Montgomery County Farmers Continue to Fight Against Longwall Miners

Prairie Gleanings

Mary Bates, a member of Citizens Against Longwall Mining is still working hard to keep coal companies out of Montgom...

Published on: October 6, 2008

Mary Bates, a member of Citizens Against Longwall Mining is still working hard to keep coal companies out of Montgomery County.

As she explains, they've proposed to longwall mine in the Hillsboro area. This process essentially removes panels of coal from beneath the surface. The problem is, once the coal is mined, the topsoil subsides four to six inches, resulting in a drainage nightmare for farmers.

According to Bates, mining could begin as early as this winter. Holly Spangler covered the issue in the June 2006 issue of Prairie Farmer. Follow this link for the online version. http://magissues.farmprogress.com/PRA/PF06Jun06/PF01%20to17.html

At this point, I'm thinking this sounds like a terrible idea from a conservation/ecological point of view. Then Bates hit me with something that blew my mind.

The mineral rights were sold in the early 1900s to coal companies. Mind you, this was before longwall mining was around. As per Holly's article, the rights changed hands a couple of times and have been sold, by the county, to a new coal company.

While some farmers have retained subsidence rights on their land, others had the whole shebang sold off long before they were born. Now, Bates says farmers could be compensated approximately $5,000 an acre on land that could potentially hold $1 million to $2 million worth of coal per acre.

To me, it seems this issue has several key points. First, if coal companies stand to make that much per acre, while at the same time ruining the land, it's worth a lot more than $5,000. Isn't this situation similar to urban sprawl? I think Montgomery County farmers deserve a bit of 1301 Exchange money to recoup land in a nearby area.

Next, I'm always amazed at how politicians and corporations can justify taking land from people if they think it will help economically. In Holly's article, she mentions this project may create 200 jobs.

Lastly, I'd stay away from any sort of deal where someone proposed to purchase the rights to something, without establishing any sort of deadline. Even if it seems like a quick way to make a buck at the time, you never know how the document may be used for leverage in the future.

A couple of months ago, the USDA's NRCS was offering a deal to farmers with floodplain land. Essentially, they would pay farmers to idle the ground indefinitely. While farmers may recoup some of this year's crop loss through this deal, you never know what sort of technologies/practices will be common place in the future. What if a new levee system is invented that would assure water would never again flood these fields?

Anyhow, I hope the Montgomery County mining debacle reminds people how important land rights are.