invoked the treaty in a lawsuit against a Department of Energy plan to make Yucca Mountain into a dump for the country's nuclear waste. "We call that mountain Snake Mountain because it moves," one elder told me. And, sure enough, geological surveys indicate the area around the mountain has more than its share of seismic shifts and mini-earthquakes.

The Western Shoshone call their land Newe Sogobia, meaning '"the people's earth mother", and their creation myths tell them they were placed here to take care of the Earth. Unlike other tribes who were placed in reservations far from their original homelands or migrated to safety, they have, at least, managed to stay.

The Dann ranch is as good a place as any to conduct a last stand. At night, Carrie watches the lights of exploratory drilling rigs or "metal horses", as she calls them as they move around in the valley below her. She has no idea how she will survive financially without her livestock but continues to catch fish and gather pine nuts. The few horses that remain stay close to the ranch now, as if for comfort, and the land is missing the cattle to graze back the grass that has overgrown in an unusually wet summer. Fishel recalls the day of the round-up: "Carrie was nearly broken by it. She was on the ground sobbing. She said to me, 'Julie, I'm done. They've destroyed us.'"

The weekend I visit, the Shoshone are conducting the first sun dance in Ruby Valley since 1941, after which Indian religious rites were banned by the Department of the Interior until the 1970s. It's an extraordinary ritual where dancers fast for three days and three nights while they dance to the point of exhaustion. It's said to connect the people to the sun in an act of self-sacrifice to both the Earth mother and the community. In this case it has brought together hundreds of Western Shoshone in the place where the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed over a century ago. Nobody is downplaying the significance. Carrie is hopeful it's a sign of a cultural resurgence.

"I want the spiritual rights of our people to be restored," she says. "And that means we need our rights to the land, for that is where we worship."

The UN decision in March has given long-awaited recognition to her struggle and a July deadline for the US to report on compliance. The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva has also demanded the US recognise and protect the Shoshone's cultural and spiritual practices. Carrie admits it's a huge step in the right direction but she has further ambitions. "I want the United States government to come to us and say, 'Our history is long and painful. We have mistreated you. We massacred, raped, humiliated and starved your people. We admit we committed acts of genocide.' That would be a good thing. If they decided to put a price on that, I would accept the money. But I will never accept money for this land.

"We've been put here by our creator to be custodians of this land. But believe me when I say to you that we are not caring for these things just for Indian children. We are caring for these things for everyone's children."

Inspector Who Tried to Shut Mine Before Fatal Fire Was Overruled

by Mike Hall

24th April 2006

Just days before a Jan. 19 fire killed two coal miners at the Alma No. 1 Mine operated by Aracoma Mining Co. in West Virginia, a federal inspector tried to close down a portion of the mine because of a fire risk along the conveyer where the blaze began, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported April 23. But, the paper reports, he was overruled by supervisors.

Also, late last week, two more coal miners were killed on the job. Rich McKnight, 45, of Cumberland, Ky., was crushed April 21 by a machine he was working on in a Harlan County mine. David Chad Bolen, 28, of Harold, Ky., was killed April 20 in a roof fall at a Pike County mine. (Go to for more information on the latest deaths.)

The deaths boosted this year's toll in the nation's coal mines to 26 fatalities. During the same period last year, three coal miners had been killed. There were 22 coal mine fatalities in all of 2005.

At Aracoma, the demand for production outweighed concerns by Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector Minness Justice that coal and coal dust along the belt line had accumulated to a danger point and that the conveyer beltâs fire-suppression system was not adequate, Danny Woods, another MSHA employee, told the Post-Gazette.

"He was just told to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal," Woods told the paper, which added:

"Conditions on the belt line were considered especially dangerous because MSHA had allowed Aracoma to install the conveyor on the same route through which air was fed to the miners farther inside, meaning a fire was at risk of sending smoke toward occupied areas of the mine instead of to the outside."

The paper reported that Aracoma was granted a waiver to install the belt line along the airway route with several safety conditions attached, including installation of an early warning fire detection system that worked by monitoring carbon monoxide levels. But the Post-Gazette said:

"State and federal officials who spoke on condition they not be named also believe someone inside the mine office repeatedly reset the monitor in the early stages of the fire Jan. 19, effectively short-circuiting the alarm that should have gone out to the men inside. According to the same sources, someone later attempted to delete records of the early alerts from the mineâs computer system, but computer technicians brought in by MSHA investigators retrieved the deleted data."

In response to the Post-Gazette's report, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has called for a bipartisan congressional investigation into the Bush administration's enforcement of the nation's mine safety laws.

"There is no way that the Bush administration can be trusted to investigate itself in this very, very serious matter," said Miller, senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over worker safety issues. "If this article is accurate, and MSHA knew about the risks at that mine, then the agency's actions are totally inexcusable. We need to determine if this is, in fact, what happened."

The fatal Aracoma fire occurred 17 days after a methane explosion killed 12 miners and seriously injured another one at International Coal Group's Sago Mine in Upshur County, W. Va. At Sago, increased methane levels were detected in and around the sealed-off areas where the blast is suspected of occurring.

