Coxton & Black Joe communities organizing in Harlan County
Since early spring, homeowners in the Harlan County community of Coxton have been contacting local and state officials about land sliding and excessive water runoff threatening their homes. Their continued efforts even landed them on the front page of the Harlan Daily Enterprise in June.
In the investigative report, Coxton resident Floyd Hamblin told the paper, “I first began seeing muddy water coming off the mountain in March. I went up on the mountain myself and I saw a highwall, where you walk around the logging road, and a cut that was made is about 6 or 7 feet high. There was water running off the mountain over the highwall onto the logging road and cutting gaps in the mountainside.”
Floyd and his family live across the street from Bridgette Pace and her family, who says she has been on alert since she saw “a wall of water rush by her bedroom window” back in March. Bridgette and her family had to evacuate that night and returned to a mess of mud, rocks, and debris surrounding their home. She shared this frightening tale with Harlan County organizer and chapter members during a visit to her home after she contacted KFTC's Whitesburg office a couple months ago.
Bridgette shared fears that Floyd told the paper earlier, “I can’t sleep at night for fear of waking in the middle of the night with mud coming through our home. I sit out on my porch in the wee hours of the morning and listen to trees falling and rocks rolling off the mountain. You can hear dirt moving. Before it got green you could actually see the slide moving… We’ve contacted everybody we know to contact and nothing is being done.”
To date, they’ve contacted and had “visits” (or drive-bys as Floyd calls them) by county emergency management personnel, magistrates, Abandoned Mine Lands program personnel and various companies who’ve mined, logged or otherwise moved land on that mountainside over the last decade.
Apparently Manalapan Mining owns the mountain and has leased it for logging after extensive mining in the past. Kentucky Utilities has cut roads and clearings for power lines and mudslides have been reported in the area some time ago. However, a clear responsible party is yet to step forward.
Abandoned Mine Lands officials told both families, “We have been unable to find evidence to show that the primary cause of your problems is from old coal mining. The problem area is not physically connected to a mine, and we found no evidence of mine-related drainage as the primary cause of the problem. Analysis of water sampled at the problem site failed to indicate the chemical characteristics of water coming from a mine-related source.”
Now, four months after the story appeared on the front page of Harlan County’s newspaper, Floyd and Bridgette feel they are not much closer to any answers or solutions. But, they have met nearby communities dealing with the same issue, from the same mountain.
Albert and Janie Phillips, of nearby Black Joe, also contacted KFTC after speaking to folks in Coxton. While Floyd and Bridgette are living in fear of potential damage to their homes, the Phillips are already dealing with the aftermath and continued movement and cracking of their home’s foundation. Water and mud are slamming into the back of their home after hard rains and has not only cracked their foundation, but moved their home “four inches, nearly off the six inch foundation,” Albert explained.
Albert has walked up on the mountain and thinks a big pond is filling up and then rushing the over flow down onto his home, among other things. The Phillips family received a similar letter from the state Abandoned Mine Lands program and is currently appealing that decision.
They’ve talked with Harlan members about organizing some community meetings, starting petitions, and possible meetings with state officials. Stay tuned for more updates as these communities build a plan of action together.