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Articles by Ken Ward Jr., Mountain State Spotlight

Ken Ward Jr. is a co-founder of Mountain State Spotlight and a distinguished local reporting fellow with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica.

Featured Article

The Arch Coal Inc strip mines in Letcher County, Kentucky,

This story was originally published by ProPublica and Mountain State Spotlight and is republished with permission.

Whenever a hard rain fell on Harlan County, Kentucky, the mud, rocks and debris from the Foresters No. 25 mine pounded down the hillside into the community of Wallins Creek.

Local residents repeatedly complained about washed-out culverts and mud in their yards. Time after time, county work crews came out after a heavy rain to repair Camp Creek Road, a water line that runs alongside it and a local bridge. The strip mine’s owner, Blackjewel, fixed some problems, but when the rains came again, so did the muddy flooding.

Amber Combs, who lived down the hill from Foresters, recalled a day in August 2017 when “the water was rushing down and the yard was a muddy slush pond. It was literally like a river around my house.” Combs complained to Kentucky regulators, who fined Blackjewel $1,300, which it never paid. Overall, under Blackjewel’s ownership, Foresters would run up 17 violations and mor... Read more