In August of 2002, Amanda Moore, a lawyer for the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, took on what she thought was a cut-and-dried legal matter for Granville Lee Burke, a resident of Chopping Branch Hollow in eastern Kentucky. Earlier that year, a flood that wreaked havoc throughout the hollow had severely damaged Burke’s house and toolshed. Like almost everyone in the hollow, Burke blamed Premier Elkhorn Coal Company for the flood. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the company had conducted mountaintop-removal mining, blasting the tops off of ridges and dumping the unwanted tons of rock and dirt toward the headwaters of Chopping Branch Creek, leaving a 500-foot valley fill towering above the hollow. Below was a pond designed to catch the water coming off of the huge treeless fill — a design that failed in the flood.
The following is Moore’s account of battling the company to reimburse Burke for his $2,000 home; it’s excerpted from an essay in the book Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop but It Wasn’t There, a collection of writings by 35 Kentuckians ... Read more