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Delisting Battlefield Will Not Increase Mining Risk

(CN) - Removing the Blair Mountain Battlefield from a list of protected historic sites will not increase the risk of harm to the site from surface mining, a federal judge ruled.

Blair Mountain was the site of a 1921 labor confrontation that ended an unsuccessful three-year struggle to unionize coal miners in several counties in West Virginia. The showdown between 10,000 coal miners and heavily armed police, which left at least 16 dead, ended only when the miners surrendered to federal troops.

Known as the site of the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, the Blair Mountain Battlefield was briefly listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. After private property owners within the proposed historic district objected, the Keeper of the National Register removed the site from the register.

Sierra Club and other environmental and historic preservation groups challenged the decision, claiming that the "arbitrary" removal from the National Register left the site vulnerable to surface mining.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 prohibits surface mining that will harm places included in the National Register, unless approved jointly by federal, state and local authorities with jurisdiction over the historic site.

The groups claimed that surface mining, which would destroy topographical features of the battlefield and artifacts buried in the soil, would prevent them from enjoying it as a historical resource.

But U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the removal, because they had failed to prove it would cause them actual or imminent harm.

"The mere possibility that the coal mining companies will engage in surface mining on the Battlefield due to removal of the property from the National Register is not sufficient to show that the plaintiffs will suffer an imminent injury as required for this Court to exercise jurisdiction in this case," Walton wrote.

The groups had argued that coal mining companies that owned property within the historic district "fully intend to exploit their interests in the immediate future as well as in the present."

Walton rebuffed the argument, noting that mining companies had owned permits to land in the historic district for decades, but had not exploited it.

"It therefore strains credulity to conclude that the issuance of a surface mining permit alone establishes that mining is imminent, when several of the permits that were issued more than a decade ago have resulted in no harm whatsoever to the Battlefield," Walton wrote.

Even if the battlefield were included on the register, companies that own existing permits could still mine the site, the ruling adds.

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