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Buffer zone ordered for mine near Blair Mountain

CHARLESTON (AP) — State mining regulators have ordered a coal company to add a buffer zone at a surface mine near Blair Mountain in Logan County.

The 1,000-foot buffer zone ordered by the Department of Environmental Protection is aimed at prevented mining activities from coming too close to the site where coal miners trying to unionize fought police and hired guns in 1921. The battle was the largest armed civil uprising in the nation since the Civil War.

Aracoma Coal, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, must add the buffer zone to a permit it received from the DEP for its Camp Bramch mine.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Clean Water Act permit for the mine that included a 1,000-foot buffer zone. Inspectors with the DEP discovered that the permit issued by the state agency didn’t include the same buffer zone, said Harold Ward, acting director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation.

The change to the state permit will affect about 50 to 60 acres on the southern end of the battlefield site, Ward told the Charleston Gazette.

“That pretty much stagnates those reserves,” Ward said.

Alpha does not believe the change will have an adverse impact on the permit, company spokesman Steve Higginbottom told the newspaper.

Friends of Blair Mountain, the United Mine Workers union and other groups want to preserve areas around the battlefield site. They are concerned that work associated with the Camp Branch mine may be damaging areas of historical or archaeological interest.

The 1,600-acre battlefield was briefly added to the National Register of Historic Places, and then removed when private property owners objected. Several groups sued to have that status restored but lost their court challenge in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in October 2012.

Ward said his agency is trying to work with citizens, the UMW, Alpha and landowners from Natural Resource Partners in a programmatic agreement through the corps that would spell out the site’s historic preservation needs and resolve the ongoing disputes over Blair Mountain’s future.

“There needs to be some resolution to it,” Ward said. “This has been going on since 1990.”

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