East Kentucky Mayor Alleges County-Level Threats Over Opposition to Mining

by Erica Peterson on June 17, 2011

The mayor of a small eastern Kentucky town says a Harlan County executive is threatening to withhold money unless the town compromises with coal companies hoping to open mountaintop removal operations in the area.

Taylor Hall has been the mayor of Lynch, Kentucky for less than a month, but he inherited some big problems. The town is embroiled in legal battles over the strip mining of Black Mountain, the tallest mountain in Kentucky. Hall says he was told by Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop that his town wouldn’t get money to restore their firehouse unless they negotiated with the coal companies.

Hall says Lynch won’t survive without Black Mountain.

“There’s the lawsuit to fight the permit, but now, should all avenues fail they only thing we’ve got is we need to start planning a funeral for a city,” he said. “Because in my opinion, and in the opinion of most of the residents of my town, mountaintop removal will be the death of this actually very historic little town.”

But without the county’s help, Hall says he’s not sure how to fund the firehouse renovation.

“It’s a bad situation,” he said. “This is a tiny town. We have very little financial base. Most of our population is retired persons. And the old and the weak and the poor are the ones who tend to have to pay the piper for the dance.”

The town of Lynch has also petitioned Governor Steve Beshear to declare Black Mountain “unsuitable for mining.” The petition was denied last fall, but an appeal is pending.

Judge-Executive Grieshop didn’t return a request for comment. He told the Harlan Daily Enterprise that he was simply telling Mayor Hall coal companies were a possible source of the money:

“I just told them that the coal companies are where the money comes from. If you’re not willing to work with them and you’re anti-coal, then the fiscal court members are not going to support you. They have already stated that. They don’t feel comfortable helping out cities with coal monies, when the city is not trying to work with the coal company.”

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