Twilight Turns Appalachian Community into 'Ghost Town'

Twilight has descended upon Lindytown, West Virginia.  In this heartbreaking true tale, one family has decided to stay in its beloved home, even though all of the neighbors have moved on in the face of Massey Energy's burgeoning mountaintop removal operation -- dubbed the 'Twilight' coal mine site.  

The Charleston Gazette chronicles the story of Lawrence Richmond, a retired underground coal miner, who with his wife and sons simply refused to leave their homestead in what is essentially now an abandoned 'ghost town' in the coalfields of Boone County.  Why? As Richmond puts it: "Home to me this late in life means to me just as much as that coal does to Massey."

As the Gazette article explains: 

In recent months, their neighbors -- families who can trace their lineage back several generations -- have packed up their belongings, had their houses boarded up and moved out of town to make way for Massey's surface mine.

Now, the couple is all but sandwiched in between mining operations.

In front of their home, the land is owned by Horizon, a company contracted by Patriot Coal.  Behind the house is the Twilight mine.

The Richmonds are fully aware of and prepared to accept the consequences -- and risks -- of their decision.  That means dealing with a daily barrage of blasting on the hillsides, heavy-laden coal trucks barreling by on the roads, and the incessant coal dust filling the air and covering everything.    

"You can't build airtight houses," Richmond said. "Well, unless you're a millionaire, I guess."

Of particular concern to the family is the threat of so-called fly-rock from the blasting.  The story describes a large boulder looming precariously above their house, perched at the edge of the mountain, where Massey's mining operation is taking place.

"If a blast goes off, we could have fly-off rock come down and hit the house," Richmond said, looking out the kitchen window.

Unlike his neighbors, Richmond refused Massey's offer to buy his home of 63 years and move out of the hollow.  A Massey spokesman notes that the purchase offer was made as a 'safety precaution' but that the company wasn't obligated to do it.  However, Richmond did accept $25,000 from the coal company -- what he terms "hush money" in case his family suffers injury or health problems from the mining activity.

Richmond notes that in his 30-year career as a miner, it was rare to see mountaintop removal operations.  This extreme form of strip mining scars the landscape far beyond traditional mining, of course.  As a result of this new, more destructive mining, the once bustling Lindytown -- "with neat homes, freshly cut lawns and fine landscaping" -- no longer exists.

"It's a ghost town now, just like the ones out West," Richmond said. 

(Photo credit: Denny Tyler

For others who have left Lindytown, the decision was not easy and many have regrets.  This post on a local blog exemplies the disdain for Massey some former residents still have:

“The[y] bought the entire town of Lindytown out...I think it’s terrible that Massey won’t allow families to go back in to get all of their belongings after they promised the families that they could.  They said they were interested in the land only, and that if we could move our houses on our backs, we could take anything we wanted.  Now, they’re telling us we can’t get our stuff out, and they’re calling the law on us when we do go to get our things out."

With the exception of the Richmond family, gone now are the people of Lindytown, soon to be followed by the loss of the majestic peaks that for so many years gave life to the town.