Public Lab Wiki documentation

Grassroots Mapping Coal River

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Cherry Pond Mountain, West Virginia:

A coalition of residents, activists, and educators are working together to monitor mountaintop removal mine sites in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.

By using grassroots mapping techniques, especially UavPhotography, we hope to document the environmental degradation and health hazards which mountaintop removal generates.

UAV Photography

JoshLevinger worked with control systems for unmanned aerial vehicle development at MIT. He holds a degree in aero-astro engineering from MIT and will be contributing to the control system design for our inexpensive aircraft. DavidPitman will also be supporting this effort; he is a research associate at the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT.

There is an ongoing discussion on the mailing list as well as on the UavPhotography page about the type of remote control plane and autopilot we will use.


By using electric-powered lightweight remote control aircraft made of a biodegradable biopolymer composite, we hope to create low-cost and environmentally friendly tools for environmental monitoring. NadyaPeek of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT is working to develop eco-composites from natural and biodegradable materials.

Map rectification

By orthorectifying the images we capture, we can monitor the progressive degradation and safety issues over time. We plan to use MapWarper along with other web-based tools being developed by JeffreyWarren.


  • JenOsha- Director, Aurora Lights
  • JeffreyWarren - Center for Future Civic Media, MIT Media Lab
  • NadyaPeek - Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT
  • JoshLevinger - Computing Culture, MIT Media Lab
  • DavidPitman - advisory; research associate at the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT

More about the Coal River Valley site

An excerpt from, a participatory multimedia website produced by Aurora Lights focusing on the Coal River Valley in southern West Virginia:

New clean air regulations a diminishing supply of cleaner coal meant new techniques of washing coal were introduced, leaving the Clean Water Act-prohibited toxins in multi-billion-gallon toxic sludge impoundments throughout Appalachia, burying headwater streams, forests and history.

In the town of Sundial, Marsh Fork Elementary School sits 400 yards downslope from one such impoundment: the leaky 385-foot-high Shumates Branch earthen dam, which holds back 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. The school also sits below Massey subsidiary Independence Coal's 1,849-acre Edwight mountaintop removal mine and is 225 feet from the coal silo at the Goals Coal Preparation Plant—another Massey subsidiary. Children at the school are frequently sick and asthma is high on the list. The prep plant releases chemical-laden coal dust that independent studies have shown to be prevalent in the school.

Local residents have been asking the school board and the governor's office through multiple channels to move the school to a healthy location within the community, but have so far met only resistance. Partly in response to that resistance, they started the Pennies of Promise campaign on May 30, 2006, to raise the money for a new school. Work is also afoot to transition the area's economy away from coal to something healthier and sustainable. A wind farm on Coal River Mountain, for example, would provide jobs for longer, more local tax revenue from industry and a healthier place for kids than MTR would.

Unfortunately, a mountaintop removal mine on Coal River Mountain would destroy over 60 percent of the potential wind turbine sites. Coal has been the cornerstone of the economy for more than 100 years. One of the best things available to replace coal in West Virginia's economy, wind, is being destroyed by King Coal's desperate attempts at survival. The past is trying to destroy the future.

Some residents want mountaintop removal ended, a new school built within the community for the kids at Marsh Fork Elementary and for Massey to be run off. They want access to the mountains that have sustained their families for generations and to be treated like human beings.