Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2008 See sidebar for table of contents
Citizens Voice Concerns with Proposed Mining Operation
by Julia Goad, Williamson Daily News, August 2, 2008
Citizens concerned with a proposed mining and construction site met this week at the Chattaroy Gospel Revelation Church to discuss possible effects the project will have on their community.
About 20 people met with representatives from West Virginia Future, a grass roots organization which concerns itself with the mining industrys impact on the environment and the families who live near mining operations.
The company which has obtained the permits to begin mining the Chattaroy/Millers Creek area is Consolidated Coal. The mining would be done in conjunction with construction of the King Coal Highway, part of which is now under construction near Red Jacket. Parts of the highway will be built on flat land created by mountain top removal mining.
(OVEC member) Donna Branham was the unofficial spokesperson for the organization at the event. She said the community couldnt depend on governing bodies to protect them and their property from the negative effects of coal mining. She said the organization has spoken many times with the Division of Environmental Protection, and that the agency itself says it is short staffed.
"They told us they were five years behind on following up inspections," she said. "And that there are over 100 vacancies at DEP."
Branham said citizens must work together to protect their rights.
Among the concerns aired by citizens were contamination of water, transporting the coal after it is mined, damage to homes from blasting and loss of property value. But the biggest concern voiced was that of flooding. Freddy Runyon lives at Dans Branch on land his family has owned for three generations. He said he never thought flooding was a concern to him and his family due to the higher elevation of the hollow.
"I always said if it flooded Dans Branch, nothing of Williamson would be left," he said, "I was wrong."
The community of Chattaroy, as well as Dans Branch, received water during the 2004 flood.
"If they remove the top of the mountain at Dans Branch, we could be the next Buffalo Creek," Runyon said, referring to the 1972 disaster in Logan county where negligent strip mining and heavy rain produced a raging flood when a coal mine dam failed, leaving 118 dead and 4,000 homeless.
When the Daily News phoned the EPA, it was referred to the states Department of Environmental Protection. Officials were asked about staffing issues as well as the possible affects of the proposed mine.
Larry Alt, permit supervisor at the Logan branch of the DEP, says the department realizes Chattaroy residents are concerned with flooding, and is working to address their concerns.
"We have done a surface water runoff analysis," he said. "If structures are put in place as they have been designed, then there should be no net increase in the amount of water runoff than there is now."
Benny Campbell, deputy director at the Logan branch, agreed.
"In my opinion, drainage structures, when used correctly, can help with flooding issues," he said.
Campbell also said transporting the coal shouldnt lead to any problems with highway safety or air quality.
"The coal would be taken to Millers Creek," Campbell said. "The trucks would travel on an access road designed specifically for that purpose, and would not travel through Chattaroy."
Sandy Kees is a human resources specialist at the DEP. She told the Daily News that while the department did have quite a few vacancies to fill, she wasnt sure how the staff shortage would affect inspections.
"We have 106 openings," she said. "But that number changes almost daily, as some positions are filled as others come open. Im not sure how many of those positions are administrative and how many are jobs out in the field."
Campbell said the DEP feels comfortable the plans Consol has in place, if followed correctly, will have no negative environmental impact.
"We have been looking, and will continue to look, at this project," Campbell said. "We wouldnt issue a permit if we thought there were issues that hadnt been addressed."
Consol spokesperson Cathy St. Clair says although the company isnt usually involved in highway construction, it always follows state as well as federal regulations at its mines.
"Although this project is different in the reclamation aspect, it will follow all regulations set forth concerning the environment," she said. "Consol will follow the standard set forth by the state."
The highway project will follow rules laid out by the state governing post mine land use. Under the current plans, Consol will construct five miles of the highway site to rough grade from Buffalo Mountain to Belo. St. Clair said she hopes area residents can see the bigger picture when considering the project.
"One thing to look at is the broader idea," she said. "American energy to meet Americas energy needs."
Several residents say they already have been trying to work with local groups so that if they could not prevent the mining altogether, they could at least ensure their interests are protected. Lonnie Bowen and Ray Curry are among those who spoke to the Mingo County Commission about the issue.
"We have met with the Commission and with Consol," Curry said. "(Commissioner) Hootie (Smith) and (Commission President) John Mark (Hubbard) both talked straight, just like we are talking tonight. They told Consol they didnt want Chattaroy mined." However, Curry says he feels the project will move forward.
"They are going to build this highway, and they are going to mine coal," Brown said. "We just need to keep informed about our community."
Some of the Chattaroy residents expressed frustration with the system in place designed to protect them and their families. They said they feel politics plays a large part in these types of battles, and so the deck is stacked against them.
"These coal companies give money to the politicians," she said. "And then it is politics as usual in Mingo County. I wish you good luck, and advise you to get flood insurance," Newtown resident Barbara Chafins said.
Members of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition attended the Chattaroy meeting to offer their support and assistance. Patricia Feeney is with OVEC and she says the group wants to work to help people from the area network with professionals who can provide them with information and contacts.
"These scientists want to know your concerns," said Feeney. "They want to help."
Branham said people can work together and create change.
"We need a coalition of communities so we will not be forgotten," she said. "As more people come together, we can find people to help us. There is strength in numbers."