Engaging and Sustaining

Arch Coal

Problem:

Arch Coal planned to construct and operate an underground mine and preparation facility in the heart of West Virginia’s southern coal fields. Gaining the permit would not be simple. The coal wars of the 1920s were held within a few miles of the new mine that was slated to be a non-union operation. Environmentalists had been very active in the area against both surface and underground mining. Arch Coal’s challenge was to move forward with the project while respecting the needs and sensitivities of the local community.

Solution:

In a first for the industry, Ann Green Communications was asked to organize and facilitate a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) as part of the company’s efforts to construct and operate the mine. Company officials announced the formation of the CAP at the public event to publicize plans for the mine. The CAP would be the focus of any concerns by neighbors regarding all aspects of the mine’s development and operation.

The group was seated before ground was broken on the new mine. Members learned of every aspect of the project, including efforts to protect the environment, hiring practices and transportation of coal from the mine. Roads and rail road tracks had to be moved. Homes were purchased to make way for the facility. All these challenges were discussed openly at the CAP meetings. Problems were brought to the group and solutions were sought together.

Of particular concern was maintaining local water quality. Because of the mine’s water needs, they persuaded the area water company to extend service to the area, not only for the mine but for the benefit of the community.

An old bridge still used by school buses was deemed unsafe for heavy coal trucks. The company built another bridge beside the old bridge and turned it over to the state for use by the public.

The CAP and mine personnel have worked cooperatively to revitalize Rockhouse Lake, a 14-acre pond reclaimed from old mining property. The Lake project began as a CAP initiative to clean up an underutilized recreational asset in the community. It has evolved into a community development project with partners ranging from local government agencies to local businesses and community organizations. The project now includes stocking the lake with bass and trout, a handicap accessible pier, a pavilion, basketball courts and a playground.

The CAP remains the focal point for community’s issues and neighbors’ concerns. Because problems have been solved directly by the industry representatives, law suits—so prevalent in projects like these—were avoided. The community has benefited from access to safe public water supplies, a new and safer bridge, and the support of the mine for important community initiatives. The group continues to be a very active and vital part of the life of the community and a sounding board for the mine.