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July 24, 2009

Coal makes the Cook Mountain Graveyards not so Peaceful

Media intern Natalie Gaber informs us of yet another downside to the coal industry

“Rest in peace” is a common wish bestowed upon the dearly departed, but for one West Virginia family’s ancestors, this is proving to be a difficult task.

Despite a West Virginia state law requiring that “the owners of private land on which a cemetery or grave site are located have a duty to allow ingress and egress to the cemetery or graveyard by family members,” earlier this week Horizon Resources LLC , a coal mining company, blocked access to multiple graveyards on Cook Mountain as part of a surface mining operation being conducted.

Cook Mountain, located in James Creek, West Virginia, is named after the Cook family, longtime James Creek residents. More than 6 generations of Cooks are buried in 3 different graveyards on the mountain. Members of the Cook family pay frequent visits to their ancestors’ graves as a form of tribute and to remind themselves of their heritage. The most notable Cook buried on the mountain is Civil War veteran William Chapman “Chap” Cook, who was born in 1840 and served 3 years in the War. Chap’s grave stands alone on the mountain, surrounded by a chain link fence that was erected to alert visitors to the presence of the grave so they wouldn’t accidentally bulldoze the area.

Danny Cook, the great-great-great-great-great grandson of William Chap, found the Cook Mountain Road, the only access road to Chap’s grave, blocked by a man-made berm when he attempted to drive to his ancestor’s grave last weekend. Horizon Resources, which is operating an active mountain top removal site just a few hundred feet down the mountain from Chap’s grave, is responsible for this barricade.

Technically, the law prohibits mining within 100 feet of family cemeteries, but Horizon’s operation seems to be inching closer and closer to the Cook family graveyards, much to the dismay of the Cook family. The road blockage is the most egregious encroachment so far, and it is stirring up powerful emotions. “The mining operation is creeping ever closer, and now my access is blocked. The road needs to be reopened and well maintained,” said Danny Cook.

Danny Cook’s sister-in-law, Carmon Cook, added, “My husband and I visit this cemetery many times a year. We take our children to see where they come from. It is bad enough that the logging company destroyed the old family home place of their sixth great grandfather. I don’t want to see the same thing happen to our family’s cemetery. The mine company says they have to leave at least one road open, but now we have to walk in a mile on a terrain of rubble. I would like to see these roads reopened and any damages repaired to better than before condition.”


For a detailed account of the scene on Cook Mountain, with photos, visit http://tinyurl.com/mzlj9w 

Check out this video of the Cook family visiting the site and discussing the situation: http://climategroundzero.org/2009/07/video-journey-up-cook-mountain/

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