Navajos protest water talks with Peabody Coal

by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today

24th April 2006

The image

[Photos courtesy Calvin Johnson] -- Navajo Jeanette Chee (standing), 62, of Canyon Diablo, Ariz., Navajo singer and NAMMY Award nominee Radmilla Cody, of Leupp, Ariz., prepared signs calling for the protection of Navajo aquifers during a recent protest at the Navajo Nation Council chambers. Navajos protested the use of the aquifers' water to create electricity for non-Navajos. See story on page A5. Bottom photo -- A Navajo from Black Mesa held a sign critical of Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. Navajos protested the tribe's negotiations with Peabody Coal, opposing the use of Navajos' pristine aquifer water by coal mines and power plants to create electricity for non-Navajos in the Southwest.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajos marched to the Navajo Nation Council and protested the tribe's negotiations with Peabody Coal, opposing the use of Navajos' pristine aquifer water by coal mines and power plants.

Navajos from remote areas, many of whom live without running water and drive long distances to haul their drinking water, protested ongoing negotiations with Peabody Coal for continued use of the N and C aquifers' water for coal slurry in Arizona.

Anna Frazier, Navajo, said Navajos pay the price with their health and lives so corporations can reap the benefits by producing electricity for non-Navajos in the Southwest.

"We have to pay for gasoline and wear and tear on our vehicles to haul water. What does that tell us? We live in the United States of America, a country that is supposed to be the richest nation in the world; but here we are indigenous peoples with natural resources making other people rich and providing electricity in other states, but we are the poorest nation. That is wrong.

"Instead of giving our water away, why don't we look at the policies, regulations to protect our resources, revisit the policies and the treaties? Why don't we rewrite those policies to fit our way of life here on our reservation?"

During a meeting with Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo marchers voiced opposition to Peabody's water use and opposed the tribe's planned Desert Rock Power Plant. They said the power plant will increase pollution and health hazards for Navajos in New Mexico, where power plants and industries have fouled the air and water in the Four Corners region.

Jeannette Chee, who lives near Leupp in Arizona, told Shirley that Navajos don't want their C-Aquifer water used for coal slurry because it will dry up the land and leave little water for their livestock and children's future.

Johanna Begay and Fern Benally, from Black Mesa, pointed out the long-term health damage to Navajos from coal mining for those who live around the mines, including asthma and lung diseases.

Although marchers were able to meet with Shirley and received the attention of the Navajo Nation Council, protesters said they were disappointed that the Navajo attorney general went into executive session with the Navajo Nation Council to discuss Peabody Coal negotiations.

The Navajo public was prohibited from hearing the negotiations.

Louise Benally, of Big Mountain, said Navajos from Black Mesa protested "secret deals" that are under way between the Navajo and Hopi tribes with Peabody and efforts to reopen the Mohave Generating Station.

Benally said Navajos also opposed increases in utility surcharges by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

"This is like punching the people again, over and over. I was there to say, 'Keep Mohave closed! Navajos need to look into alternative energy and save the water for their own needs,"' Benally told Indian Country Today.

During lunch, protesters heard from Navajo organizers Anna Frazier and Calvin Johnson from the organization Dine' for C-Aquifer; Enei Begaye, from the Indigenous Environmental Network; Wahleah Johns, from Black Mesa Water Coalition; Sarah White, from the Dooda Desert Rock Committee; and Nicole Horseherder, from To' Nizhoni Ani.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington said leaders of the Hopi and Navajo nations are preparing to decide the fate of the enormous mining company's water permit.

Tribes received the findings of a recent scientific report that predicts grave consequences for the aquifer - which supplies most of the drinking water to American Indians in northeastern Arizona - if the project is allowed to proceed.

Coal-mining giant Peabody Energy is asking the two nations, as well as the federal government, for permission to increase access to the Navajo Aquifer, which lies beneath Black Mesa, by more than 50 percent.

However, an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that Peabody has already exceeded legal limits established to protect Hopi and Navajo water supplies, and found that years of industrial pumping has already caused material damage to the vital resource.

"The new evidence confirms what the Hopi and Navajo have suspected for years: that Peabody is draining their main source of drinking water at a rate that cannot be sustained. Now the company wants a bigger straw to finish off the job," said Timothy Grabiel, an author of the NRDC report. "Based on this evidence, there's simply no way to justify letting them have it."

Officials from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the Department of Interior, have said they have seen no signs that Peabody is harming the aquifer.

However, using the government's own data, NRDC found as early as 2000 that seven of nine monitored springs showed a decline in excess of 10 percent and more than a third of monitored wells had fallen below the water level needed to guarantee against collapse or contamination of the underground reservoir.

The new report showed that most of those springs and wells have continued to decline.

"The NRDC report raises serious red flags that Peabody's activities are harming the Navajo Aquifer and, therefore, our way of life," said Begaye. "Our leaders must take a hard look at this new evidence."

© 1998-2006 Indian Country Today.

Slow death consumes Oklahoma mining town

By Carey Gillam

24th April 2006

PICHER, Oklahoma (Reuters) - The death of their small town is not coming easily for the people of Picher, Oklahoma. But it is coming.

For 23 years now, the 1,500-plus residents of this historic mining community in northeast Oklahoma have known they were in trouble, trapped by growing evidence that waste from mining operations the area once thrived on was poisoning the air, the water and the land.

They have known about the lead contamination, the learning disabilities suffered by area children, the declining property values, and the cavernous holes found around the area, including one dubbed by locals as "hell's half-acre."

They have known their community was considered one of America's worst environmental disasters and have held tight to hopes that federal and state efforts could clean up the area and get rid of the dozens of 50-foot-tall (15-metre-tall) piles of lead and zinc mining waste known as "chat."

