Inside the Battle Over a Strip-Mine Cemetery
Walk to the edge of the Jarrell family cemetery in the mountains of southern West Virginia, a plot of land the size of a tennis court where locals have been laid to rest for more than 200 years, and you’ll come to a cliff that drops hundreds of feet.
Stretching out before you will be a strip mine so large you could hide the island of Manhattan in it.
To your rear will be 40 graves—old men and women, small children, veterans of conflicts from the Civil War to World War II—surrounded by a white, split-rail fence and a thin ring of trees. Underfoot: approximately four billion dollars’ worth of coal.
It’s a surreal scene, this “island in the sky,” as Debbie Jarrell put it in a lawsuit she and five others filed two weeks ago against Alpha Natural Resources, which operates the mine surrounding the cemetery. This place that was once intensely private has now become the center of a very public fight, between the people who treasure the top of the mountain and those who yearn to get at what’s beneath it.
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