VBS: The second episode of Toxic West Virginia is about reclamation.
Meredith: We went out four-wheeling with Patrick White, who was born and raised in West Virginia. He teaches a mine safety class and works at the 19th Hole, the best bar in south West Virginia. That’s where all the miners go. It’s an anarchic, lawless, anything goes, good times bar. Patrick was bartending there and that’s how we met him. He found out what we were working on and said we should check out Hoebet, a mine site where they had done some reclamation. That means they had replanted after heavy mining had devastated the area. I had already seen some fairly current reclamation near Larry Gibson’s mountain, but I had never seen old reclamation. I was interested in finding out if it aged well—if it looked normal again. So we went to see this reclamation that was done 30 years ago.
Wow. It looks like they just left yesterday.
The episode starts out with us four wheeling and driving around in the mud, doing doughnuts and hill-climbs and accidentally getting stuck on the side of a hill—just whooping it up on a reclamation site.
And that’s all it’s used for?
There isn’t much else you can do on a reclamation site. The companies try to play it off by saying that they’re developing flat land
What’s so great about flat land?
One of the reasons West Virginia doesn’t have any major industry besides mining is because they don’t have any flat land. It’s hard to do much else in those hills.
On flat land, theoretically, you can put a mall or a Wal-Mart. But when they do mountaintop removal and make the land flat, the substructure is so compromised that the things they’ve built have been condemned. After a couple of years the walls and plumbing start busting up because of the structure settling.
What does it feel like to be in this harsh landscape? Emotionally, it must be tough.
The first time I really saw it was at Larry’s mountain but it was from far away and it looked so surreal. It looked like Arizona. It was kind of pretty in a weird, fucked up way.
But then I went out with a friend, who I’ll just refer to as Steve, and he took us to an active mountaintop removal site. It had just recently been clear-cut so there were just thousands and thousands of felled trees. Up above, there were all these hawks flying around, circling these trees that were fallen. I freaked out. It was one thing to think about the land and the trees, but to consider all the life in the forest that was being displaced… It was almost like they were flying around like, ‘I could have sworn I put my nest here.’ That was pretty emotional.
CONTINUED IN PART 3 TOMORROW…