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Huge strip mine back on table

The largest strip mine ever proposed in West Virginia is back.Arch Coal Inc. wants state and federal officials to approve its controversial plan to strip more than 3,100 acres along Pigeonroost Hollow near Blair, Logan County.The company wants to revive plans to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal complex, according to public records.On Wednesday, federal regulators will hold a public meeting to discuss their plans for a broad environmental impact study of the mine proposed by Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc."We're just early in the process," said Michael Gheen, chief of permitting for the Corps of Engineers office in Huntington. "This is the first public input that we've had."In March 1999, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II blocked the corps and the state Division of Environmental Protection from issuing permits for the proposed Spruce Mine.At the time, Haden said the mine did not comply with rules that require strip mines to be reclaimed to their approximate original contour. Haden also said that a proposal by federal regulators to permit the 3,100-acre mine in a piecemeal fashion violated rules that require the entire impact of a mining proposal to be evaluated.To win approval from the corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hobet Mining had reduced the size of the valley fills it proposed.Instead of burying 7.8 miles of streams, the company proposed a first phase of mining that would bury about 4 miles of streams.But Hobet Mining dropped that plan when the corps withdrew approval of a dredge-and-fill permit for the operation. Corps lawyers said they withdrew that permit because they felt they would lose a court challenge to it.On April 12, the corps published a public notice that it would hold a meeting on an environmental study for the Spruce Mine on Wednesday at Chief Logan State Park.
An informal meeting will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and a formal hearing at 7 p.m., the corps said in its public notice.So, the Hobet Mining plan was apparently revived before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Haden's injunction to block valley fills in perennial and intermittent streams.
Initially, it was not clear if the new proposal was for Hobet's original mine - which would be the largest single permit in state history - or for a smaller, reconfigured operation.On Friday, Gheen said the company has asked regulators to approve its original proposal.Corps records show that the current permit application seeks approval to dump more than 150 million cubic yards of waste rock and dirt into streams. That was the amount originally proposed by Hobet's 3,100-acre permit application.In July 1999, Hobet closed the Dal-Tex operation and laid off about 400 United Mine Workers members.In its April 12 public notice, the corps said its study will "evaluate potentially significant environmental impacts associated with Hobet's proposed ... surface mine on water quality, streams, aquatic and terrestrial habitat, habitat fragmentation, the hydrological balance, and other individual and cumulative effects."Cumulative environmental impacts may include the efficacy of stream restoration; the viability of reclaimed streams compared to natural waters; the impact of valley fills on aquatic life, wildlife and nearby residents; biological and habitat analyses; and practicable alternatives for in-stream placement of excess overburden; measures to minimize stream filling to the maximum extent practicable; and the effectiveness of mitigation and reclamation measures," the corps said.
Gheen declined to say how long the study might take.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call348-1702.
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