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Judge rules government erred in pulling Blair Mountain from historic places list

A federaljudge April 11 ruled that the U.S. Interior Department erred in pulling from theNational Register of Historic Places the site of the Blair Mountain Battlefield— the site of the largest armed labor conflict in U.S. history between coal minersand strikebreakers.

The judge with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbiasided with environmental and historical preservation organizations in the case theybrought after the decision to de-listthe West Virginia location in 2009. They later appealed a federal judge's to allow coal mining atthe site.

In a 47-page decision, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton concludedthe federal regulators failed to independently verify a list of landowners thatobjected to the inclusion on the historic places list and did not act transparently.

Coal producers MasseyEnergy Co., now owned by Alpha NaturalResources Inc., and ArchCoal Inc. previously expressed interest in mining the site.

The BlairMountain Battlefield is renowned, particularly among unions, as the site where coalminers fought producers and police for the right to unionize in 1921.

"TheBattle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a labor union's unsuccessful years-longstruggle to unionize miners in southwestern West Virginia coalfields, as well asto liberate miners living under martial law. As the miners marched toward MingoCounty, they encountered 3,000 strikebreakers forming a miles-long defensive frontacross Spruce Fork Ridge on Blair Mountain," the court filing reads.

"Thestrikebreakers entrenched themselves, dropped homemade bombs, and opened fire frommounted machineguns. The miners returned fire and the battle raged on for severaldays, causing numerous casualties. The miners surrendered upon the arrival of federaltroops."