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Blair Mountain’s removal from historic places appealed

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The Sierra Club filed its appeal of a federal court ruling that upheld a decision to remove Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register of Historic Places.

The largest armed labor battle in history took place on the mountain in 1921. At that time thousands of coal miners faced armed guards, prompting federal intervention.

Blair has been on the historic places list since March 2009, when it was added by the National Park Service, but it was reversed nine months later over a property dispute. A number of organizations representing labor, environmental and historical preservation groups filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the decision.

"With the exception of the Civil War, the Blair battle is the largest insurrection in U.S. history," said Regina Hendrix of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We cannot let this rich, undisturbed, site be wiped away forever. The area is a vital part of U.S. labor history. The archaeological record waiting to be explored will clearly show the places where the battle occurred, as well as the intensity of the battle at different sites. The archaeological record has lain dormant for 90 years along the Spruce Fork Ridge from Blair Mountain to Mill Creek and it cries out for our protection."

The groups fear that coal mining activity might destroy the Blair Mountain property. The October ruling claimed the groups did not have legal standing to challenges the de-listing because there was not enough evidence to suggest imminent threat of mining to the site.

Despite coal permits for the area, the companies owning those properties have not chosen to mine that property. In the October ruling, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said the groups appealing Blair's removal did not know of any evidence of future plans to mine

Arch Coal, Massey Energy and Natural Resources Partners filed a petition to the National Register to mine coal in the region near Blair Mountain.

Kenny King, a board member on Friends of Blair Mountain and lifelong Blair resident said the mountain is a "center-piece of American labor history and West Virginia culture.

"The courageous resistance of ten thousand striking coal miners in 1921 was an outcry for basic human rights," King said. "Blair Mountain must not fall to the insatiable greed of the coal industry but rather stand as a monument that honors the gains for which those miners sacrificed their lives and livelihoods. Never before, nor since have so many American workers taken up arms to fight for their constitutional rights. Blair Mountain, West Virginia stands not only as a reminder of our proud history, but also as a living symbol of hope for all who seek justice."

For many, including Julian Martin of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the fight to preserve Blair Mountain goes beyond environmental and historical debate. It's personal.

"Blair Mountain is an important part of my family's history," Martin said. "My grandfather and great uncle fought at Blair Mountain in 1921 on the side of the United Mine Workers of America. It would be a huge loss for Blair Mountain to be unprotected from mountaintop removal strip mining."