Mining still threatens historic Benham and Lynch

For at least a couple of decades, community leaders in the towns of Benham and Lynch (Harlan County), working across racial and economic lines, have planned their future as the coal industry dwindles away. Preserving that coal heritage has been an important part of what they have accomplished – the Coal Mining Museum, Portal 31 (underground mine tour), the Schoolhouse Inn and the East Kentucky Social Club all draw visitors from across the country.

There is so much more included in the aspirations of the community residents – creating new jobs, the Benham $aves energy project and preserving their rural quality of life. That also means protecting their drinking water and the beauty of the mountains that surround the towns.

But both of those are threatened.

In 2010, four residents filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition. That would allow the watersheds and viewsheds above the towns to permanently be declared off-limits to strip mining. Without this declaration, not only future plans but what already has been achieved will be threatened.

The Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition has been revived after initially being rejected by state officials. Here’s how you can help.

 

Submit your comments now!

Your support matters. Thanks for taking action!

 

Suggestions for written comments

You also may email comments directly to Jeff Baird, director of the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits, @jeff.baird@ky.gov. If you say no more than simply, “I support the residents of Benham and Lynch in their lands unsuitable petition.” that would be a big help.

If you’re able to write more detailed comments, and especially if you’ve had the opportunity to visit Benham or Lynch, here are some suggestions on what to emphasize.

Kentucky law says that petitions to declare lands as suitable for mining may be granted if the mining would:

  1. Be incompatible with existing state and local land use plans; or
  2. Affect fragile or historic lands in which such operations could result in significant damage to important historic, cultural, scientific, and aesthetic values, and natural systems; or
  3. Affect renewable resource lands in which such operations could result in a substantial loss or reduction of long-range productivity of water supply or food or fiber products, and such lands to include aquifers and aquifer recharge areas
  4. Affect natural hazard lands in which such operations could substantially endanger life and property, such lands to include areas subject to frequent flooding and areas of unstable geology. (emphasis added)

Mining in the Gap Branch and Looney Creek watersheds above Benham and Lynch would pose a threat on all these grounds. The petition clearly should be granted.

State law further reads that, “Determinations of the unsuitability of land for surface coal mining shall be integrated as closely as possible with present and future land use planning …” Mining and the damage to the land, water and natural beauty are incompatible with the future residents are working to build.

If you’ve been to Benham or Lynch, you can mention what was important about those towns that drew you there, and how what you experienced is something worth protecting.

Here’s some additional reading: