The Curious Case of the Not-So-Scenic Trail

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Perhaps no piece of recent legislation better reflects the tension between the past and the future of the eastern Kentucky region, and between the dedication of land to extraction of mineral resources and the use of land for recreational and scenic purposes, than House Bill 556 (2002), codified at KRS 148.870 - 892.

I. Background On The Pine Mountain Trail Act

  1. Creation of the Pine Mountain State Park was one of the five bills that Governor Paul Patton included in his 2002 Environmental Agenda, the others being HB 600, the "Smart Growth Bill," House Bill 598, on Cell Tower Siting, HB 174, the Solid Waste bill, and HB 540 on Power Plant Siting. In some form, four of these five agenda items supported or advocated by the Administration became law.
  2. The Patton Administration prefaced its support for the agenda in this way:


Those things we hold dear about our state - the unique beauty of

our landscapes, prime farmland, the wildlife, recreational opportunities-

have become even more important. As have our small towns and large

cities, which offer citizens a sense of community and a high quality

of life.


These qualities will determine our ability to compete for quality jobs in

the new economy of the 21st century, where technology allows companies

to locate virtually anywhere. Those areas that offer a high concentration

of skilled workers and are attractive, clean and have a high quality of life

will be the most successful.


In the last decade the trend of out-migration has been reversed and Kentucky is growing again. In 1982, about a third of an acre was developed for every person living in Kentucky. By the end of the last

decade, that figure had jumped to one half acre per person. Unfortunately not all of this growth has been well planned -- in our urban areas, the rate of land development fare exceeded the rate of population increase. And only 27 of our 12 counties have comprehensive planning. Quality growth is the key to allowing us to remain competitive now and prosperous in the future, while protecting our environment.


Governor Patton is supporting several key pieces of legislation that can

strengthen our quality of life and thus our future prosperity.


Of the Pine Mountain State Park Bills, introduced in the House as House Bill 556 by Representative Keith Hall and in the Senate as Senate Bill 158 by Senator Ray Jones, the Patton Administration said this:


Pine Mountain State Park Bill . . . creates a linear park from Breaks

Interstate Park to Pine Mountain State Park, then turning south to

Cumberland Gap National Park, protecting some of the Common-

wealth's most unique natural areas and providing opportunities for

the public to enjoy the region's beauty. The park will be approxi-

mately 120 miles long with a 500 foot corridor on either side of the

crest of Pine Mountain, one of few largely intact landscape scale

ecosystems in Kentucky.


II. Original Bill Sparks Fear In Extractive Industries


The original bill contained several provisions that were excised at the request of the extractive industries as the bill was marked up in the House. Among those provisions were this sweeping legislative finding and statement of purpose, which appeared in Section 1(1) of the bill:


The General Assembly recognizes that certain areas of the Common-

wealth possess outstanding and unique scenic, recreational, geological,

biological, historical, archaeological, and other scientific, aesthetic, and

cultural values. Therefore, it is hereby declared that in order to afford

the citizens of the Commonwealth an opportunity to enjoy these natural

areas, to attract out-of-state visitors, to ensure the well-being of our tourism industry, to preserve for future generations the beauty of certain areas untrammeled by man, to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population, and to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoor areas and historic resources of the Commonwealth, there is hereby established a certain defined area . . . for ultimate designation as the Pine Mountain Trail State Park[.]


Clearly, the intent of designating the trail was to allow an opportunity to enjoy the values provided by surrounding areas whose context made this ridgeline unique.


It was this very recognition that concerned the coal industry, who weighed whether to seek an exemption for coal from the bill, to attempt to kill the bill entirely, or to seek to make amendments in order to eliminate the central threat they perceived in the bill - the ability of an individual or group to file a petition to designate lands unsuitable for mining based on the "viewshed" from the proposed state park.


