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Editorial: Reminders of spring; end for a coal baron
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Editorial: Reminders of spring; end for a coal baron

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Here's a look at some news affecting the Fredericksburg region this week and our take on it.

TRY BOXWOOD THERAPY THIS SPRING

Never mind today’s blustery weather. Spring, by every other portent, is here: Check the plants in bloom or the pollen counts of recent weeks.

A sunnier Sunday should present a perfect opportunity to admire the season’s finery at one of the Fredericksburg region’s beauty spots, Belmont.

Please enjoy the annual Spring Open House at Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Stafford County. Admission to the famed artist’s historic house, grounds and studio — where Belmont’s 40th anniversary art show is displayed — is free. Plus, children can climb on a Virginia “LOVE” sculpture as families snap photos at the Falmouth estate.

Similarly, on Saturday, April 23, the Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg will open its gardens to visitors, free. Another Washington Heritage Museums property, the rarely viewed 18th-century St. James’ House, will be open for tours April 25–30.

The multi-site Fredericksburg Garden Tour, part of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, will be held Tuesday, April 26; find details at vagardenweek.org or call 540/847-5990.

Whatever the special event or particular place, spring in Virginia is a time to treasure. So, please, savor it.

JUST A YEAR FOR BLANKENSHIP?

A judge sentenced former big-coal boss Don Blankenship to a year in prison Wednesday for his role in the deadliest U.S. mine explosion since 1970.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said the ex-Massey Energy CEO was part of a “dangerous conspiracy” to violate safety standards at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine.

Her ruling came one day after the sixth anniversary of the mine explosion there that killed 29 men.

Berger sentenced Blankenship to the maximum prison time she could and fined him the maximum $250,000.

It’s a terrible shame that both punishments couldn’t be far greater, given the moral depravity of what Massey did. Four probes found that its worn and broken cutting gear created a spark that ignited accumulated coal dust and methane gas.

Yet at this week’s hearing, Blankenship was unrepentant. “It is important to everyone that you know that I’m not guilty of a crime,” he told jurors.

His top-dollar attorneys contended he should, at most, get probation and a fine. The judge denied their motion for Blankenship to remain free while he appeals.

On Thursday, Blankenship began appealing the case. He may serve his whole sentence by the time the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides his case.

No tears here. He got off easy.

Jurors acquitted Blankenship of felonies for which he could have served 30 years. He won’t have to pay $28 million in restitution to Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey, avoiding a blow to his personal fortune. Nor will he have to pay anything to former miners and their family members.

Re-reading news clippings about what happened at Upper Big Branch makes one’s blood run cold.

The mine’s foremen had to improvise to get their crews enough fresh air. Anyone who challenged authority was threatened with firing. The company’s non-union miners had to call to the surface every 30 minutes with production reports for company executives.

An independent report by a former top federal mine regulator, commissioned by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, said Massey could have prevented the April, 5, 2010, disaster with standard safety practices.

A cold, dank cell in a deep pit wouldn’t be rough enough for this callous coal baron.

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