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“On The Border Of Heaven And Hell”

January 28, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - For the last week, Eric Blevins has been camped out on a platform 50 feet up in an oak tree near the edge of a Massey Energy mountaintop removal site on Coal River Mountain. Reached on his cell phone, the environmental activist from eastern Tennessee says he and another tree-sitter are in a place, as he puts it, "like being on the border of heaven and hell."

"Coal River Mountain, this beautiful forested mountain, is to the edge of this mine site. We can see the big impoundment - this huge lake of coal waste - in the distance. And between us and that is where they had drilled for blasting."

Blevins says he does have one safety concern.

"The scariest thing is the wind. It's so windy up here that the tree has been swaying a lot. It has been shaking the platform around a lot, but I feel like I'm in a strong tree and it's gonna hold me. You know, it goes to show you how much wind potential there is up here."

Blevins says the high winds are enough to support commercial wind power on the mountain, if its top is not removed. In a written statement, Massey Energy says a wind farm could still be viable on the site after mining is finished.

Blevins says Massey employees have been shining bright lights at them and making loud noises to try to bring them down.

"Luckily, you called at a time when they are not currently blasting the air horns right at us. They've got air horns within about 15 or 20 feet of where we are and have been blasting those as well as sirens at us, almost non-stop."

Richmond-based Massey Energy did not return a call requesting comment, but issued a written statement saying the tree-sitters are putting themselves, coal miners and law enforcement personnel in danger by their illegal actions.

Blevins says they are impeding the blasting next to the 7 billion gallon Brushy Fork Impoundment because the impoundment sits over abandoned underground mines that could give way.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV