Sierra Club
Sierra Club Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE     August 27, 2012

Contact: Marley Green, 703-409-6993

Thousands of Virginians file comments opposing unnecessary and poorly planned highway project

Proposed “Coalfields Expressway” raises concerns over wasted tax dollars and threatened water ways

Wise, Va – More than 4,400 Virginians filed comments in opposition to the proposed “Coalfields Expressway” as part of a public comment period that closed on Friday. Comments from members of groups including the Sierra Club, CREDO Action, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and Wise Energy for Virginia were directed to both the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) calling the project poorly planned, a threat to local waterways and a waste of tax payer dollars. These comments were part of more than 85,000 comments submitted nationally in opposition to the project.

The controversial highway project would cut through Southwestern Virginia, using eminent domain to relocate dozens of property owners while bypassing local business areas, threatening important waterways and costing millions in tax payer dollars. Local residents assert that while the project is being billed as a highway project, in reality it’s a taxpayer financed strip mine that is likely to be exempt from all of the permitting requirements and other protections provided for communities and the environment by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Action.

“This so-called highway project is going to cost Virginians’ millions of dollars while coal companies like Alpha Natural Resources reap all the benefits. The proposed plan skips over existing communities, taking through-traffic away from local businesses, while instead following coal seams that Alpha would be allowed to mine and sell at a profit while contaminating our waterways,” said Ben Hooper of Norton, VA, a member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

Already, $38 million in taxpayer funds were wasted on a cancelled portion of the highway. The total taxpayer price tag for the entire project is still unknown.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for serving the communities of Virginia -- not the coal industry,” said Josh Nelson of CREDO Action. “The Coalfields Expressway would jeopardize land and water and even uproot Virginia families. This highway project is nothing more than a big gift to the dirty coal industry and must be rejected."

Formal comments filed by the Sierra Club called on VDOT and FHWA to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a segment of the project that they say has changed significantly since the original plan that was drafted more than ten years ago.

Other concerns filed in the formal comments include:

  • The new proposed route will disturb nearly twice the acreage, nearly three times the forested acreage, precisely three times the length of streams and 17 times the amount of wetlands than the previous route.
  • The Federal Highway Administration and VDOT need to consider the full impacts of the surface coal mining that will occur along the full length of the proposed route, including impacts from filling headwater streams and the downstream pollution from the over forty proposed valley fills. Such valley fills are known to cause contamination of waterways including dangerous pollution from selenium and other toxic discharges.
  • The current proposed route will impact popular recreation areas at the John W. Flannagan Dam and Reservoir, in violation of the Federal Transportation Act.

In addition to collecting comments, local residents organizing against the project recently testified at public hearings held in Wise and Vansant.

“We’re worried that this project is going to cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money while leaving Virginians with a toxic mess and miles of bare stripped land instead of a useful road,” said Marley Green, Sierra Club Organizer in Appalachia, Va. “We need both VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to take action to protect the health and safety of our communities.”