The demonstrators said they believe it is urgently necessary to protect the children at Marsh Fork Elementary from the pending danger of a massive dam failure of the Schumate sludge impoundment on the hillside above the school in Sundial, West Virginia.
As they displayed a banner reading "Stop Blasting, Save The Kids" atop Massey Energy's Edwight mountaintop removal site, all five were arrested and charged with trespassing.
Among the group were Joe Gorman, a student from West Virginia University; Cassandra Rice a native of Fairmont, West Virginia; Andrew Munn of University of Michigan and member of Student Environmental Action Coalition; Nicole Moston, a freelance videographer; and Mat Louis-Rosenberg of the group Mountain Justice.
Since 2005, local residents have demanded that Marsh Fork Elementary School be moved to protect the children from a massive dam failure like the one that happened at the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired power plant in Harriman, Tennessee on December 22 last year.
The Schumate Dam holds back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal waste in a sludge pond above the Marsh Fork Elementary School and upriver from the towns of Whitesville and Sylvester in the Coal River Valley.
Four of the five demonstrators kneel on the road to the mountaintop removal site displaying their "Stop Blasting" banner. (Photo by Nicole Moston courtesy Student Environmental Action Coalition)
If the dam were to fail, students and teachers at Marsh Fork would have less than a minute to get upriver before they would be buried by the sludge, the demonstrators said.
Today's protest stands as a symbol of the growing movement against this type of coal mining, the demonstrators said. More than 150 West Virginia residents joined a hundred others from across Appalachia at last weekend's Power Shift Conference in Washington, DC, which was marked by a substantial focus on mountaintop removal coal mining.
Thousands of protesters stood in solidarity at the conference with those being impacted by mountaintop removal and cheered Judy Bonds of Rock Creek, West Virginia as she spoke of what is happening in southern West Virginia.
Today's demonstration took place less than a week after Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison granted Massey Energy's motion for a temporary restraining order against Mike Roselle and other members of Climate Ground Zero, who were arrested February 25, 2009 for trespassing on Performance Coal's Edwight mountaintop removal site in southern West Virginia.
"They have no right to destroy this mountain and put more unsafe material behind this unstable dam," said Roselle. "If the blasting continues, and the Shumate Dam was to fail, thousands of West Virginians would die."
Those arrested today said their protest shows that the concern for the health and future of southern West Virginia's mountains and residents spans across the state and the nation.
Gorman said, "I believe this is the most important battle facing West Virginia. Mountaintop removal specifically is the most horrific means of destroying jobs, health, and communities. When the coal is gone, I want there to be jobs for my children and grandchildren."
The increasingly frequent demonstrations against mountaintop removal mining show that more people are moved to the point of personally standing up to the coal companies in order to call attention to the inherent dangers and destruction that come with this form of mining.
"Personally I see this as an act of violence," said Rice. "It's violence against nature and an act of violence toward the people who live here. Ethically it's wrong, and it's not even economically viable anymore. It's just wrong on all fronts."
Munn said, "Just across that valley is Coal River Mountain. There's a dream on that mountain - wind energy promises long term prosperity to the community here. That's why I'm here. The kids at Marsh Fork - the communities all around Coal River Valley - they deserve better than another destroyed mountain and the dangers that come with it."
"This assault by Massey Energy on our mountains and surrounding communities will no longer be tolerated," said area resident Bo Webb. "Our rights have been stripped aside as our mountains have been stripped away. Americans of good conscious everywhere have been taking notice and now they are taking action."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.