But hope died on January 31 when the U.S. Corps of Engineers invited the townsfolk to a school auditorium and told them that a study of crumbling underground mine shafts showed entire swaths of their community could literally cave in at any time.

"It was the final blow that devastated our entire community," said Picher Mayor Sam Freeman, who once worked in the mines just as his father did before him. "They can't tell you if it will fall in tonight or in 500 years. But it doesn't matter. There is no future here now."

In the weeks since that report, playgrounds have been closed for fear the ground will give way. School sporting events have been canceled because rival teams won't travel into Picher on roads declared unstable. The youth soccer field carries a sign warning players of a "high risk of subsidence."

And a third of the district's school teachers have resigned, leaving for towns that have a future.

"People are just frightened," said 66-year-old Rayma Grimes, a life-long resident and operator of the area nursing home. "There are people out there who think they could be driving down the road and just fall in."


In all, the study found that 286 locations in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, were vulnerable to collapse. Most are in Picher, with a handful also found in the neighboring communities of Cardin and Hockerville. All told, 194 homes and businesses, 10 churches, and four parks are considered in danger. Sixty-seven streets were listed as at risk for cave-in.

The safety concerns cited in the report have spurred federal and state agencies to try to put together $20 million to $30 million to buy and bulldoze affected homes and businesses in and around Picher.

A buyout plan is being drafted by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate's Environmental and Public Works Committee, and is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

But the effort is complicated by several factors -- where to get the money; how much should be paid for homes and businesses that are virtually worthless but represent decades of retirement savings for many townspeople; and how to reconcile the needs of those who do not want to leave with those who do.

"The primary concern is the safety of the general population of that area," said Danny Finnerty, special assistant to Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. "Folks that live in the area would like a decision today. We are working as quickly and as expeditiously as possible."

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is also requesting federal money to relocate the people of Treece, Kansas, which lies just blocks across the border from Picher.


The extent of the environmental pollution in northeast Oklahoma has been well documented since at least 1983 when 40 square miles were designated as the Tar Creek Superfund site -- named for a local stream polluted by mine waste -- and allocated federal clean-up dollars.

Mining was the economic mainstay of the region from 1904 to the early 1970s and helped push Picher's population to more than 15,000.

After the mines closed, the mountainous piles of chat remained, covering more than 1,750 acres with more than 52 million tons of waste. State environmental officials have used some of the chat to pave roads and buried some. But the waste pilings, combined with water and soil contaminated with iron, sulfate, zinc, and lead have largely overwhelmed clean-up efforts.

Last year, the state offered families with young children a buyout, spurred by fears that elevated blood lead levels were harming the children. About 180 families accepted the deal.

"I don't think it is safe in Picher," said Teresa Dixon who took the buyout and moved with her young son about 10 miles (15 km) south to Miami, Oklahoma.

That buyout nearly brought Picher to its knees, cutting into its tax base and its ability to pay for services for other residents. Now, city officials say, if all of the homes and businesses listed as at risk are bought out, the town will not have enough economic activity to support those who remain.

Townspeople are divided on the issue. Some say the threats of cave-ins are inflated and a buyout would needlessly kill a community rich in American heritage.

Others, like 58-year-old Susie Stone, owner of local gift shop, pray for a buyout.

"I have lost all my business traffic. We're operating on our savings," Stone said. This used to be a thriving little town. Now no one wants to be here."

Meanwhile, city leaders are accusing each other of corruption and mismanagement, locals are lambasting state officials for spending money on studies and road paving instead of relocations, and friends and families fret over uncertain futures.

"It hurts my heart," said Freeman, the mayor. "I don't want to move, but it's just not good to live here."

2nd Canadian mining company gets permit to drill near Glacier

By The Associated Press

24th April 2006

KALISPELL -- A second coal mining company has received permission to explore for coal in an area near Glacier National Park, just north of the Canadian border.

The permit approval already has some south of the border worried about potential effects to water quality in the Flathead River Basin.

"That particular one is completely ludicrous, because it's right in the floodplain of the river," said Jack Stanford, a research scientist who for years has studied and monitored lake and river waters in Montana's Flathead Valley.

Rich Moy, chief of Montana's Water Management Bureau and chairman of the Flathead Basin Commission, said British Columbia officials announced at a recent commission meeting that they had approved the permit for Moose Mountain Member Corp. in what is known as the Lillyburt coal field. "We were told not to worry, that it's no big deal," Moy said.

"It's quite minimal," said Kathy Eichenberger, provincial liaison to the commission. The permit is good from July through October, she said, and allows the mining company to drill 13 holes, removing an unspecified amount of coal for further testing.

The Lillyburt coal field is just east of Foisey Creek, where Toronto-based Cline Mining Corp. has completed exploration and now is requesting a full mining permit. That proposal remains under review.

The Lillyburt field is in the headwaters of Canada's Flathead River Valley, a remote drainage directly north of Glacier Park. The Flathead flows south, crossing the international border and forming the western boundary of the park in Montana.

Eichenberger said the permit for exploration work on the Lillyburt field did not require public review, because the 13-hole project is so "minimal."

Existing but largely out-of-service roads could be upgraded to access the site, she said, and no logging would be necessary.

But Moy said despite the assurances, he's not convinced.

"My concern is, we heard this same thing with Cline's exploratory permit, and in less than a year they were moving forward with the operational process," he said. "That scares me."

