WASHINGTON — A federal judge made it just a bit harder for mountaintop removal mining to occur on Blair Mountain in Logan County.
On April 11, Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled in favor of a group of historical and environmental preservation activists who argued that West Virginia’s Blair Mountain should not have been removed from the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
The mountain has been the subject of ongoing legal maneuvers for several years, and this decision dealt a blow to the coal mining companies that owned property in the area and sought to keep the property off the registry so that mining could occur in the future.
“The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and others sued the Department of the Interior, [the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, and the National Parks Service] charging that it was illegal to take Blair Mountain off of the historic register,” Dianne Bady told West Virginia Record. Bady is a representative of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Blair Mountain, known for a labor uprising in the 1920s, is located in Logan County. The area is well-known for its coal-rich soils and ground, and in 2009, the mountain and battlefield were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, although that placement lasted just about a week before the state’s Historic Preservation Office removed the site from the list, saying that landowners protested the designation.
This is not the first time that Walton has heard a case regarding Blair Mountain and the historic register. Several years ago, Walton ruled that historical and environmental preservation activists who had previously sued the Department of the Interior did not have standing to file that suit; in 2014, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals overturned Walton’s verdict.
Questions of property ownership were big issues in this challenge, with discussion of several lists of owners and objections to listing Blair Mountain Battlefield as a historically significant place. In a ruling that spanned 47 pages, Walton noted that Blair Mountain had been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places multiple times, specifically in 2005 and 2008, and discussed lists of property owners who filed objections to the inclusion of Blair Mountain on the registry.
Walton wrote that the Keeper failed to independently verify the accuracy of the list of property owners and those who objected, near the area in question. Walton sent the decision back to the Keeper for “the exercise of reasoned decisionmaking.”
Walton’s act of vacating the delisting of Blair Mountain from the National Register of Historic Places does not mean though, that the West Virginia landmark will immediately be added back onto the register of historic places.
“The decision clearly shows that the process for de-listing wasn’t what it should have been. The Keeper of the Historic Register needs to address the issue again,” Bady said. “We hope that putting Blair Mountain on the register would help save what is left.”