RITA — Residents of Rita crowded into the fellowship hall of the Bethlehem Freewill Baptist Church and waited outside on the church lawn for a meeting on the fate of their homes. Several weeks ago, more than 30 families in the small coal camp were given eviction notices dated for October 1.
Residents were asked to gather at the church on Tuesday evening for a meeting where a representative from the governor’s office and a lawyer would be present. Residents were hoping to hear of the possibility of some aid in helping them to relocate. They were also told that Assessor Rick Grimmett would be in attendance as a stand in for W.Va. Senator Art Kirkendoll, who is attending to state business. Grimmett also was unable to attend the meeting but did notify several residents on Monday that he would be out of the state.
The meeting was slated to begin at 7 p.m., but due to an accident on Lyburn Mountain, the crowd waited until 8 p.m. for the two representatives who still did not show. At 8 p.m., James Blunt asked the residents for five volunteers to form a committee to talk with officials.
“We’re making a committee of five people who will be on call to represent residents of Rita camp to express our views and our needs,” said Blunt. “We were supposed to have a senior advisor from the governor’s office and a lawyer. So far I haven’t seen anybody. I don’t mean to bad mouth them or anything; I don’t know if we have been blown off, but I like to keep a positive attitude.
“We’ve got assurances from Kirkendoll and Grimmett’s office that they are going to get together with DB Land company and some area land developers or owners to try and get some solutions for these people.”
Blunt said the biggest obstacle is the expense of moving.
“Most of these people really don’t have the money to move,” said Blunt. “It’s an expensive proposition even if you are a working person. A lot of these people are on a fixed income, low income… the church I work out distributes food and a lot of them we give food to. They are at the bottom of the income scale.”
Blunt moved to Rita following his retirement as steelworker from Cleveland, Ohio.
“My wife was born and raised down here and when I retired I wanted to come back where she would be close to friends and family,” said Blunt. “I love it down here, it’s my adopted home. I’m really hoping and praying for a good outcome on this whole thing.”
Those selected to be on the committee, including Blunt, was Kenny Laws, Winfield Cooper, Larry Ellison and Russell Spears.
“If a meeting is called, at least two of these people can meet with officials and represent these people,” said Blunt. “We’re fighting for time and expenses to move.”
Laws agreed with Blunt.
“We prefer not to move, but I know we got to move,” said Laws. “It’s a money thing, a lot of us can’t afford to move and we don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Thirty some families looking for somewhere to put their trailer… just the logistics of it is something else,” said Blunt.