Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Winds of Change
February 2003


 What Part Don't Coal Companies Understand?

Remembering Laura

Don't Despair - Organize and Fight Back Instead!

West Virginia Bill for Public Financing of Elections Advancing

Trick or Treat for George Bush - No War!

West Virginia's Clean Election Law - Let's Do the Right Thing and Return Honor to the Process

China - Nehlen remark unwise

Sylvester 'Dustbusters' Beat Up On Massey Energy

Massey Energy Subsidiary Denied Permit to Cover Another West Virginia Town with Coal Dust

Small Town Threatened by Huge Slurry Impoundment Proposal

Mothman Returns: Is He Sending Us Another Dire Warning?

Ken Hechler: A Hero for Our Time

Buffalo Creek 30 Years Later - Have We Learned the Lessons?

Legislation Introduced to Counter Bush Rollback of Clean Water Regulations

Whose Monument Is It?
Keep Miner, Ditch Industry Rhetoric at New Coal Memorial

World Social Forum Shows Commonality of People's Goals

The Field of Broken Dreams

Hey! The Truth IS Out There!

The Truth is Out There - Wayyyyyy Out There, in Massey Energy's Case

Honoring a Great Crusader


For viewing the PDF version


Small Town Threatened by Huge Slurry Impoundment Proposal

by Dave Cooper

In the summer of 2002, the WV Department of Environmental Protection granted a permit to Delbarton Mining Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy, to build a 56-acre slurry pond above the town of Delbarton, located in Mingo County, WV.

This impoundment, if built as proposed, will have a dam 250 feet high that is visible from the main road (Route 65) through town, and will contain hundreds of millions of gallons of coal slurry. The dam will be located less than a mile upstream from hundreds of Delbarton homes.

Delbarton residents are well aware of the Massey mountaintop removal coal slurry disaster just 15 miles away in Martin County, Ky., where 300 million gallons of sludge broke through into an old underground mine beneath the slurry impoundment and contaminated over 80 miles of streams and rivers. Delbarton folks turned out in force at a town meeting held on Nov. 7, 2002, to discuss the local permit with Massey engineers and officials.

Although the Massey engineers did a fair job presenting details of construction of the Delbarton impoundment at the meeting, most residents were not reassured. According to the permit, if there was a slurry dam failure, an area five miles downstream and one mile upstream would be inundated (along with hundreds of homes) yet the emergency evacuation plan requires residents to travel upstream to reach the Delbarton Middle School evacuation area. Residents also expressed concern about their diminished property values if the dam was built.

Most troubling to residents was the omission of the old underground Pearl Mine works on the companys permit application map. Although the map did show the presence of the previously-mined Alma and Lower Cedar Grove underground mines, several longtime Delbarton residents had relatives who worked in the Pearl Mine, and felt sure that this mine was in the area of the impoundment. Delbarton resident Walter Young stated that his father used to work in the Pearl Mine.

After the meeting, Delbarton resident Larry Maynard began to search for proof of the existence of the Pearl Mine. Maynard found a reference to the 1930s era mine in a coal history reference book at the Mingo County Library in Williamson. OVEC helped Walter Young locate an attorney and Young appealed the slurry pond permit. Massey engineers and Youngs attorneys located a Pearl Mine map dated 1930 at the MSHA office in Charleston.

Appalachian Citizens Law Center attorney Amanda Moore and Appalachian Center attorney Joe Lovett represented Young for his appeal of the slurry pond permit at the DEP Surface Mining Board on Jan. 22, 2003. Expert witness John Morgan testified that mining at the Pearl Mine continued until 1932 or 1933 and that while the Pearl Mine map dated 1930 could not be considered complete or accurate, it seemed to indicate that mining progressed in the direction of the slurry pond.

According to elevations shown on the old map, the thickness of the rock between the underground mine passages and the slurry pond ranged from only 20 feet (!!!) at the toe of the impoundment to 700 feet at the back.

At the appeal, Morgan presented an overlay of the Pearl Mine map and the proposed slurry pond permit map that showed a pattern all too familiar to those acquainted with the Martin County disaster - a Massey slurry pond above an incomplete and inaccurately-mapped underground mine.

On the day of the Delbarton appeal, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released an internal report of the agencys actions leading up to the Martin County, Ky., spill of 300 million gallons of coal slurry. While the agency denied responsibility for that disaster, it found "systematic weakness" in its internal review of slurry ponds, and promised to "adopt agency guidelines to make sure impoundments get prompt and thorough review. [MSHA head Dave Lauriski] said the agency will also work to verify that underground mine maps are accurate in an effort to prevent similar spills." ("Agency Cites lax Oversight of Ky. Coal Pond," Roger Alford, Associated Press, Jan 22, 2003. This article and related editorials are available at our web site, www.ohvec.org)

But evidently the DEPs Surface Mine Board didnt read the papers that morning, and they unanimously denied Youngs appeal of the Delbarton slurry pond. Despite the clear and irrefutable evidence of the existence of the Pearl Mine, and the recent history of inaccurate mine map disasters in Martin County and at the Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, the Surface Mine Board called Masseys permit application "complete and accurate."

"Complete and accurate?" In fact the permit application was "incomplete and inaccurate!" Massey did not know of the presence of the Pearl Mine because Massey does not hire local residents to work at their facilities they hire folks from far away who are less concerned about destroying West Virginias coalfield communities.

If Massey had only bothered to ask local residents, they would have quickly learned about the Pearl Mine before they even submitted the permit application. Instead, the citizens of Delbarton and Masseys engineers are stuck with a potentially hazardous situation before construction of the impoundment has even begun.

Is this what the Mine Safety and Health Administration had in mind when they promised a "prompt and thorough review?"

Action Alert

Please write to Mine Safety and Health Administration Secretary David Lauriski, MSHA, 1100 Wilson Blvd., 21st Floor, Arlington, VA, 22209, and DEP Acting Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer, 1356 Hansford St., Charleston, WV, 25301. Ask them to please hold a town meeting in Delbarton to explain to residents how MSHA is going to protect the residents of Delbarton from a Martin County-style slurry pond disaster.


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