Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coal Mac and Mountain Laurel Mines

On Thursday morning we left the Best Western Logan Inn in Chapmanville and drove behind the Walmart at Fountain Place near Logan. We saw the work being done to make the abandoned mines at the area safe and secure. A helpful construction worker informed us that the area had been an underground shaft mine. He also told us that mines under Walmart could potentially collapse so Walmart is paying for 2500 trucks of concrete to be pumped into the empty mine, reducing the risk of subsidence.
From there, we went to Coal Mac surface mine facility near Holden, WV. Coal Mac is a subsidiary of Arch Coal. Their huge surface mine was quite impressive. Even more impressive are the areas of their property that have been reclaimed for five or more years. The ecosystem was diverse and becoming well developed. We saw evidence of deer, bear, song birds, insects and other wildlife. We learned that Coal Mac is experimenting with switchgrass and other planting for former surface mine areas. Our guide for the drive around the mine used a comparison that really resonated with most of us. “Immediately following a surgery the wound is unpleasant to see. However, given time and proper treatment, the surgery can return to normal with minimal scarring.” That seemed to be an excellent description of surface mining. While the surface mining is taking place, the area is quite unattractive, however, if properly reclaimed, the area can return to woodland or be repurposed for human use.
Coal Mac provided a nice lunch of sub sandwiches that we took to the First Christian Church in Logan to enjoy while we discussed our visit.
In the afternoon, we drove over Blair Mountain to Mountain Laurel deep mine near Sharples, WV. After a brief safety course, we toured the prep plant where the coal is separated from the rock and is cleaned and prepared for used in making steel. The prep plant was much cleaner than we expected. Mr. Freeman’s statement that the prep plant is really just one big machine with a variety of components seemed like a good description of the overall operation.
We returned to the motel that afternoon to dress for our dinner at the Logan Country Club. Miners and their families were invited to join our group to have informal discussions over dinner about the work and life of coal miners. Clay and Nicole Spradlin were at our table and were very pleasant in sharing information about life in Logan County mines. It was especially interesting since Nicole is a real estate agent and has her finger on the pulse of the economy of the region through home sales. Everyone in our group enjoyed the conversations with the mine families at their tables.
Karen and Annette were recognized by the group for all of their hard work in making the trip possible through handling the logistics of food and lodging. Dennis was honored for his ability to come up with the overall vision for the project and to leverage AMSP funding along with local sources and donations from coal companies. Then came the roast of Pat and Steve by Mr. Strait and others. Pat can certainly use the water from the fountain of youth that was his gift. I received a bottle of Nair as well as a singing bear should I have a desire to wrestle something.

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