III. The Emergent Bill


As enacted, House Bill 556

  • creates a "linear state park" to be known as "the Pine Mountain Trail State Park, a trail of approximately one hundred twenty (120) miles in length" running from the Breaks Interstate Park along the crest of Pine Mountain to the Cumberland Gap National Park". Section 3(1). The precise boundaries are to be defined by the Department of Park within the Tourism Development Cabinet, but the general boundaries are a 1,000 foot corridor at the ridge of the mountain range from the Breaks Interstate Park to Bad Branch State Nature Preserve, 100 to 250 feet wide from Bad Branch to the Pine Mountain State Resort Park, and no wider than 250 feet from the resort park to Cumberland Gap National Park. Additional land acquisition by purchase is authorized.
  • The trail is designated as a "state scenic trail, so chosen because of its unique location."
  • Access is generally limited to foot use and other nonmotorized uses
  • Eminent domain can be used to acquire in fee but not private dwellings or residential properties "or property owned or leased, including adjacent or contiguous tracts of land leased or owned or which may be acquired, for the purposes of operating an oil or gas well, surface or underground coal mine operation, or surface or underground mineral quarrying operation," if the person holds a state permit or license issued by the Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement or the Department of Mines and Minerals.
  • Within the boundaries of the trail the department may acquire fee or lesser interests by purchase.
  • In acquiring any interests the Commonwealth or its agencies "shall waive the three hundred (300) foot restriction contained in KRS 350.085(3) and boundary restrictions for a well set forth in KRS 353.610." Section 4(2).
  • Hunting is allowed with KDFWR and Parks approval.
  • The law outlines permissible uses, protecting those in existence at time of law, and allowing blasting but limiting blasts to 10,000 pounds or less of explosives if within 1250 feet from the crest at the Breaks- Bad Branch area and 500 feet from the boundary for the rest of the trail. Select timber cutting and other resource removal is allowed under permit. It is unclear whether "other resource removal" could include mineral extraction from within the trail boundaries since the term is undefined.
  • Management plans are to be developed.
  • The law protects the rights of landowners and successors to hunt, fish and trap on former land, gather medicinal plants and to access cemeteries
  • By June 30 2003, trail boundaries are to be specifically defined, and within six months thereafter, a management plan for trail is to be proposed, and adopted within 12 months of that date.
  • Penalties are provided, including a penalty of $100 for unintentional trespass on private lands within the boundary of trail or adjacent to the trail, $200 if intentional.

IV. The Case of The Not-So-Scenic Park


In response to concerns expressed by extractive industry groups, a number of changes were made to the bill.

  1. The introductory language concerning the scenic, aesthetic, historic, biological values and of providing the opportunity to enjoy those values by designating this trail was excised, replaced by this introduction:
    The General Assembly recognizes that the ridge top of Pine Mountain is a unique area desirable for the creation of a trial
  2. This descriptive language formerly found in Section 3(4) of the Act was eliminated:
    The trail shall be a state scenic trail, so chosen because of its location and in order to provide maximum potential for the appreciation of natural areas and the conservation and enjoyment of the significant scenic, historic, natural, ecological, geological, and cultural qualities of the area through which the trail passes.
  3. Where the original bill allows the department of parks to waive the 300-foot restriction of KRS 350.085(3), the revised bill mandated that waiver.
  4. The former bill language prohibiting above-ground blasting operations within 1,000 feet outward from the crest of the mountain in either direction "so as not to imperil the use of the trail{ ]" was replaced by a limitation on explosive weight that varies by area of the trail.
  5. A new section of the bill, codified at KRS 148.890, was added:
    1. In subsection (1), except for the blasting restrictions, nothing in the Act is to be construed as affecting "in any way, the legitimate use of surface and subsurface property adjacent to or visible from the trail, whether such use was in effect upon the designation of the trail or not, including but not limited to timbering, oil and gas operations, mining, both by surface and underground mining means, or any other legitimate use of surface or mineral property adjacent to or within view of the trail.
    2. If that weren't clear enough, subsection (2) attempts to legislate vision:
      Use of the lands outside of the boundary of the trail shall not be limited or restricted because the lands may be viewed from the trail. The viewshed of the trail shall be limited to the trail boundary for any land use regulation of lands outside the boundary of the trail.
    3. Subsection 3 contains a series of findings intended to affect the ability to utilize the unsuitability designation process:
      The General Assembly finds that the boundaries for the trail prescribed in Sections 1 to 12 of this Act are adequate and sufficient to protect areas inside the trail that may contain fragile or historic lands; or which may have important historic, cultural, scientific, aesthetic values and natural systems; or that may be renewable resource lands which have important in terms of long-range productivity of water supply, food, or fiber products; or which could be considered natural hazard lands, including lands subject to frequent flooding, areas of unstable geology, or areas in which the health, safety, or welfare of people, property or the environment is threatened due to surface coal mining or similar activities conducted outside the trail boundaries.
  6. Many Moons by James Thurber, tells the tale of Princess Lenore, who has fallen ill from a surfeit of raspberry tarts and will not be cured until she has the moon. The King sets out to get the moon for her, and gives her a golden disc that she hangs around her neck. The King worries that she will see the moon rise the next night and realize that the golden disc is not the moon and will fall ill again. He summons his advisers, the first of whom suggests that she be given glasses so dark that she cannot see the moon. 

