Over the last three years the Southern Coal Corporation has tried repeatedly to get the McCracken County Court to rezone residential land in Western McCracken County as Heavy Industrial. Now the Southern Coal Corporation has come back with a proposal that promises a coal to liquid gas plant to sweeten the pot with the myth of 200 jobs. A myth by the name of Secure Energy that is pushing a coal to liquid plant that exists nowhere in the United States. The same Secure Energy that has been trying without any luck to install a plant in Decatur Illinois. They have failed to gain the financing.
For the last three months the Great Rivers Group of the Sierra Club and the Beyond Coal Campaign Western Kentucky Organizing Representative Thomas Pearce have been organizing with community members in West Paducah including Ben Killmon a 50 year member of the Sierra Club who happens to live across the street from the proposed site and Jeanie Embry a devoted Paducah Sierra member who has taken up the cause of organizing against this risky plan that will put over 200 families that live within a mile and a half of the site at risk of being plaqued by cancer causing coal dust and waste from a massive coal terminal and coal to liquid gas plant.
Dianna Riddick, Gene and Nancy Nettles, Claire Fuller, John Walker, Ben Killmon, Jeanie Embry, and many other Sierra members in the area have come together to organize a regional response to this horrible plan that would place this toxic proposal on the Ohio River and within two miles of hundreds of families and a very sensitive Metropolis Lake State Preserve that would also be adjacent to the site.
At the first hearing March 16th around 200 residents showed up to oppose the proposal and testify before the McCracken County zoning commission. 3 lawyers and the heads of Southern Coal Corporation and Secure Energy spoke for. Lawyers representing hundreds of residents and several local businesses spoke against along with about 20 residents who testified. The zoning commission approved the rezoning by a 3-2 vote. The residents reacted in outrage and held up signs that said NO in big letters. Dianna Riddick represented the Sierra Club and called for the commission to “protect the residents of McCracken County and vote down the proposed rezoning”
April 19th, the proposal went before the McCracken County Fiscal Court for a new round of hearings. In the two weeks leading up to the hearing Sierra and community residents had tow community meetings where Beyond Coal Organizing Representative Thomas Pearce and Dianna Riddick helped to facilitate a meeting organized by resident and Sierra member Ben Killmon and Chad Cash a property owner who lives next to the proposed coal to liquid site. 20 residents came together and came up with a plan to distribute 1500 flyers, honed messages and talking points, and came up with a strategy to pack the meeting, Over the next week Chad Cash and Ben Killmon organized residents to call Court members to ask for personal meetings. Sierra members across the state sent almost 300 emails to McCracken County court members and over 100 phone calls were made to their offices. At the meeting, residents contributed 500 dollars to pitch in on the legal fight.
Even more residents showed up at the April 19th hearing. Over 200 showed up and this time they were joined by allies from around the region and state. Alice Howell Chair of the Cumberland Chapter, Sherry Otto Cumberland Chapter Coordinator, and Betsy Bennett head of the Cumberland Chapter’s Legal Committee attended the hearing and worked in weeks leading up to the hearing to bring chapter resources to the fight to retain local lawyer Eddie Jones to represent the club and residents at the hearing. They were also joined by students from the Murray State University represented by John Walker and students from Western KY Tech in Paducah and residents form other areas of the counties showed their solidarity.
Media showed up even though a dangerous and massive storm was in the area and the court members seemed to ask some pretty tough questions of the representatives of the proposal and showed disbelief and skepticism at the proposed coal to liquid plant, After the meeting had gone almost three hours which was an hour over the scheduled time allotted, the commission decided to schedule another hearing in the next two weeks to hear the testimony of residents. Our goal for the meeting was to gain another hearing and time to organize.
We are building a new base of community organizers in Western Kentucky who are ready to fight to move Kentucky Beyond Coal. Over the Summer Western Kentucky leaders in the Pennyrile Group along with the Great Rivers Group are planning a Western Kentucky Summit for coal activists to focus on issues unique to Western Kentucky. We are really beginning to build momentum.