Pine Mountain Settlement School

Providing seismic monitoring of the impact of blasting activity near a school recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

Harlan County, Kentucky
Pine Mountain Settlement School

As a National Historic Landmark, Pine Mountain Settlement School’s important history is well documented. The school is located on more than 600 acres on the northern side of Pine Mountain, an imposing feature in the Appalachian Mountains of southeastern Kentucky. The forest environment of the Pine Mountain Settlement School boasts an impressive number of plants and animals, some of which are exclusive to the campus.

Founded in 1913 and remaining in operation until the early 1970s, Pine Mountain Settlement School initially opened as a boarding school for elementary- and middle-school-aged children before evolving into a boarding school for high school students. The school emphasized traditional academics and also promoted vocational and artistic fields of study. In the early 1970s, Pine Mountain Settlement School transferred its focus from community schooling to environmental education. Today, Pine Mountain Settlement School continues its traditions by providing instruction in the environment, Appalachian culture, and crafts for students and adults.

In 2002, when a local mining company proposed to expand a surface coal mining operation within a mile of the historic campus, RESPEC was retained to investigate whether or not the seismic waves from the blasting could cause future damage to the 18 historic structures that make up the campus and the surrounding environment. RESPEC conducted a preblast survey, which was outlined in a four-volume set of photographs and an interactive CD of each building and its existing condition. RESPEC provided seismic monitoring of the blasting activity and prepared detailed viewshed visualizations for how the proposed mining would affect the school’s campus.

The Kentucky Resources Council (a nonprofit entity representing the environment in Kentucky) brought a lawsuit against the mining company under the Lands Unsuitable for Mining portion of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. RESPEC served as the expert witness in the matter, and the Cabinet concluded in their decision that “2,364 acres of land within the area north of the Pine Mountain Settlement School were unsuitable for all types of surface coal mining operations.” The proposed configuration of the mining operation would adversely affect the historic viewshed from the school and the blasting could damage important historic and cultural structures.