Community Impacts of Controversial Coalfields Expressway Project to Receive Thorough Review
Appalachia, VA — The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan counties in southwest Virginia. Community groups in southwest Virginia and conservation organizations applaud the decision.
VDOT fundamentally changed the route and the nature of this section of the Coalfields Expressway when it partnered with coal companies to allow mountaintop removal mining as part of the project and failed to prepare a comprehensive analysis of its impacts on the community. The environmental study that FHWA is requiring must evaluate the public health and environmental harms of the proposal and examine a full suite of alternatives.
More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life. Local citizens are also worried that the altered route would eliminate the economic benefits promised to the community because it would bypass local businesses, and the associated impacts from mining would detract from a growing tourism industry.
Three federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also urged FHWA and VDOT to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considers alternatives and evaluates the social, economic and environmental impacts of the mountaintop removal mining which is integral to the project.
“This decision is good news for the people of southwestern Virginia,” said Jane Branham, Vice President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “We are pleased that FHWA and VDOT will take a hard look at the irresponsible and destructive mining practices that have already hurt our communities and that would be part of this ill-conceived strip mine/highway proposal.”
“We look forward to seeing a thorough review of the environmental consequences of this project, including an analysis of a range of highway alternatives that do not depend on mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Deborah Murray, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The decision-makers must keep in mind the original purpose and need of the project –serving the local communities.”
“VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project,” said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. “We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy.”
“The decision made by Federal Highways is a critical one. Mountaintop removal coal mining has had a devastating impact on communities in southwest Virginia, and now the state will be required to examine this road fully before spending our tax dollars on a deal that only helps coal companies rather than the community,” said Kate Rooth, campaign director with Appalachian Voices. “Now, local business owners, landowners, and citizens whose clean drinking water would be impacted can help VDOT design a project to truly benefit Central Appalachia.”