West Virginia coal operators continue to strip mine more acres than they reclaim, according to a federal Office of Surface Mining report issued Monday. In its annual review of West Virginia’s strip mining regulatory program, OSM said that 296,300 acres — an area nearly the size of Boone County — is currently disturbed by mining.That’s an increase of about 3 percent over the amount disturbed as of Sept. 30, 2002, according to OSM records.The 32-page report said that coal companies last year received new permits for nearly six times the area that they completely reclaimed during the same period.This year’s OSM report covers just nine months, up until June 30. OSM is bringing the reports in line with the federal financial year, which ends June 30, said Dennis Boyles, a spokesman for the OSM Charleston field office.This year’s report showed 2,400 acres of mined land had been completely reclaimed during the nine-month period. That’s down from 7,800 acres during last year’s full, 12-month study timeframe.OSM said that “the seemingly reduced rate” of reclamation “can be attributed to the shortened time period for this evaluation year.”However, this year’s nine-month study also found that the state Department of Environmental Protection had issued 56 permits for a total of 12,540 acres.During last year’s 12-month study, the DEP issued 58 permits that covered 8,813 acres, OSM found.The amount of acreage abandoned by coal operators skyrocketed during this year’s nine-month study period, OSM found.
Last year, OSM reported 146 acres of mining operators abandoned. This year, the agency found 950 acres abandoned, the new OSM report said.DEP officials are trying to erase a multimillion-dollar deficit in the state’s program to reclaim newly abandoned mines. But financial data released last week showed their efforts will still end up in the red by 2006.In its annual report, OSM also noted that the state has filled all 57 new positions required by an agreement for DEP to increase its mining office staff and avoid a federal takeover of mining enforcement in the state.At the same time, however, other openings were created when existing staff moved up to the newly created jobs, OSM noted.OSM said that 22 jobs remain to be filled, and that DEP “recently notified OSM that it may only fill 10 of those positions.”“Although some normal vacancy rate is expected, OSM is concerned that not all of the 22 positions are in some state of hiring or advertising,” the OSM report said.
The OSM report is available online at www.osmre.gov/report03.htm.To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.