Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Winds of Change
November 2002

Contents

Life Near a Massey Mine is No Picnic

Not Throwing Caution to the Winds

Legacy of MTR - ANOTHER Round of Flooding

And The Winner Is ... NOTA?

Winds of Change - OVEC Switches to Wind Power, So Can You

The Smell of $$$$$ = Business as Usual in WV

The People Win Round 1 in Coal Truck Weight Battle

WV May Tell Coalfields: If You Don't Like It, Move!

OVEC in Action!

Homer III Wants to Blacken Peytona

Invoking Some 'Higher Authority' in the Fight Against MTR

What Can We Say But THANKS for Everything!

Norton Trys to Use Enviros as Poster Children at Sham Celebration

Regulator's Motto: If You Don't Do It Right, It Doesn't Take As Long

GlassWorks of Weston to Produce OVECs 2002 Christmas Ornaments

Norcross Wildlife Foundation Awards OVEC Grant for New Computers

Action Alert Miscellany

Other Miscellany


For viewing the PDF version

 

Legacy of MTR - ANOTHER Round of Flooding

by Vivian Stockman

As I drove home, the car radio said there were flash flood warnings in Logan County. I got a funny feeling. A bad feeling. Probably not near as bad as the people looking up from their homes in the hollows of southern West Virginia at a little slice of pouring gray sky.

The feeling comes from knowing that it is "when," not "if." When the next deadly flood comes roiling off the thousands of acres of bulldozed-away forests, blown up mountaintops and rubble-filled valleys where once flowed streams.

The old timers with tell you. The sweet summer thunderstorms that sustain these verdant forests well, now a person doesnt find them so sweet. A leaden sky is a signal to fear.

What will that massively abused landscape do with the once-welcomed gift called a summer downpour? The land responded differently to the rain before they came with their giant bulldozers and impossibly huge shovels. Before they came with their endless blasts turning mountains into rubble and the air into a transport system for disease-causing silica dust. Before they came with their ecocidal justifications that burying streams and filling valleys under millions of tons of former mountains has "minimal impact."

As soon as I got home I checked the news on the Internet. My fears were confirmed another mountaintop removal (MTR) disaster. Huge chunks had cleaved off a Massey Energy subsidiarys valley fill and tumbled into a sediment pond, causing it to overflow and send a flood of thick dark-gray mucky water and debris down upon a little community at Lyburn Hollow, Logan County.

I had to contact the film crew. A producer, assistant producer, cameraman and soundman from Now with Bill Moyers, a national PBS-TV Friday night news program, had been here for three days meeting with OVEC members and other coalfield residents, as well as representatives of the coal industry. They were filming a MTR story. That rainy morning they were supposed to be with Massey Energy, getting a VIP tour of Masseys best "reclamation" areas.

I frantically called their cell phones, hoping one of them would be on, hoping they could ditch the Massey public relations tour and get to the real Massey story. Finally, I got through to the assistant producer. Massey had cancelled the tour early in the day because the rain would make their operations appear too muddy on film. Silly Massey! They could have kept the film crew busy all day, could have kept them from getting to film the real messy Massey madness.

The assistant producer was at filmmaker Bob Gates studio, reviewing his footage of coal-related disasters. They had just heard from another journalist about what was happening in Logan County. Soon, we were on our way down there.

The scene was unbelievable: cars tumbled about in the brutalized stream, two homes ruined, very noisy equipment already at work, and thick dark-gray muck everywhere. Thankfully, no one was killed, though there were some narrow escapes.

This valley fill, like so many others, is mind-bogglingly huge. I later asked the DEP how big this fill is. I asked them again, because I couldnt believe their answer: about 900 feet high and 2,000 feet long.

Theres a sediment pond below it that is supposed to catch and settle sediment creeping off the fill. To get an idea of the immense scale, imagine Person A standing at the edge of the sediment pond looking at Person B standing at the toe, or base, of the valley fill. Person B would appear only about an inch tall to Person A. If Person B were to look up and see Person C standing at the top of the valley fill, C would appear only an inch or so tall.

WV Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Callaghan was at Lyburn when we arrived. Upon questioning, he stated the obvious MTR can make flooding worse.

Lyburn residents said water had been coming off the fill, down the road (not the creek) for days, and they had complained to DEP. Coal companies are supposed to keep valley fill sediment ponds cleaned out, but the DEP had recently written up Massey several times for failing to clean out this pond in a timely manner. The violations were serious enough that DEP could have ordered a shut down of the operation before the disaster occurred.

But that wouldnt have done much good, as theres no MTR currently happening around this fill. Its in the "reclamation" stage.

 

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