Eco Groups Use Online Maps in Mine Fight

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 4, 2006; 10:43 PM

VICCO, Ky. -- Benny Campbell experiences mountaintop mining day and night. His bed is rattled by the blasting. Gray dust blankets his porch and car if a few days go by without rain. His electricity goes out repeatedly when the coal miners accidentally knock down power lines.

But the worst thing of all, he says, is that the mountain peaks that once loomed over his lifelong eastern Kentucky home have been flattened by dynamite and bulldozers.

"When I was young, it was a really pretty place," said Campbell, 53, who lives in a hollow called Bull Creek near Vicco. "Now it's just a rock pile. You can't do nothing with it."

Now environmentalists have found a way to let the rest of the world see what mountaintop coal mining has done to Appalachia: They have started a Web site that uses the Google Earth database to enable people to see aerial reconnaissance photos of the scarred countryside.

"The point is mountaintop removal has gone on under a cloak of secrecy," said Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of Appalachian Voices, one of a half-dozen environmental groups involved in the Internet campaign. "Unless you have the experience of flying over the region in a small plane, it's hard to understand the scale of mountaintop removal."

Their Web site, , was launched in mid-September with a link to the campaign's "National Memorial of the Mountains," which shows a Google Earth map of Appalachia. The map pinpoints areas of mountaintop removal with graphics of flags at half-staff, and a 3-d tour reveals clear views of sludge ponds, blasting holes and mountains scraped of their peaks.

The coal industry says the Web site buries the benefits of mountaintop mining.

"I clearly think it's for shock value," said Bill Caylor, head of the Kentucky Coal Association. "They're playing the emotional card on us."

Caylor and Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said the Web site is misleading because it fails to acknowledge mine reclamation projects.

"In many parts of Appalachia, these reclamation activities have provided much needed level land above the flood plain for construction of schools, government offices, medical facilities, airports, shopping centers and housing developments," Raulston said in an e-mail.

For James Bowling, mountaintop removal has been a blessing. The 59-year-old built his dream home atop a flattened mountain called Red Oak and has 250 acres of newly leveled land to raise 80 head of cattle and vegetables.

"If it wasn't for mountaintop removal, I wouldn't be here," said Bowling, who lived in the valley below Red Oak before allowing a mine company to extract coal from his property at 50 cents per ton.

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