The Coal Mine Next Door

American School Board Journal Cover Story

March 2006: Vol. 193, No. 03

(Sundial, W. Va.) For Ed Wiley, the alarm sounded two years ago on the third straight day that he had to pick up his 9-year-old granddaughter, Kayla, from Marsh Fork Elementary School because she was sick. She was nauseated, had a bluish pallor, and was crying, perhaps from days of bad headaches. As they drove past the Sundial coal mine next to the school, he recalls, Kyla looked at him with tears running down her cheeks and said, "Grandpa, these coal mines are making us kids sick."

Wiley had noticed each day that 15 to 20 other children of the 230 or so enrolled had also been signed out early. He called a television station and was interviewed on the news that night. Afterwards, parents started telling him about their sick children. He complained to the Raleigh County superintendent and the state health department, and eventually he and three other residents spoke at a school board meeting about the danger the coal mine's proximity posed to the students. The citizens felt they got nowhere.

"They said it wasn't their responsibility," Wiley says of the board members. "It was the coal mine's responsibility. It wasn't their problem."

Raleigh County Schools officials defend the school's safety (see sidebar) at a time when increased scrutiny is being focused on West Virginia's largest industry. In January alone, 16 miners died in accidents while on the job, prompting state and federal officials to call for tougher safety measures against coal companies.

Today, Wiley, parents, and other critics say the coal dust and toxic chemicals from the giant Sundial mine are fouling the air at Marsh Fork Elementary, which stands barely a stone's throw away across a narrow river. They point to the 165-foot high coal silo, towering just behind the school. Coal dust is kicked up when thousands of tons of coal drop from a conveyor belt into the silo and then are loaded noisily onto trains, as many as 90 cars at a time. Black soot several inches thick has been seen on the school playground and in the building's ventilation system. Residents don't only fear that children are breathing in coal dust. Some 300 yards from the school ground stands Sundial's preparation plant, where the coal is scrubbed with chemicals to remove impurities before shipment, and the nearby ponds that catch chemical spills all contain a witches' brew of potent substances.

An even greater peril stands high above the school on the mountainside. A lake of sludge -- at least 2 billion gallons of coal waste -- keeps growing. The 385-foot high earthen dam holding the sludge back is known to have seepage, and there is evidence the dam was not built properly. The school lies directly in the path of any collapse. So does the silo. Some parents are so nervous about the dam that when it rains heavily, they take their children home from school early. In 2000, a dam belonging to industry heavyweight Massey Energy failed in eastern Kentucky, causing a toxic spill 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster. Some people here also remember the dam that burst at Buffalo Creek, W. Va., in 1972, sweeping 125 people to their deaths and leaving 4,000 homeless.

Yet not far from the dam and school, blasting goes on at a mountaintop removal site covering three square miles. Some say the vibrations endanger the dam. Students at the school are said to speak of the booms as "bombs exploding." Residents officially protested Massey's plans for this enormous operation so near to the school, but to no avail.

There is only circumstantial evidence supporting these concerns so far. There is no proof that any illness at the school is due to coal dust or chemical emissions or bad water. But the psychological vulnerability of children who hear and feel the blasting and have been told the dam may break is another matter. This is an emotional burden they already bear.

One family's story

"When it rains, sometimes, my son doesn't want to go to school for fear the dam will break," says single mother Sherry Pettry of her 9-year-old son, Tyler. The boy tells her that if the sludge pond above Marsh Fork Elementary floods, "it could wipe out the school." He's heard that from other kids.

Pettry says a teacher told her that when blasting occurs, "some kids hit the floor. They're terrified of the dam breaking.'"

Tyler has had health problems since kindergarten, when he was hospitalized with pneumonia, missed close to 30 days of school, and was held back, she says. Generally, he suffers from upper respiratory problems and sinus and ear infections. His problems tend to run the length of the school year but he feels okay in the summer.

He has no appetite except in the summer, she adds, and weighs only 67 pounds. She's noticed that boys on the school basketball team are much smaller than kids on rival teams.

Tyler told her this fall, "I guess it's time to start getting sick. School's back in." Actually, he's missed no school this year, she said in late December, but has a constant cough.

The danger from the mine is clear to her, but she believes too many people "bury their heads in the sand." She wants the school moved to a safe place. Last summer, she says, kids played football barefoot on the school's field. "Their feet were entirely black, just like they'd run through coal," she says. It makes her wonder, "What are they breathing?"

Little has changed

Reports of sick children like Tyler galvanized some in this community on the Big Coal River in southern West Virginia. But despite a string of protest marches, civil disobedience, arrests, a sit-in by Wiley at the capitol, and promises by the governor to take action, little has changed in the past year except for sharpened divisions in the community -- particularly between friends and foes of the coal company, Massey Energy.

Several residents met with Gov. Joe Manchin last June and told him 60 families at the school had been personally interviewed and 53 reported having children who frequently fell ill. Nearly all had asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses, according to the interviews.

Residents also told the governor they had been told that three teachers at the small school and a 17-year-old former student had died of cancer. The governor said he would investigate, and state education officials later inspected the school. Still, school and state officials have consistently maintained there is no evidence of a health or safety problem at Marsh Fork, and critics say they have mounted no serious investigation.

Massey Energy, which owns the Sundial facility and three other huge coal operations nearby, has kept largely silent on the issue, spurning citizen demands and most press inquiries, including from ASBJ. This is Appalachia, where big coal companies traditionally have gotten their way with the government and been called to account only by the United Mine Workers. Now the union has dwindled in size and power, and citizen and environmental groups have tried to take up the slack.

In these parts that means Coal River Mountain Watch, a grassroots group that fights coal company abuses. Wiley joined the group, which had already received complaints about illness at the school. After gathering signatures from more than 150 people on the river, Mountain Watch launched a campaign to shut down most of the mine and move the school, which was built long before the mine. Massey bought the mine in 1994 and stepped up operations.

"We know the school is contaminated," says Bo Webb, a Mountain Watch volunteer who has led its campaign and did most of the interviews that found sickness among children. "Something is wrong," says Webb, adding that the state health department said it lacks the resources to do its own survey of school families. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it investigated, but it only did interviews. It never tested the school.

"We know we have sick kids," says Webb. "We want to know the cause." He believes it's the mine. So do some parents.

Evidence may come from court. Several miners at Sundial have come down with chemical poisoning, and two are plaintiffs in two class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of all workers in West Virginia's 200 prep plants against coal companies and chemical manufacturers. One suit focuses on neurological injuries and illness and medical monitoring of workers and their spouses; the other seeks only medical monitoring for workers and their children.

Thomas Basile and Stuart Calwell, attorneys specializing in toxic exposure who initiated the first suit, say it is "likely" that chemicals used in Sundial's prep plant found their way into the nearby elementary school. They cite the evaporation from washing coal, from topless holding tanks, and from the sludge pond that results in airborne transmission. Chemicals also "may be getting into the groundwater and water supply," adds Basile, citing the runoff that may occur at such plants, including spillage from holding tanks, seepage from sludge ponds, and runoff from the antifreeze-like products sprayed from the silo onto rail cars in winter so the coal won't freeze.

"All these chemicals are dangerous to the central nervous system in young people," which is not fully developed until the mid-teens, says Calwell. "The injuries that can occur from these exposures don't show up for years."

As for coal dust itself, many studies have linked particulates with health problems that can lead to aggravated asthma, respiratory-related hospital admissions and emergency room visits, and premature deaths, according to the EPA. Children are considered among those most susceptible to air pollution, in part because their respiratory systems are still developing. Coal and sludge also contain many toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, mercury, and uranium, some of which cause cancer. It is even possible the children exposed to coal dust are at risk of developing black lung disease, Calwell says.

Blowing up the mountains

To Webb and others, behind the school dispute is something larger. They see the school as the latest victim of mountaintop removal, a growing practice that involves blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal seams and dumping the debris into valleys and streams. Its huge scale, heavy use of explosives, and destruction of forests, waterways, and communities make the practice immensely controversial.

A fight has raged for a decade in Appalachia, pitting the coal industry -- determined to use this ruthlessly efficient method of extracting coal to compete internationally -- and the industry's suppliers and political friends against citizens and environmentalists determined to halt the practice. Mountaintop removal has been spreading on both sides of the Big Coal River for the past seven years, hollowing out mountains and making some homes uninhabitable.

Little love is lost for Massey here. People have long complained that the company prefers to hire outsiders, keeps the union out, conceals controversial operations, and has callously crippled or destroyed the little communities where it mines. When it comes to Massey, many here assume the worst.

"It shows how far [Massey] will go to get coal," Webb charges of mountaintop removal. "It's obvious now kids will be sacrificed for it." What's happening at the school, he adds, is "the price we're paying for so-called cheap energy."

Employment is another reason feelings run so high over the school. Virtually the only good jobs on the river are in Massey's four huge mines. Though virtually nonunion, they pay far more than other local jobs. "Massey is the only game in town. It's either that or flip hamburgers up at Wendy's," says resident Rick Bradford. Frequently required to work a six-day week, miners generally earn $12 - $18 an hour.

West Virginians have an abiding attachment to home and hills and family, but losing a job in the mines can mean not only a downward plunge economically but the need to pull up stakes to find work. So mining families find any talk of shutting down Sundial threatening. Likewise, they find the threat of closing the school upsetting. Accusations that some people are endangering children by claiming the school is safe also raise hackles. Both critics and defenders of the mine see themselves as the children's true champions.

A chain of protests

The school controversy began to heat up this past May, when two rallies were held at the Sundial plant gate under the watchful eye of state troopers. Some protesters chose civil disobedience. Eighteen people were arrested for trespassing, including several parents at the school and an 82-year-old grandmother. Most, however, were young people from across the country, foot soldiers in a national campaign against mountaintop removal called Mountain Justice Summer. A number of them spent the summer on Coal River.

The rallies were precipitated by Massey's application to build a second coal-loading silo next to the first, constructed in 2003 only some 200 feet from the school. "Why the hell did they put it there?" asks Webb. "They've got 122 acres." Massey has never explained the choice of location, though it may have been to avoid building more railroad track. Some people suspect the company was trying to force the school's closure to make people leave Coal River and so reduce resistance to mountaintop removal.

Massey said the second silo was needed to keep two grades of coal separate. At a public hearing on both the permit for the silo and renewal of Massey's permit for the sludge pond, all of the more than 50 speakers -- each given just two minutes to speak -- opposed the operations.

On June 22, several residents met with the governor, who seemed concerned and promised to assemble a team to investigate conditions at the school. A week later, the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the second silo. Those who had talked to the governor felt betrayed. A week later, Wiley mounted the steps of the state capitol with a photo of the school and a sign and refused to leave, forcing the governor to speak to him. Manchin repeated his promises.

