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Pleasant Ridge community reacts to proposed surface mine next to Girl Scout camp

Proposed zoning for a surface mine is causing quite a stir in Daviess County, Kentucky. The mine would be in a rural area outside of Owensboro called Pleasant Ridge- where mining has existed for decades. This mine, though, would be located next to a Girl Scout camp. Rose Krzton-Presson explores what this means not only for the camp, but for Pleasant Ridge, Owensboro, and Daviess County’s economic growth in recent years. 

Camp Pennyroyal hosts thousands of Girl Scouts every year. The 180 acre primarily wooded site at the end of Girl Scout Road in Daviess County, Kentucky. There’s an 8 acre, spring-fed lake dotted with canoes and a swimming area. Property manager Jed Johnson explains…

"It has an 8 acre lake that is spring-fed. It does have, I think, 10 or 15 acres of open space. It is a fairly untouched for the last 50 years."

Even under the soil. The land is rich with coal and offers to pay the Girl Scouts in exchange for mining have been proposed in the past. It would, after all, probably help cushion the funds Girl Scouts make selling those cookies.

“It’s a flat no. It’s our commitment that we keep these camps for our girls and for posterity.”

That hasn’t stopped surrounding Camp Pennyroyal from being mined. That part of Daviess County (called Pleasant Ridge) has long been mined for coal. It brings in about a million dollars in revenue annually for the county and the city of Owensboro through the coal severance tax. Now, a local mining company called Western Kentucky Minerals is working on a permit for another surface mine in Pleasant Ridge.

“As far as Daviess County, the permit we’ve got going there with the 690 acres, it’ll take as long as two years to get all our permits in order.”

It’s taking two years because the proposed mine would neighbor Camp Pennyroyal. Tim Rhye, a permitting technician for Western Kentucky Minerals, says this permitting process started out normally. They acquired signed leases with 14 land owners.

“We talked to as many people as we could to let them know that we were proposing a new surface mine out there. We would be coming to the area. Most everything we got was good, in favor of all of it.”

But once they approached the county’s zoning committee with the proposal, they were met with some resistance. Not from the county, and not from the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, but from the community. People spoke in Fiscal Court, an online petition was created, yard signs began popping up with messages like “Say No to Coal.”

The county’s Zoning Commission, however, granted the permit for the mine. But Western Kentucky Minerals isn’t quite in the clear to operate, yet. Daviess County is one of two in the state that allows appeals against permits like this. In all other 118 counties, if you can get the permit, you can mine. County Judge Executive Al Mattingly says the Fiscal Court heard hours of appeals and read hundreds of pages in reports. So far, they’ve upheld the Zoning board’s decision to allow the mine on Girl Scout Road, but they’ll be hearing appeals on their decision in Circuit Court until a 30 day period ends Saturday, September 1st. Even then, Mattingly thinks the appeals will continue.

“And I am sure in this case it’s probably going to go to the Court of Appeals and eventually the Kentucky Supreme Court.”

Mattingly says the Fiscal Court upheld the zoning ordinance because they could not see a violation in the permit application.

“It’s all about trying to balance your decision. In this case, there was no Solomon-like result. We were going to make somebody mad regardless of how we chose. We did what we thought was best and that’s all anyone can ask us to do.”

The court did recognized the unusual circumstance of the mine being located next to Camp Pennyroyal and extra restrictions were set for this particular mine. For example, mine operations will halt on Sundays, holidays, and Saturdays after 6pm. Miners can’t use backup bells, they’ll have to use strobe lights to reduce noise pollution. State law requires that mines can’t blast closer than 300 feet of a residence without written permission, Daviess County Fiscal Court extended that to 500 feet and 2,000 feet from Camp Pennyroyal’s main lodge. In addition, Western Kentucky Minerals will have to test the water quality in the camp’s lake, monitor the dam’s integrity, and restrict mining operations to inside the pit after 6pm.

Lora Tucker is the CEO for the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana. She says the council’s priority is to work in partnership with Western Kentucky Minerals to form the best situation for both parties when the expected mining starts in a few years.

“Just make sure that we’re prepared when this starts, that it has little effect on that camping experience for our girls.”

Both Western Kentucky Minerals and Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana are trying to allow the others’ operations to run smoothly. Tucker says as CEO her priorities are to protect the camp, but she’d like to make the best out of the situation.

“And the other thing is taking this experience and making it part of the educational process for girls. Creating a coal badge, looking at the environment, hopefully we’ve got some budding scientists out there that can look at the next generation of sustainable, reusable energy.”

That means some of the coal workers will be interacting directly with girls. Teaching about surface mining, the risks, and educating camp staff on safety procedures when the mine becomes active. One of the pillars of Girl Scouts is a connection with the outdoors and environmentalism is heavily threaded in the program. But, Tucker says, it’s important for Girl Scouts (especially ones in this region) to understand this industry and its role in their homes and in society.

You have an environmental aspect of it, but then you also have the fact that over 97% of Kentucky’s energy comes from coal. You have families who need the money that have the right to sell their mineral rights. You have a local mining company struggling to exist. You’ve got a community that needs a tax money base. So it’s a complicated issue and what we try to do is teach our girls to look at an issue critically and advocate for what they believe in.”

Tucker says she’s heard girls advocate for both sides, but that GSKYANA is focused on preparing for the potential opening of this mine in the coming years. Western Kentucky Minerals is working to get their zoning permit approved and begin mining. Both are publicly working together to ensure operations down the road will run smoothly. However, both parties, the community, and the local government are all, as Mattingly put it, “playing the waiting game.” If the appeals continue past this week and advance into higher courts, it’ll be a long road ahead before anyone is certain if West Kentucky Minerals begin work on Girl Scout Road.

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