Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission met to vote on a proposal from Western Kentucky Minerals, a local coal company, to rezone the land near the Girl Scout Camp Pennyroyal, in Daviess County. Girl Scouts from Louisville, Owensboro and other areas of Kentucky, as well as concerned community members, attended this meeting to give a resounding “NO” to the strip mine proposal.
Despite having denied rezoning applications for the same area on two former occasions, the commission tied in a 5-5 vote on Thursday. Commissioners will either revote on March 8 or motion to send the application directly to the Daviess County Fiscal Court for a vote.
If approved, this will allow the construction of a surface mine less than half a mile from Girl Scout Camp Pennyroyal. Many are concerned that this would cause noise pollution, reduce the quality of the air and water and destroy miles of wildlife habitat, all of which would negatively impact the health and pristine experience of the hundreds of Girl Scouts and school children who utilize Camp Pennyroyal’s facilities each year, and the overall quality of life of homeowners in the area.
Phase I of the operation would last seven to nine years, though the company has expressed plans to continue mining until all of the coal in the area is extracted – possibly 20 years or longer. In addition to noise pollution that can potentially occur 22 hours a day and air pollution from stray coal dust, water pollution is another pressing and hazardous consequence of the proposed surface mine.
The coal seam sits above an aquifer, increasing the likelihood for heavy metal byproducts from coal extraction (selenium, arsenic, mercury and lead) to contaminate well water and Camp Pennyroyal’s spring-fed lake.
Additionally, recent studies have linked coal dust to increased asthma, respiratory diseases and arsenic leaching – which WKM has confirmed will be a byproduct of the mining operation – to high cancer rates in coal mining communities. Though WKM has promised Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana not to mine during “special events,” Camp Pennyroyal hosts programs throughout the year. A strip mine could pose yet another challenge to trying to increase the use of camp facilities during the off-season.
The solidarity and public opposition to this proposal is overwhelming. In less than a week, a Girl Scout-created online petition has already generated more than 1,000 signatures. Combined with the local resident “Save Our Homes” petition and the online Sierra Club petition, there are more than 2,000 signatures of citizens against the construction of yet another surface mine in western Kentucky.
Though in the few years it has existed Western Kentucky Minerals has a reportedly “good” reputation in following governmental regulations, and, according to its website, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to restore a land to its original state after surface mining. So while to the untrained eye, non-native, invasive grass species look aesthetically pleasing, the biodiversity of the vegetation and fauna generally declines. Even up to a mile away, this would affect Camp Pennyroyal’s wildlife programs, including the recently implemented bird watching program.
Coming from a former camper and counselor of Camp Pennyroyal and lifetime member of Girl Scouts, I can testify that our camp offers girls a unique opportunity to connect with the outdoors and learn essential conservation concepts.
Locating a surface mine next door – let alone on the property, which was WKM’s original request – endangers the authentic nature of the camp experience due to industrial noise and aesthetic disturbance, as well as contamination of air, water and soil. In the Girl Scout Law and Promise, girls vow to “use resources wisely” and “make the world a better place.” Standing against the strip mine proposal is living out the Girl Scout commitment to environmental stewardship.