Soon after, the Charleston Gazette reported that locating the two silos so close to the school violated federal and state law. In the ensuing uproar, the DEP revoked the new silo's permit but let the original silo stand.

Massey denied any wrongdoing, appealed the decision, and issued its only public statement to date. The coal silos, it claimed, "encapsulate coal and control coal dust" and so are environmentally beneficial. The company added that it "contributes substantial money to area schools" and has a long-standing partnership with the elementary school. This includes workers' wives taking part in "Read Aloud Day," donating prizes for good behavior, making playground improvements, purchasing items for field day, and providing tickets to an outdoor theater. Massey accused its critics of spreading misinformation and "false fears" to advance "a radical anti-mining agenda."

July saw three straight days of marches past Massey's three other mines on the river to protest mountaintop removal and the school situation. Only about 20 residents joined scores of MJS activists. Others were apparently scared to join in. There were as many as 40 counter demonstrators -- Massey miners and wives and a few teachers. The two sides carried signs proclaiming "Massey Feeds Our Family" and "Outsiders Go Home" and "Coal Ho's Bow Down to Massey." On day two, a woman driver tried to run over Webb and another marcher, but after talking to her later, they did not press charges. On day three, the marchers turned to silence and singing to avert provocation. But a few days later, Webb got a telephone threat and then a warning that miners had vowed to throw him and a colleague down a mine shaft. For a while he kept his gun within reach.

People say Massey uses a divide-and-rule strategy and welcomes neighbor turning against neighbor. The school issue has even divided families. Things have gotten tense in households where parents and grandparents -- or husbands and wives -- don't agree on whether the kids are safe at school.

Business as usual

In August, the state epidemiologist told the governor the health risk to Marsh Fork students "remains unknown." Manchin had the state department of education inspect the school over the summer. Inspectors looked for mold and coal dust deposits while testing the ventilation system, which they deemed was working well. (Residents say the school had been scrubbed for weeks before the inspection.). But they never tested air quality indoors or outside for coal dust or chemicals, saying they weren't health experts.

The state immediately declared the school safe and classes resumed. Mountain Watch condemned the investigation as a sham and delivered a 10-pound baloney to Manchin in protest. But Manchin said his investigation of the school was over and refused the group's request for an independent evaluation.

"The governor does not want to know the truth," charges Webb. And Calwell adds, "Once you know, then you have to do something."

"Remember," says Webb, "if they admit there is coal dust and other mine-related pollutants in the children's lungs, there is going to be a parade of lawsuits naming just about everyone who has been made aware and did nothing." Others suggest the state's economy is so dependent on coal that officials choose to look away.

The school board closed nearby Marsh Fork High School three years ago over intense opposition and bused the students miles away. Residents are convinced the same fate has long been planned for the elementary school. When a county elementary school upriver was recently awarded state funds for a new building, fears of school consolidation -- a reality for many West Virginia residents in recent years -- were heightened. As with the high school, declining enrollment could be the pretext. But Webb warns that if the board tries to close the school, there will be quite a fight.

Peter Slavin is a freelance writer based in Oakton, Va. He has been writing about the Coal River Valley since 1995.

Sidebar: Defending the school's safety

After a community delegation told the Raleigh County School Board its concerns about Marsh Fork Elementary School, board chairman Kim Cooper says he contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection. Then he and the district safety director and assistant maintenance supervisor toured the Sundial mine with DEP officials.

Cooper says the DEP told him there are no problems at the school. The board, he adds, must rely on the DEP to determine whether the school is safe, because members lack the technical expertise to judge for themselves.

Stuart Calwell, an attorney for victims of toxic exposure and the former head of West Virginia's Kanawha County School Board, disagrees. "It's not enough to accept the word of the authorities [that] there's nothing to worry about," Calwell says. He advises the board to go further and do baseline testing and periodic follow-up to ensure there is no risk, "instead of just proclaiming there is no risk." Through inaction, he says, the board is "gambling with the long-term health of these children."

Superintendent Charlotte Hutchens says there is no evidence an unusual number of children are sick, citing the school's 96-97 percent attendance rate. But these figures don't tell the whole story. Other school officials say that children who are out sick and return with a doctor's note or excuse from home are counted present for attendance purposes, a step state regulations permit.

Cooper says he has no knowledge of a high rate of illness at the school or of cancer cases. However, an ASBJ inquiry found that three adults who worked at the elementary school or in the building when it was a middle school have died of cancer in the past 10 years. This includes two teachers (Linda Daniel and Lloyd Bone), and a cook (Ann Holstein). In addition, a former student at the middle school died at 17 of ovarian cancer. Another young woman who went to the middle school is currently recovering from the same disease.

Enrollment at the school has fallen from 279 to 215 in the past four years, a 23 percent drop that seems rapid even in a state whose school population is declining. Whether this is partly due to parental concern over safety is not clear.

The school's safety is defended by Patty Allen, a special education teacher for the past three years who transferred to a county high school this winter. Allen, whose son is a student at the elementary school and whose mother was the custodian there for years, is quick to say "no one in the family has ever been in coal mining."

Allen denies that those who work at the school are afraid to take a stand against Massey. She says that of the 28 teachers, administrators, and staff at the school, only six have immediate family members working for the company. And she notes that six other teachers also had children at Marsh Fork Elementary, evidence of their faith in the school.

