Proposed Coal Terminal Defeated in Western Kentucky
Back in March, we reported on how the Sierra Club was helping galvanize residents of western Kentucky against a proposed coal terminal near the city of Paducah, on the Ohio River. On May 23, that effort ended in victory when the McCracken County Fiscal Court voted 3-1 to reject a coal industry-backed plan to rezone 490 acres of West Paducah for heavy industrial use.
That's Sierra Club regional organizer Tom Pearce, above, with West Paducah resident Teresa Cash, after the Fiscal Court vote. Cash lives in the area that Southern Coal Handling wanted rezoned for the coal terminal. Had the company gotten its way, heavy industrial development would have been permitted less than 150 feet from where Cash and her husband Chad live.
The May 23 meeting capped of a series of half a dozen public hearings on the proposed coal terminal since late February. Despite heavy public opposition, the McCracken County zoning commissioners voted in late March to approve the rezoning. That's when the Sierra Club and neighborhood groups kicked their effort into high gear.
"We turned out between 150 and 200 people for every meeting," Pearce says. "And before the May 23 meeting, we got residents to flood the County Clerk Executive and the members of the Fiscal Court with phone calls opposing the rezoning."
Below, a photo taken at an April 20 meeting of the McCracken County Commissioners, where all in attendance who opposed the coal terminal were asked to raise their hands.
"Chad Cash and longtime Cumberland Chapter [Kentucky] activist Ben Killmon led the charge at that meeting, where testimony ran about 25 to 1 against the coal terminal," Pearce says. "The Commission was provided with aerial photos taken by Valley Watch President and Indiana Sierra Club activist John Blair, showing that recent flood waters would have reached well into the area where coal would have been stored for the terminal.
"One after another well-prepared resident came forward with documents, photos, and heartfelt testimony," Pearce says. "Several Sierra Club members from McCracken County spoke and were wonderful. Jeanie Embry brought up mercury contamination in Kentucky and the importance of not adding to the problem."
Pearce also gives kudos to Killmon, a 50-year Sierra Club member who lives across from the proposed coal terminal site. "Ben held meetings in his garage every Saturday and really wrapped his head around community organizing," Pearce says. "When we got people to flood the county offices with phone calls prior to the May 23 vote, it was Ben who made it happen."
Also leading the fight was Dianna Riddick, below, chair of the Club's Great Rivers Group. Group members did door-to-door outreach, met with neighborhood leaders, circulated a petition against the coal terminal, and spearheaded the effort to turn residents out to public hearings.
"The fact that community power was able to turn back the coal industry in a far-western Kentucky county is very significant," Pearce says. "It's a tribute to grassroots power and community-based activism."