FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August
Contact: Marley Green,
of Virginians file comments opposing unnecessary and poorly planned highway project
“Coalfields Expressway” raises concerns over wasted tax dollars and threatened
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”