That is the Section 11(2) solution. You may think that what you see beyond the trail boundary is within the viewshed of the trail, but we have by law decreed it otherwise.

The second adviser suggests heavy curtains shroud the castle so that the moon will not be visible to Princess Lenore. The King rejects this solution also because no air will get in.

Perhaps this is the solution to the dilemma - line the trail with curtains depicting landscapes without mountaintop removal mines, so that visitors can enjoy the faux-viewshed without interfering with mineral removal operations.

V. Consistency With Federal Law

  1. The Commonwealth manages an "approved state regulatory program" under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, 30 U.S.C. 1201 et seq. As such, the state is obligated by both state law, KRS 350.465, and by federal law, to maintain, administer and enforce the state program in a manner consistent with the federal law and regulations. 30 C.F.R. 733.11, and is obligated to submit for federal review and approval, and changes to laws or regulations affecting the state's implementation, administration or enforcement of the "state program." 30 C.F.R. 732.17.
  2. By letter dated May 31, 2002, the Lexington Field Office Director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement requested that the state submit a final enacted version of the legislation to allow OSM to determine whether House Bill 556 should be submitted as a formal state program amendment.
  3. By letter dated June 5, 2002, the state Natural Resources And Environmental Protection Cabinet transmitted the final enacted version of the bill.
  4. By letter dated June 25, 2002, OSM's LFO Director posed two questions to the state concerning the language of Section 11 as part of the federal agency review. The questions are reprinted below:
    Do you construe the phrase "legitimate use of the surface and subsurface property adjacent to or visible from the trail, to mean "mining in accordance with the approved Kentucky surface mining program, including 405 KAR 24:040 Sections 2(2) and (4) (counter-part to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) Sections 522(e)(3) and (5)? Also, do you construe the term "adjacent" in the quoted phrase above to mean no closer than 300 feet from the park, except for where there are valid existing rights, in accordance with 405 KAR 24:040 Section 2(2) (counterpart to SMCRA Section 522(e)(5))?
  5. By letter dated July 3, 2002, the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet responded to the first question in the affirmative - since the legitimate use of the surface and subsurface property adjacent to and visible from the trail includes mining, it is reasonable to assume that this would include mining under the approved state program, which includes the sections cited by OSM. With respect to the second question, the state responded that "The cabinet would construe the term "adjacent" to mean "next to" or "adjoining" which is the term's dictionary definition. I see nothing in HB 556 that would indicate that the term was meant to mean "no closer than 300 feet from the park, except where there are valid existing rights."
  6. An internal memorandum indicates as late as August 7, 2002, continuing concerns within OSM that there is a distinct possibility that passage and implementation of House Bill 556 could create an encroachment on the SMCRA required and Kentucky program approved 522(e) buffer zone for public parks. This is a matter of concern for OSM. At the present time, however, there is not evidence of any active or foreseeable mining at or within the above-mentioned buffer zone for the Pine Mountain Trail. That being the case, it is recommended that the agency (OSM) take due note that any proposed mining within this described area that is not conducted in accordance with Kentucky's counterpart to section 522(e) of SMCRA will require a proposed set aside of Kentucky law pertaining to this matter. It is also recommended that at this time the Field Office adds the Pine Mountain Trail area and buffer zone to its watch list and continually monitor the potential for coal mining activities therein. The acknowledgment of future OSM action as needed, combined with active monitoring attention, should satisfy any current agency obligations pertaining to House Bill 556, the Pine Mountain Trail, and 522(e).
  7. By letter dated August 16, 2002, OSM's LFO notified the state that: based on the state's July 3, 2002 letter, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) finds that House Bill 556 does not constitute a change that affects the implementation, administration, or enforcement of your approved state program. OSM concludes that House Bill 556 does not need to be submitted as a formal amendment to the approved state program.

