The Cynic by Alec MacGillis

The Cynic by Alec MacGillis

Author:Alec MacGillis
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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In Inez, the traces of the Martin County Coal slurry spill are still everywhere. The embankment along meandering Coldwater Creek, once lined with cherry and walnut trees, now stands denuded and crumbling. One doesn’t have to dig deep in spots along the creek to turn up the dark goop. Residents who once grew vegetables in their backyards dare not to anymore, for fear of what was left behind. Linc Chapman has lost about half the distance from the creek to his house. The company was supposed to pay to restore the embankment, but nothing came of it. The creek itself runs far emptier of fish than it did before October 11, 2000, so much so that Chapman was gladdened to see a couple of redhorse suckers darting along one day in April. The “creek bed reconstruction expert” from Colorado hired for the cleanup had assured residents that “you’ll have trout swimming in these streams in two years,” to which Chapman had thought at the time: “You are so full of shit.” And indeed, aquatic life is just about “nonexistent” today, he says. “We had a lot of crawfish, freshwater eels, large-mouth bass, small-mouth, rock bass, blue-gill, channel cats, used to have a big run of quillback, they’re like a sucker. They suck in sand and fill it to their gills, and it’s hard to suck slurry through the gills.” All are pretty much gone.

Farther up Coldwater Creek, one can still make out the lines on the trees that are still standing, showing how high the slurry climbed. Chapman also points out the uninhabited areas along the creek where the company dug big unlined pits to bury the sludge, with a thin layer of regular fill from the surrounding hills spread over the top of it. Some of the sludge was later dug back up and moved to proper disposal, but much of it remains. “As long as I live, there’ll still be the impacts of it here,” he says.

Chapman’s family still doesn’t trust the local water—it bathes and washes with it, but drinks only bottled water, as do many of the townspeople, or at least those who can afford it. The reservoir just outside Inez is fed by water from the Tug River, the main stem into which the contaminated Coldwater and Wolf Creeks flow. Chapman and others argued for requiring the company to pay for an independent monitor of the water quality, to no avail. “They were all for monitoring but wanted to do it in-house. Well, that’s as useless as tits on a boar hog,” he says. “If they pulled a sample from the bottom of the reservoir, they’d find a foot of slurry.” No one’s monitoring it now, in-house or otherwise. “It’s one of those things where, after so much time that’s what big companies hope, that it’s out of sight, out of mind,” Chapman says. “When you’ve got the government in your pockets, you get by with what you want to get by with.”

The mine itself sits fallow, with only some reclamation work being done.


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