Washed Away Dreams | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Washed Away Dreams

When you’ve done everything a person could reasonably be expected to do, and more, to safeguard your family and your home, what do you do next?

Reporter Ronnie Ellis explores that dilemma for Rick Handshoe, a KFTC member in Floyd County who has worked tirelessly for years to protect the land and water in his community.

Washed Away Dreams, published Sunday in the Ashland Daily Independent tells of Rick’s situation:

He dreamed of a house beside the small creek on land his family has owned for 200 years; he hoped his daughter would one day live in that house when she married and had children; he just wanted a quiet life in Floyd County.

His dreams have been washed away by poisoned water.

rickhandshoestreamRick’s case is compelling for many reasons. He has done just about everything a person could think of to protect his land and two headwater streams on his property from being destroyed by nearby mining. Yet today, both streams are dead, unable to support life due to toxic concentrations of heavy metals and other pollutants.

And with recent blowouts of highly toxic water erupting from the hillside above his home, Rick now sends his daughter to her grandfather’s at night to sleep.

“Over the last six years, I’ve done everything a person can do or imagine to protect my water and property, get the coal company to obey the laws, and get state and federal officials to enforce them," Rick explained in recent letter to the U.S. EPA. "I’ve participated in permit conferences to raise concerns before the mining starts, and I’ve repeatedly reported violations related to water pollution … I’ve learned to do my own testing for basic measures like conductivity, iron, pH and total dissolved solids. I got my own equipment, and I take weekly measurements. When I call state inspectors to report a problem with the water quality in my stream, I am 110% sure they will find a violation because I’ve already done the tests … I’ve organized my community, joined organizations like Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and the Sierra Club, and filed lawsuits with the help of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. I’ve participated in a three-day sit-in in the Kentucky Governor’s office. I’ve traveled to Frankfort and DC to make my concerns known, and I’ve hosted hundreds of inspectors, top agency and elected officials, journalists and concerned citizens at my home.

"The sad truth is that none of those efforts have been enough to prevent the total and permanent destruction of two perennial streams that once fed my gardens and that continue to flow downhill into the stream that is our community’s public water source.”

No one has tried harder or as persistently as Rick to protect his water. His story captures just how hard it can be for Kentuckians to get help from their elected officials and state and federal agencies that are supposed to enforce our mining and water quality laws.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who visited Handshoe’s property in April 2011 but has done nothing to help since, refused to be interviewed for Ellis’ story.

In addition to showing his polluted streams to numerous high-ranking government officials over the years, Rick has hosted hundreds of students, religious groups and members of organizations like KFTC, Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Footprints for Peace who have come to learn and show support.


Today Rick has an important message to all those agencies, elected leaders, concerned individuals and friends:

"This whole situation makes me wonder, how long will all these agencies allow this poisoned water to flow downstream before they take any action?

"I can’t sleep. You know how when you have a baby you sleep with one ear open? That’s what I’m doing. It never ends. And it is making me angry.

"Let’s see what action the state decides to take. Right now we are all just waiting for them to do the right thing. They’ve got to stop the poisoned water from running into the stream. We can’t continue to let this water run in the stream.

"It’s too late to protect my water. But we have got to prevent the destruction of places like Lynch, Kentucky where there is still good, clean water today. The people living in eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia deserve better."

KFTC has worked with Rick to help document
his efforts to get mining and water quality laws enforced
near his home on Raccoon Creek.

Poison Water report coverThis report describes recent problems with poison water and landslides behind Rick’s house. It focuses on events since January 2012.

Click image to download
Handshoe case study coverThis report documents repeated water quality violations during the spring of 2011 on one of the streams on Rick’s property.

Click image to download
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