Mayoral Race in Eastern Kentucky Could Alter City’s Fight Against Surface Mining

by Erica Peterson on November 9, 2011

Newly-re-elected Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has promised to be friendly to the coal industry. But another, smaller election may have more immediate implications: this week voters elected a new mayor in the Harlan County town of Lynch.

Lynch sits at the foot of Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky. The Kentucky-Virginia state line runs down the middle of the mountain, and it’s obvious where one state ends and the other begins: the Virginia side of the mountain has been surface mined, while the Kentucky side is still untouched.

Some in Lynch are fighting to keep it that way. They’re concerned about the town’s drinking water, which comes off the mountain.

The city itself has filed a petition with the state to declare the lands unsuitable for mining. The petition was denied, but Lynch is appealing the decision. Current mayor Taylor Hall was involved in the city’s efforts to prevent the mine. But Hall didn’t win re-election.

“I’m concerned that the city’s objections at least will be withdrawn in toto, with no caveats as to what would be required,” Hall said. “Basically, the city would be thrown upon the pyre of good coal mining.”

Mayor-elect Johnnie Adams isn’t sure what he’ll do about the petition yet. But he’s more inclined to work out a deal with the coal companies.

There’s another petition pending too—this one on behalf of the city AND individuals, including City Councilman Stanley Sturgill.

“I don’t care who takes their name off of it, who gives in or what have you,” Sturgill said. “My name will not come off of that. I don’t know what weight that will carry, but I don’t want my mountains destroyed.”

Like the first, this petition was denied but is being appealed in administrative court.

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