Allen believes children's health at the school is no worse than elsewhere. She says she is not worried about the dam's safety, because her husband's company did a computer test on the dam when they built it. The seepage, she says, prevents overflow.

The one teacher who complained openly about conditions lives less than half a mile from the mine, Allen notes. Why, she asks, doesn't coal dust make his son sick in the summer? "If it's coal dust," she says, he "should be sick year-round. The wind does not just blow one way, toward that school."

As Allen sees it, the critics have a vendetta against Massey and are using the school controversy to score points against the company.

Sidebar: The teacher who complained

The only teacher at Marsh Fork Elementary to publicly protest conditions has been Kenneth Pettry Jr., whose wife also teaches at the school and whose son is in the fourth grade. He gave an interview to a local newspaper reporter last spring and later spoke on television. He tried to speak at a rally but says he was shouted down.

"I'm not a troublemaker," says Pettry (not a direct relation of Sherry Pettry). It was dismay over the initial approval of the second silo that led him to speak out. "To me, that's doubling pollution," says Pettry. "You can't ignore this."

Pettry, a veteran teacher with four children, believes those at the school are being treated like guinea pigs in a study of pollution's effects. "This is like a laboratory down here," he says. "I don't know of any school in the United States that has a [coal] silo."

Pettry says the teachers who demonstrated against those protesting conditions at the school have relatives working for Massey or fear the school will be closed and consolidated. Others won't speak out for fear of alienating themselves from their colleagues, he says.

Many of his colleagues, he claims, refuse to acknowledge the risks to their students, no matter how obvious. He says he's seen teachers pretend they didn't hear a mine blast go off. It "could rain cinders around them," and they'd draw no conclusion, he declares.

For more information

Coal River Mountain Watch. CRMW works to stop the destruction of local communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life, and to help rebuild sustainable communities.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. OVEC is a grassroots organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the environment through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development, and media outreach.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA provides a software tool to help school districts establish and manage comprehensive school facility self-assessment programs; an environmental health and safety checklist that can be customized to reflect state and local requirements and policies; and links to online resources to help address environmental health issues in schools.

Northern Dynasty promises to replace fish lost to mining

PAULA DOBBYN, Anchorage Daily News

26th March 2006

Canadian developers hoping to turn the giant Pebble gold and copper deposit in Southwest Alaska into one of the world's largest mines say they will follow a "no net loss" policy for fish, a goal that has some in the salmon-rich region wondering what it means and whether it will work.

The policy means that if Pebble eventually becomes a mine, and if fish populations are harmed, the developers will replace them so that harvest levels -- whether commercial, sport or subsistence -- stay the same, said Bruce Jenkins, chief operating officer for Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Much is at stake because of Pebble's location. The giant deposit is located in the headwaters of two river systems that feed Bristol Bay, home to five species of Pacific salmon, including the world's largest sockeye salmon run.

Exactly how the company will accomplish no net loss remains to be seen, because designs and engineering for the proposed mine are under development, and a bevy of environmental studies the company commissioned are continuing. Northern Dynasty says it will not apply for permits until late next year and, assuming the project goes forward, production would begin no earlier than 2011.

But Jenkins said fish replacement could involve enhancing streams, capturing and relocating fish, or removing beaver dams, blocked culverts or other obstacles to boost reproduction.

How much habitat would need to be replaced is not known but a couple of things are certain in these early days of Pebble development, he said.

"You can't build a major project with zero impact, but you can offset it," Jenkins said.

The other certainty is that any fish stocks the company creates will be wild, not farmed, he said.

"It doesn't mean hatchery fish or aquaculture," he said.

State regulators are taking a wait-and-see approach. But some fishery experts reject the notion that Northern Dynasty can achieve its goals, in part because salmon have evolved for centuries to adapt to specific stream conditions. They say trying to mimic the handiwork of nature is nearly impossible.

"The idea that you can create habitat, it just doesn't have a sound scientific basis," said Daniel Schindler, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Schindler's research focuses almost exclusively on Bristol Bay salmon.

Jim Buell, a fisheries consultant for Northern Dynasty, acknowledges that debate churns over the effectiveness of habitat enhancement for salmon.

"Some projects are quite successful and some are not," he said.

But Buell said he thinks it's feasible at Pebble and that in some places fish production can actually be boosted.

"It's not about no net loss. It's about net gain."


The policy Northern Dynasty pledges to follow is grounded in Canada's federal fishery regulations.

The parliament in Ottawa passed measures for protecting fish habitat throughout Canada in 1986. The no-net-loss policy says the existing productive capacity of Canada's rivers, lakes and streams should remain intact.

Where development projects such as mines, highways and oil and gas exploration might harm habitat, the guiding principle should be no net loss. That means that the Fisheries and Oceans department strives to balance habitat loss with habitat replacement on a project-to-project basis.

"It's worked well," said Patrice LeBlanc, director of habitat protection and sustainable development for Fisheries and Oceans. "The no-net-loss principle is integral to the department's policy for the management of fish."

"If there is any damage to fish habitat, we require that it be offset," LeBlanc said.

There are a variety of strategies. They include creating similar habitat conditions nearby, such as building a wetland, to enhancing a fish-producing river elsewhere by adding woody debris or removing obstacles. The policy also might simply mean paying a lump sum to the government to compensate for the fish and habitat loss.

