MADISON - A lawsuit was filed on Aug. 22 in Boone Circuit Court by the family members of the deceased buried in the Jarrell Family Cemetery above Lindytown.
The lawsuit is aimed at repairing and protecting the cemetery from further desecration, according to a press release issued by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
The family members worked with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and coal companies to try to obtain the protections the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act affords, according to the press release.
The operation, known as the Twilight Surface Mine complex, was once owned by Massey Energy and is now owned by Alpha Natural Resources.
As the Twilight operation grew bigger, the community of Lindytown vanished, the press release states.
"This mountaintop removal mine forced people away from their beloved town in the hollers of Boone County," Nada Cook-White said in the press release. "This cemetery is some of the only remaining evidence that Lindytown ever existed. This is a place of vital importance to our cultural heritage. The people buried there tell the history of the town and its families."
Despite the years of efforts the families made to protect the cemetery, damage continues, according to the press release.
In mid-summer, several family members made official arrangements with Alpha Natural Resources and Independence Coal Company to be allowed access to the cemetery.
By law, mining is not to be done within 100 feet of the cemetery’s boundaries, the press release stated.
To visit family cemeteries in the midst of mountaintop removal operations, family members must put in a request with the mine’s safety coordinator, they say.
The company has 10 days to respond by offering a date on which it will allow the visit.
On that day, family members undergo safety training at the mine’s guard shack. In order to meet the qualifications listed on the safety training form, which people must sign, visitors are supposed to have steel-toed boots that meet Mine Safety and Health Administration standards, as well as a hard hat and safety-stripes vest.
The company does not supply these items; those without the safety gear can be asked to leave, the press release said.
Visitors must also show photo ID, which the company photocopies. Visitors are asked to fill in papers with personal information, such as address, phone number and even social security number.
Before anyone is allowed to access the cemetery, visitors are asked to give their cameras to the guards to hold, which family members believe is to prevent them from documenting any damages.
Once all the requirements are met, mine employees escort family members to the cemetery and keep them under surveillance while they visit, allowing them at most only two hours.
The plaintiffs have each agreed that any proceeds that would come from a potential settlement will go into a fund to repair and maintain the Jarrell Cemetery.
"People living in communities where extractive industries have desecrated family cemeteries have reached out to OVEC for support and we have networked them with people and resources that can help," said Robin Blakeman, a faith-based liaison and organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "While OVEC is never involved in personal lawsuits, we are proud to see that these families are taking a firm stand."