Sydney Boles

Sydney Boles is the Ohio Valley ReSource reporter covering the economic transition in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country.

Sydney received her Master of Journalism from Medill School of Journalism, where she covered immigration and housing insecurity in Chicagoland.

Before her work in journalism, she studied oral history and postcolonial resistance strategies in Costa Rica, India, South Africa and Turkey.

Sydney grew up in upstate New York and enjoys baking, reading and exploring the outdoors.

coal
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes two provisions that would specifically help coal-reliant communities in the Ohio Valley.

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

Environmental and economic advocacy groups from coal-producing parts of the country unveiled a policy agenda on Monday to help coal-reliant communities make a transition to a more sustainable future.

Oakley Fugate

The courtroom was silent as 19-year-old Dayjha Hogg approached the lectern at a Letcher County fiscal court meeting, stared down a panel of county magistrates, and spoke.

“I know COVID’s going around right now, so just imagine, there’s no COVID, normal society, and imagine you walk around and it’s like you have the plague.” 


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

 


It’s a sweltering hot Monday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and the kitchen at Community Agricultural Nutritional Enterprises, or CANE, is buzzing with activity. 

In an industrial kitchen that was once a high school cafeteria, Brandon Fleming is chopping onions and sliding them into a massive aluminum tray of beans. Once the beans are in the oven, Fleming mops his brow and heads outside to the parking lot, where a small army of teenagers is loading bags and boxes of groceries into the trunks of waiting cars. 

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

Executives with Indiana-based coal company American Resources Corporation will face daily fines of $2,500 if they continue to flout court orders, according to filings in the bankruptcy case of Cambrian Coal. 

Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky’s state budget officials told lawmakers Friday that general fund receipts may decline by $495 million next fiscal year. It’s just the latest example of the unprecedented financial hardships ahead for the Ohio Valley’s state and local governments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 38 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past nine weeks, about 2.5 million of them in the Ohio Valley states of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Even economists find figures like that hard to reckon with.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Just 15 percent of Kentucky counties meet minimum recommended coronavirus testing levels, according to a new report from health care company Castlight. Sixty-seven percent of West Virginia counties and 31 percent of Ohio counties met the threshold. 

 

coal truck
Brittany Patterson / West Virginia Public Broacasting

Coal company American Resources Corporation, which owns mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, is facing sanctions after failing to comply with a bankruptcy court’s orders, even after the company received $2.7 million in government aid meant for companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

 


Mackie Branham views a lung X-ray with Dr. James Brandon Crum, who was among the first physicians to note an uptick in black lung diagnoses.
Howard Berkes / NPR

Underground coal miners start their shifts getting changed in closely packed changing rooms. They ride rail cars to their worksite, shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes for more than an hour. And once they’re underground, ventilation designed to tamp down coal dust blows air through the mine. All that makes a coal mine  the kind of place where the coronavirus could spread like wildfire. 

Adobe Stock

Thousands of people in eastern Kentucky and parts of West Virginia remain without power Thursday after strong winds downed power lines across multiple counties. 

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

On March 17, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mehyah Davis, 23, was in his second week of a new job waiting tables at the cryptid-inspired Wood Booger Grill in Norton, Va.

“That week, [my boss] cut the schedule,” Davis recounted. “Everybody only had one shift.”

Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered

Apr 3, 2020
Alexandra Kanik / Ohio Valley ReSource

The coronavirus pandemic has already infected thousands in the Ohio Valley and upended life and work for nearly all of us. In such a fast-moving pandemic, it can be hard to keep all the information straight. The Ohio Valley ReSource and its partner stations asked you what you wanted to know, and took your questions to someone with answers.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

On a blistering August afternoon in Cumberland, Kentucky, David Pratt, Jr. stood in the middle of a two-lane highway, holding a sign that read “COAL MINERS AND TRUCKERS AGAINST CORPORATE AMERICA.” A few yards away, his father, David Pratt Sr., who is graying but still muscular, leaned back in a lawn chair perched precariously on the crossties of a railroad. His eyes focused on the spot where the tracks disappeared around the bend and more than $1 million worth of coal idled in train cars.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

As the economic fallout from the coronavirus continues to reshape our lives, small-town business owners are worried about the future. Whitesburg, Kentucky —  a town already struggling from the decline in the coal industry — is grappling with a new and serious challenge as the effort to contain the disease brings deep economic pain. 

 

coal
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall. 

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Just three bankruptcies of American coal companies have added more than $800 million in costs to a federal government program that funds health care for disabled coal miners, the Government Accountability said in a report released Wednesday.

An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

SYDNEY BOLES/ OHIO VALLEY RESOURCE

Heavy rains caused extensive flooding across eastern Kentucky this week, and city and county officials say it could take weeks to fix some of the damage.


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration met for the first time with miners’ health researchers Wednesday in a new partnership designed to discuss ways to better protect coal miners from the dust that causes black lung disease. In future meetings, representatives from the two agencies will discuss recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in a 2018 report on monitoring underground coal dust exposure. That report said the coal mining industry needs a “fundamental shift” in the way it controls exposure to coal and rock dust.

Courtesy Braidy Industries

A controversial economic development project in Ashland, Kentucky, hit a snag last week as aluminum company Braidy Industries ousted CEO and board chairman Craig Bouchard. In a statement, Braidy Industries’ interim CEO said he appreciated Bouchard’s hard work for the company. Bouchard says the firing was improper and is refusing to step down.

Miners assemble on railroad tracks to block a shipment of coal from a Blackjewel mine.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop Thursday, May 5, at the Morgantown Event Center.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will visit Kentucky and West Virginia just days after releasing his plan to address climate change.

Sanders is scheduled to speak in Louisville, Kentucky, Sunday. He planned to visit Morgantown, West Virginia, Monday, but plans to visit the Mountain State have since been canceled.

Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Blackjewel miners and supporters enter the federal courthouse in Charleston, W.Va.
Brittany Patterson / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

More than a thousand coal miners left unpaid by the abrupt bankruptcy of Blackjewel mining could soon be getting some – but not all – of the money they are owed. 

Dozens of miners have staged a week-long protest on railroad tracks in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking delivery of a load of coal from a Blackjewel mine and demanding their pay.  

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Blackjewel coal miners will have to wait at least another day to learn if the sale of the bankrupt coal company’s mines and equipment will deliver their overdue paychecks.

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