BOONE COUNTY, WV (WOWK) — Earlier this year, Delegate Ed Evans (D-McDowell) made a passionate speech from the house floor calling for more support for West Virginia’s coal communities.
“We have seen many, many ghost towns arise as a result of the downturn of the coal industry,” he said in the speech.
Evans specifically wanted an amendment added to a bill that would require the West Virginia Public Service Commission to designate some of the American Rescue Plan funds the state received to struggling coal communities.
The Senate didn’t pass his amendment – but it did lead to something else.
“The Speaker of the House [Roger Hanshaw] gave me the come-hither finger and I went up and met with him and he said ‘Ed, I agree with everything you said,’ and he gave me his word that he would put together a coal communities comeback group,” says Evans.
The Coal Community Workgroup met for the first time a couple of days ago.
The workgroup now has plans to go into coal communities across the state and have listening sessions with its residents.
McDowell County, says Evans, at one point, had 100,000 residents.
Now, with the decline of the coal industry, that number will be closer to 17,000 residents.
Near Charleston, Boone County was also a once-flourishing coal town.
But like many coal towns, restaurants and businesses have left along with the coal mines and power plants.
Loretta Greene’s husband worked as an electrician at the now-defunct Peabody mine.
She says it was a good job until it shut down.
“I’d like to see more restaurants and I’d like to see the coal companies open back up more than anything,” said Greene.
Others will tell you they had to leave the industry voluntarily.
“I actually recently just went to part-time with them and got a full-time job with the water company because my job, I was afraid I was going to lose it,” said one woman approached by 13 News.
She says she wants more businesses to come in.
“All we have are gas stations and Hatfield McCoy,” she said.
Evans says the coal communities’ comeback plan is not about digging more coal.
“It’s about going into the communities that suffered as a result of the loss of the coal industry from their community,” he said.
It’s also about finding ways to diversify, whether that means bringing in manufacturing companies or capitalizing off the booming ATV industry.
“When coal left, these communities had nothing else,” said Evans.
The Coal Community Workgroup plans to start its listening tour in September, visiting places like Mingo County, McDowell County, and Boone County.