VI. Analysis

  1. Incompatibility of Section 11(1) with 405 KAR 24:040 Section 2(2) 24:040 Section 2(2) prohibits approval of a mining permit which includes land within 300-feet, measured horizontally, of any public park. HB 556 removes from this public park the buffer zone protection that would otherwise be extended, and which Kentucky is obligated to extend under federal law to all public parks. The OSM deferral of action on this significant change in the applicability of 522(e) and 405 KAR 24:040 Section 2(2) based on the lack of immediate proposed mining activity, is unlawful, and resurrects a corollary to the discredited doctrine of "forseeability" under which the agency had sought to allow state's to defer processing of unsuitability petitions where there was no foreseeable coal operation.
  2. Inconsistency of Section 4(2) With Section 522(e) While OSM attempted to finesse the apparent conflict between Section 11(1) of the Act and 405 KAR 24:040 Section 2(2), it appears to have missed the unfinessable conflict between Section 4(2) of the bill and the 300-foot park buffer zone requirement. In Section 4(20, the initial bill authorized and the revised bill required that the Department of Parks waive the 300-foot protection for any lands it acquired.
  3. Incompatibility of Section 11(2) and (3) with discretionary criteria for designation of lands as unsuitable for mining.While OSM focused on the effect of the language of Section 11(1) of the bill on the buffer zone protections automatically extended by Congressional designation to all public parks, the language of Section 11(2) and (3), and the excision of the language from other sections of the original bill, attempts to prevent any party from filing a petition to designate areas within the "viewshed" of the trail park as unsuitable for mining because of adverse impacts on the scenic, historic, fragile or other values of the park. In so doing, the law creates a special exemption depriving this unique area of the possibility of protection that existed prior to the designation of the area as a park. The unsuitability process includes two types of designations - those made by Congress, including the buffer zones around public parks, cemeteries and the like, and the discretionary process by which a state would evaluate a petition seeking to designate an "area" as off-limits to mining due to the incompatibility of surface coal mining operations with​​​​​​​
    • fragile or historic lands in which the surface coal mining operations could result in significant damage to important historic, cultural, scientific or aesthetic values or natural systems;
    •  natural hazard lands in which the mining could substantially endanger life and property;
    • renewable resource lands where mining could result in substantial loss or reduction in the long-range productivity of food or fiber;
    •  lands in which the mining could result in substantial loss or reduction in the long-range availability of water supplies[], or
    • land use policies, plans or programs.
      The language of Section 11 seeks to impose a mandated legislative finding that the viewshed ends at the trail boundary, and that no designation of an area outside the trail boundary is necessary to protect the various values within the trail boundary. Thus the "area" now within the park has become less-protected than it would have been under existing law since it can no longer be eligible as an "area" whose viewshed is subject to designation as necessary to protect the values within the area. 
      The King's advisers would be proud of this bill.
  4. The Case of The Management Plan Without A Goal Both the original and revised bill call for development of a management plan. The former language of Section 7(1) directed that in developing the plan, Primary emphasis shall be given to protecting aesthetic, scenic, historic, archaeological, biological, geological and scientific features of the trail.The revised bill excised this language, leaving no specific goals for the management plan other than the needs of local area citizens.

VII. Conclusion

By contrasting House Bill 556 as introduced with the legislation that emerged from the 2002 General Assembly Regular Session, one can see the legislative effort to incorporate language and concepts proposed by the industries concerned with oil, gas, coal and other mineral extraction and to secure passage of the bill. The emergent product is an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable - to paper over polar conflicts in land use that will continue to occur as a region transitions from the era of coal dominance to a future more reliant on tourism and other economic development that depends on the scenic and recreational quality of the environment and is incompatible with large-scale disruption of land for mineral extraction.

During the fight over Black Mountain, one industrial landowner posted their property on the summit of Black Mountain with this sign:








Perhaps we could post the new Pine Mountain Trail State Park to read:




1 Prepared for the EMLF Seminar October 10, 2002 by Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.


By Kentucky Resources Council on 10/11/2002 5:32 PM
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