James “Jimmy” Weekley has lived in Pigeonroost Hollow in West Virginia for 70 years. He grew up surrounded by family and friends, part of a tight-knit community in the state’s southern mountain valley. Like his grandfather, father, uncles and sons, Weekley worked as a coal miner. And like most West Virginians, Weekley saw coal as the economic lifeblood of his community.
But in the 1990s, Arch Coal moved into Weekley’s area and began work on the Spruce No. 1 mine. Spruce No. 1 was one of the largest mountaintop removal mining sites ever proposed, spanning more than 3,000 acres. It also happened to be right in Weekley’s backyard.
Weekley and his wife, Sibby, found themselves surrounded by mining activity: dust, noise and blasting from the nearby site.
“The wife and I couldn’t sit on the porch for the dust,” he says. “And the noise — constant blasting, tearing my home to hell, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
One by one, their neighbors in Pigeonroost and the nearby community of Blair moved away. He tried to appeal to them to stay — “We can beat this thing!” — but they took coal company buyouts and moved on.
Through it all, Jimmy and Sibby Weekley stayed in their home — and along the way, they became unlikely anti-mining activists.