Despite blow to Ohio wildlife, locals see environmental upside, are more concerned with fracking in their backyards
PIEDMONT, Ohio — The Egypt Valley Wildlife Area is a tribute to what can happen after land is strip-mined of its coal and restored to nature. The area, state-owned land in eastern Ohio, is 18,011 acres of rolling hills, wetlands and grasslands. There is the 2,270-acre Piedmont Lake, popular with boaters and campers, and as one would expect in a wildlife area, there is wildlife. River otters were introduced in 1993, and black bears have made their home there, among the deer and wild turkeys.
For decades, this land was strip-mined for coal. But in the 1990s, Ohio began purchasing the land, transforming it into a magnet for animals, birdwatchers, hikers, hunters, fishermen and tourists.
However, much of the state’s and nature’s hard work is now at risk, ever since July, when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) granted the Oxford Mining Co. a permit to strip-mine coal there. The company plans to mine underneath 741 acres for coal and to surface-mine 200 acres.
It isn’t exactly the talk of the town, said Kristen Paynter, a manager at Jane by Food, a restaurant in Belmont that specializes in Angus burgers and is several miles from an access road into the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area.
“People aren’t saying much. I don’t think they really realize what’s going on, or maybe they do, but they’re not talking to me about it,” she said.
She has lived in the area for about three and a half years and isn’t thrilled by the idea of seeing surface-mining equipment invading the wildlife area. But she understands why locals aren’t chaining themselves to trees and insisting the rugged terrain be left alone.
This is coal country, and Paynter, a mother of three and a self-described liberal with a background in social work, is the wife of a coal miner.
On the one hand, she said, “I do care about the environment and worry about what will be around for my children.” And on the other hand, she said, the coal industry has been good to her family. “We get provided great health insurance and great benefits through my husband’s employer.”
Jack Cera also hasn’t heard any griping from locals. He is a Democratic state representative for Ohio House District 96, which includes portions of Belmont County, the county encompassing much of Egypt Valley, although the wildlife area doesn’t quite hit his district. “There’s not a whole great concern,” he said.
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