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Mining project comes under fire: NPCA speaks out against Cumberland Gap proposal.

MIDDLESBORO, KY.--The prospect of strip mining next to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park--located at the junction of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia--was widely opposed at a public hearing here in June.

At the hearing NPCA and Middlesboro representatives defended a petition they filed last July to declare lands on the Kentucky side of Fern Lake, a scenic body of water on the Tennessee-kentucky border less than a mile from Cumberland Gap, unsuitable for mining. The two groups had filed a similar petition for the Tennessee side in February 1994, the same month that Appolo Fuels, Inc., applied for a permit to mine 214 acres of land near the lake. The application will not be considered until the petitions are resolved.

Cumberland Gap encompasses more than 20,000 acres of wild forests, streams, and ridges and preserves the route through the Appalachians used by Native Americans and early settlers heading west. Nearby Fern Lake is visible from the park's most popular landmark, Pinnacle Overlook. The lake and its watershed supply water to Middlesboro, which lies in a region where mining has polluted many other lakes and streams. NPCA says that mining could contaminate the lake with acids and heavy metals and would denude surrounding forests, detracting from park views.

"We believe that a careful evaluation of the allegations in the petition will show that the exploitation of this watershed for surface mining would irretrievably damage its higher value as a magnet of tourism and as one of the highest quality water sources in this region," said Don Barger, NPCA Southeast regional director, at the hearing.

The federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) in Knoxville, Tennessee, is currently evaluating the petition and preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on mining in the Fern Lake watershed. The draft EIS was likely to be released in mid-August, with another hearing in Middlesboro in September.

"We've dealt with allegations [in the petition] having to do with flooding, because if any contamination were to occur, it would affect waters downstream [from the watershed]," said OSM's Gary Tucker. "There's also been an allegation that has to do with incompatibility with existing land-use plans or programs, such as impacts on Cumberland Gap National Historical Park."

The Kentucky Department for Surface Mining is also evaluating the petition but is likely to base its conclusions on OSM's findings. "Tennessee's watershed is much larger and has minable coal in the area," said Mike Wilborn, the office's branch manager. "I would imagine we would wait until Tennessee makes its decision."

TAKE ACTION: Ask for and comment on the draft EIS, recommending that the Fern Lake watershed be designated unsuitable for mining. Write to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Attention: Willis Gainer, 530 Gay Street S.W, Suite 500, Knoxville, TN 37902.
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Title Annotation:Cumberland Gap National Historical Park; National Parks and Conservation Association
Author:O'Connell, Kim A.
Publication:National Parks
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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