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UPDATE: Even the Dead cannot Rest in Peace
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by Larry Gibson, Dianne Bady and Regina Hendrix | 2008

Coalfield residents report more desecreations of family cemeteries by WV coal companies

Since the November-December Mountain State Sierran article on the Stover Cemetery desecration, we’ve been contacted by a number of coalfield citizens with similar cemetery destruction stories.

On November 26 Sierra Club and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition staff, along with family members whose relatives are/were buried in Stover Cemetery, met and had discussions with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Director of Mining and Reclamation (DMR) and other DEP staff in order get answers to our questions concerning the destruction of cemetaries by mining companies.

During our meeting DEP inspectors pointed out that the best way for citizens to protect their family cemeteries is during the mine permitting process. If a citizen sees a notice in a newspaper which states that a mining permit is being applied for, that citizen can inform the DEP of any cemetery on that site. DEP does have legal authority to forbid the company to mine within 100 feet of a cemetery. In actual practice though, many people do not read newspapers or carefully examine all the legal notices, especially people who have been displaced from the state DEP personnel noted that there is no legally binding process for the DEP or the (State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to set the boundaries of a cemetery which does not qualify for National Historic status. There is no established procedure for an expert to determine the boundaries of such a cemetery and there is no legally delineated process for a citizen to challenge the boundaries of a cemetery, even if those boundaries are set during the permitting process.

Summing up our meeting, DEP officials noted that “this process needs to be cleaned up.” All of the DEP officials expressed a desire to have cemeteries protected, but it was clear to all of us that the current regulatory structure does not provide for adequate protection of cemeteries. In particular, the current roles of DEP and SHPO are not adequate for the protection of cemeteries which do not qualify for National Historic Status.

At the conclusion of our lengthy meeting, it was agreed that DEP officials will talk to the Director of SHPO about all of these concerns and give us details of that conversation.

In the meantime we have been in contact with a legislator who we hope will assist us in getting legislation written to protect ALL family cemeteries whether or not they are eligible for the National Register.

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