Two groups that oppose mountaintop removal coal mining have been told they are not welcome to hold their upcoming meetings at a former Boy Scout camp deep in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky — despite both having held events there without incident in the past.
Jim Scheff of Kentucky Heartwood said his group called last May to reserve Camp Blanton for a gathering called the Heartwood Forest Council, to be held Memorial Day weekend. Another group, Mountain Justice, booked the camp for the days leading up to the holiday weekend.
Both groups found out just two weeks ago that their reservations were suddenly canceled.
Board member and attorney for the trust that operates the camp, Sidney Douglass told the Lexington Herald-Tribune that several board members have ties to the coal industry and “board members didn’t want to get the camp involved in the kind of controversies that they’re involved in.”
“Nationally there’s a lot of pressure on coal, and the coal industry is really worried about it,” he said. “The fact that Mountain Justice was going to be there camping for a week and then Heartwood was going to be there … also working to end mountaintop removal coal mining, that might have been more than they wanted to deal with.”
The family of one board member in particular, C.V. Bennett, III, owns Cumberland Elkhorn Coal & Coke, a company that is in hot water with state regulators for keeping a toxic mine dump near Louisville that is putting off a foul odor into a neighboring trailer park. Regulators say Bennett’s dump accepts chemical wastewater and flyash, and lacks necessary stormwater management and erosion controls.
No problems with environmental groups in the past
Both groups said they had rented the camp before and had received no complaints. Both said they received no explanation.
“It would have been one thing if earlier in the year they had said, ‘We just don’t want you here,'” Scheff said. “We had put in hundreds of hours of volunteer work on planning, a lot of it dealing specifically with this place.”
Mountain Justice had about 200 people at their gathering last May and since the site was so popular last year they had decided to return. The annual Heartwood Forest Council had also met at Camp Blanton in 2000 and 2003, without any incident.
Douglass said the camp still is accepting reservations from other groups.
Image: CC licensed by gentlemanrook at flickr