In new court filings in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Keeper of the Register argue that environmental and preservation groups lack legal standing to sue over the 1,600-acre site of a 1921 armed uprising by coal miners.
The southern West Virginia landmark, considered by many to be an important site in U.S. labor history, was briefly listed on the historic register, then removed when property owners objected.
The government contends the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Labor History Association and other groups can’t demonstrate any concrete harm from the delisting, don’t own property on the mountain and lack legal permission to visit any of the privately owned parcels.
‘‘Their interest in the site is purely notional, and even if mining were to occur on Blair Mountain, the injury that they allege they would suffer is purely speculative,’’ the motion for summary judgment argues.
In a friend-of-the-court filing, the Coal Association says the plaintiffs cannot claim they’ve been stripped of their right to enjoy the mountain because citing specific places they visit would be admitting they’ve trespassed.
Except for a road, everything in the proposed boundary area is privately owned, ‘‘with the majority being owned or leased by members of the WVCA who have strict no-trespassing policies,’’ it argues.
‘‘Simply stated,’’ the association says, the plaintiffs ‘‘have no right to visit or enjoy the Blair Mountain nomination area.’’
Last month, hundreds of people marched 50 miles over five days and rallied atop the mountain to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the nation’s largest armed uprising since the Civil War.
In 1921, as many as 10,000 coal miners who had been trying to unionize for three years made the march when a key ally, Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield, was killed by a coal company’s private security guards.
On Blair Mountain, they met a dug-in army of law enforcement officers and hired guns who had fortified pickets, protective trenches, homemade bombs and machine guns. At least 16 men died before the miners surrendered to the federal troops.
Listing on the register wouldn’t automatically stop coal mining, but it could complicate and slow down the review process.
The Coal Association says several valid surface mining permits already allow mining on the mountain, including one 1,511-acre permit that includes several hundred acres in the proposed nomination area.
Those permits predate the register listing, it argues, so returning the site to the National Registrar now cannot even address the plaintiffs’ concerns.
Judge Reggie B. Walton has not ruled on the motions or scheduled the case for trial.