Mining watchdogs in Canada say the policy looks good on paper but it lacks teeth, doesn't always work biologically and is often overlooked.

Whether the no-net-loss objective has been met in Canada is anyone's guess, said Joan Kuyek, national coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, which published a report on the issue last year.

"Nobody knows because they haven't found out. They haven't done the studies," Kuyek said. "When we talked to people at Fisheries and Oceans, they had no idea if they achieved it."

The report criticized the government for an "absence of a scientific basis for decision-making, the lack of monitoring or follow-up, and a disregard for public participation."

LeBlanc disagrees with Kuyek and the report's conclusions, although he acknowledges that more studies on the effectiveness of no net loss would help. But even then, he said, the critics would not be satisfied.

"Even if we doubled it, people would say it's not enough."


Pebble straddles the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, some of the world's most prolific producers of sockeye and king salmon. The Kvichak and the Nushagak are two of seven rivers draining into Bristol Bay.

Over the last century, the Kvichak has produced more than a third of Bristol Bay's sockeye harvest, said Schindler. The Nushagak is the biggest king producer.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that last year's Bristol Bay commercial salmon catch netted fishermen $93 million.

The deposit is also smack inside a region sprinkled with luxury sportfishing lodges where people of sufficient wealth fly in from around the world to catch trophy rainbow trout and salmon.

Because of what's at stake with the Bristol Bay watershed, Northern Dynasty's no-net-loss policy has caught the interest of people following the possible development of Pebble. One major question is whether prime fish habitat can really be replaced through engineering.

It depends, state officials say, on many factors.

"Whether you can accomplish it on any individual project depends a lot on what type of project you have, the size, the location," said Al Ott, operations manager of the state Department of Natural Resources' Office of Habitat Management and Permitting.

Other factors include the geochemistry of the deposit, local hydrology and how the project is designed and engineered.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, he said.

One place where post-mining habitat rehabilitation panned out well is at Fort Knox, a large gold mine near Fairbanks, Ott said.

Fort Knox, which produced 324,000 ounces of gold in 2005, uses Fish Creek Valley as a water source. That area was damaged during years of placer mining, and resident fish were killed. But when Fort Knox was built in the 1990s, the mining company dammed Fish Creek and flooded the area. Arctic grayling and burbot recolonized and are now abundant, Ott said. The valley will become a public recreation area after mining ends.

The company building Kensington, a gold mine north of Juneau now under construction, plans to put its waste rock in a nearby lake. The Dolly Varden char and three-spine stickleback in the lake will die.

But Pete McGee, an engineer with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said after mining is over, the fish will return.

"When they quit dumping tailings in there, we expect it to be fine fish habitat," McGee said.

Environmentalists, who sued over the issue, have doubts. They cite a lack of scientific evidence and describe the lake as a "sacrifice zone" that may never recover.

"We're not convinced," said Kat Hall, mining coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Schindler, the University of Washington fisheries professor, said the science around creating fish habitat is improving but is "still pretty lame."

"The idea that you can engineer habitat, in general it's a concept that we generally fail to accomplish."

Streams, lakes and rivers have myriad natural characteristics that fish require, he said. Among other things, he said, engineers have a hard time mimicking natural occurrences, such as storms or flooding.

"You can carve a ditch in the earth and put water in it and call it a stream. Whether it functions appropriately as a natural stream" is another question, Schindler said.

Perhaps, but many strategies have successfully developed over the decades to achieve no-net-loss of fish, Buell said.

"Habitats can be manipulated to improve their productive capacity," he said.

Lakes and ponds with no fish, for example, can be connected to rivers or streams that do support aquatic life, and as a result, they can become fish-bearing water bodies, Buell said.

In other cases, streams with few pools and eddies, suitable for fish-rearing, can be enhanced by adding boulders or woody debris, such as logs or tree limbs, that trap currents and create calm waters.

After consulting with state fish biologists and people who live in the Pebble region, Buell said he has identified several places that could benefit from habitat restoration and enhancement. He declined to name them, saying it's premature.

An admirable goal

Ralph Andersen, chief executive of Bristol Bay Native Association, called Northern Dynasty's no-net-loss pledge an "admirable goal."

But Andersen, who heads the region's largest community and social-services agency for Natives, said it's too early to say whether it's doable.

"Nothing has happened yet. No holes have been dug in the ground," Andersen said. "If I saw some definite plans for the design and engineering and waste-disposal plans, then I would be in a better position to answer. But right now it's all ideology and concept."

Andersen noted that Northern Dynasty, a junior mining company, has yet to bring on a major investor who will pay the estimated $1.5 billion cost of developing Pebble. Whether the eventual developer adheres to Northern Dynasty's no-net-loss policy is unknown.

Even if Pebble never gets built, other mining companies and prospectors have staked at least a thousand acres near the deposit for potential mining. So the questions surrounding how to balance fish protection with mineral extraction are not likely to go away.

"Does Pebble set a precedent that will encourage more development that will eventually compromise the natural resources of the area?" Schindler asked.

It doesn't have to, project supporters say.

The mayor of the Lake and Peninsula Borough, the local government nearest Pebble, told state lawmakers in a hearing last month that resource development and environmental protection can co-exist if done right. The borough assembly last month also voted unanimously against a legislative resolution calling for more state oversight of the Pebble project.

The resolution died in the Legislature after two hearings in the House Resources Committee.

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