Another Massive Massey
Sludge Impoundment Proposed
by Janet Fout
Just what West Virginia doesnt need another coal
slurry impoundment in addition to the 136 we already have, many of
which already pose threats to communities and the environment.
Power Mountain Coal Co. (subsidiary of Alex Energy,
i.e., Massey Energy), has proposed construction of a gargantuan coal
waste impoundment (408 surface acres affecting 1,330 acres of
watershed), including a tributary of the Gauley River, near Drennen in
Nicholas County, WV.
This one should be a no-brainer for the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, which issues the permits for impoundments. After all, its
Massey Energy that mining company responsible for the "worst
environmental disaster in the Southeastern United States" according
to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We havent forgotten that
306 million gallons of lava-like coal slurry inundated streams and
waterways in Kentucky and West Virginia on October 11, 2001, after part
of the bottom fell out of a 72-acre coal slurry impoundment owned by
Massey (Martin County Coal Co.).
Millions of dollars have already been spent trying to
clean up the gray-black goo that killed all the aquatic life in the
receiving streams and covered local residents' yards as much as 7 feet
deep. Who knows if the streams and waterways will ever recover?
(To read about another "cover-up" see the
stories about Jack Spadaro, a whistle-blower who was fired from the Mine
Health Safety Administration (MSHA), when his investigation implicated
not only Massey Energy but also MSHA for the disaster). Additionally,
the public notice fails to mention that this area has already been
heavily mined a very real concern considering that Masseys failed
impoundment was built over old mine works.
West Virginia has already lost more than 1,000
miles of streams after they were buried under coal mining waste. This
proposed project would impact almost 4 miles of streams permanently
obliterating 3.7 miles and "temporarily" impacting another
quarter of a mile.
In a world where clean, potable water is increasingly
becoming an issue, in this country where drought is becoming more
frequent, only a shortsighted government and the agencies that do its
bidding, would allow a mining company to bury water.
Besides, streams and rivers are the lifeblood of our
earth. Smothering perennial and intermittent streams disrupts the web of
life in both aquatic and terrestrial systems, decreases biological
diversity and increases pollution downstream. As we tear away at the
strands of the web, we are endangering the human species.
The Corps public notices often use very generic
descriptions that mislead the public into thinking that the Corps
actually has relevant data upon which to base its determinations. In
regards to threatened and endangered species at this location the notice
says: "The Huntington District has consulted the most recently
available information and has determined that the project is not likely
to affect the continued existence of any endangered species or
threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification
of habitat of such species" So just HOW recent is this data?
Twenty years old? Ten? Who knows?
The same holds true regarding issues of cultural
importance. While the Corps stated in this notice that nothing nearby
has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it doesnt
mean that they have actually conducted any on-site research to see what
might be present in terms of Native American artifacts.
Were streams or woods in this area ever used for hunting
or fishing or gathering ginseng? Arent those culturally (and
economically) significant resources to West Virginians? In regards to
cultural impacts, we are not convinced that any meaningful attempt has
been made to determine what cultural losses will occur. People who have
traditionally hunted and fished the woods and the water or gathered
herbs or ginseng will no longer have access to those places because
they will be gone forever. In West Virginia, disrupting activities like
hunting and fishing constitutes both cultural and economic losses.
Shortly after OVEC submitted comments regarding this
proposed impoundment, we learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency recommended that, for now, this permit be denied. Theyre
concerned that no alternatives to filling four miles of streams have
been explored, that mitigation of stream losses should be supplemented
to "include actual stream and watershed improvements," and
their comments further suggest that the Corps needs to apply a standard,
scientifically sound and repeatable method for assessing the ecological
value of headwater streams.
Hmmm Plenty of wiggle-room in their comments
Thankfully, Sen. Robert Byrd has provided funding for a
much-needed project focusing on the most dangerous impoundments in West