State regulators allowed Massey Energy to start building a new coal silo more than two months before permits for the project were approved, Department of Environmental Protection records show.Contractors for Massey subsidiary Goals Coal Co. began work on the silo — proposed for 260 feet from Marsh Fork Elementary School at Sundial — in early April, according to DEP records.Environmental Protection Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer did not approve the final permits for the Raleigh County project until June 30.By then, Goals Coal had already completed the foundation for the 10,000-ton silo, records show.DEP officials say they did not object because Massey planned only to build the foundation, and not the 168-foot-tall silo itself.“This was just pouring concrete on the ground,” said Keith Porterfield, an assistant director at the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation’s Oak Hill office.Some Raleigh County residents are upset about the silo, and worried about Massey’s continued operation of a preparation plant and huge slurry impoundment so close to an elementary school.On June 30, Timmermeyer approved a mining permit change and an air permit to allow the silo and a permit renewal for continued operation of the slurry impoundment.Generally, coal mining operations are not allowed within 300 feet of schools. But DEP says this site is exempt from that limit because it existed prior to passage of the 1977 federal strip mining law.Last week, Gov. Joe Manchin promised to look into relocating the school and investigate concerns that students, nearby residents and workers are being made sick by chemicals used in the coal preparation plant.Manchin got involved to convince Rock Creek resident Ed Wiley, whose granddaughter attends the school, to end a sit-in protest on the Capitol steps.The governor has said he would not “second-guess” DEP’s decision to permit the Massey operation. But Manchin also said he instructed his staff to meet with state regulators “to make sure they have done what they were supposed to do.”Goals applied for permit changes to allow it to build a second silo to store coal before it is shipped.
DEP officials viewed the move as a positive one. Massey planned to replace an open coal stockpile with a covered silo, reducing potential dust emissions, DEP officials said.In an April 8 letter, Massey official Danny Cox informed DEP of the company’s “plan to initiate foundation work which will be in full compliance with current permits and applicable regulations.”
“Contractors to construct silos are currently very difficult to retain,” Cox wrote.“However, Goals has the opportunity to contract construction of the silo if foundation work can begin within the next several days,” he wrote. “Otherwise, construction may be delayed several months and likely into winter.”Cox said changes to the site’s surface mining and water pollution permits were not needed for the foundation work.“The work will simply involve foundation construction within a currently permitted and bonded area,” Cox wrote. “The area is already permitted as a preparation plant work area, it is covered by sediment control, and there will be no activities that are not covered by those permits.”
Massey also needed a DEP Division of Air Quality permit for the silo construction. But, Cox said, state air pollution regulations specifically allow “construction of foundations prior to obtaining a permit to construct or modify a source.”In his letter, Cox also said that Massey understood that the rest of the silo could not be built before DEP approved a change in the site’s surface mining permit.
“It is Goals’ decision to accept the financial risk involved with building the foundation prior to obtaining approval or permits necessary to build the silo,” Cox wrote.In an inspection report more than two months later, DEP inspector Manual Seijo noted that construction of the silo itself was allowed only after the agency approved a permit for the work.“Foundation work only,” Seijo wrote in a June 23 report. “No work above grade.”The next morning, Seijo wrote in another inspection report, “Due to concerns over scope of foundation work, company provided a detailed letter of job description and when it would be completed.”Later that day, Goals Coal vice president Michael K. Snelling sent DEP another copy of Cox’s April 8 letter about the foundation work.Snelling also sent DEP a one-page letter from Hoffmann Inc., a Muscatine, Iowa, contractor hired to do the silo foundation construction.In that June 24 letter, Hoffmann sales manager Paul J. Reed wrote that a subcontractor, Wright Concrete, “is presently finishing the final portion of the foundation work referred to as ‘ringbeam’ that will support the walls of the silo.”Reed wrote that, to make the foundation level, this ringbeam would need to “come above ground level on the down gradient side some two feet.”“The work is being performed under our supervision,” Reed wrote. “We anticipate completion will be on or around Thursday, June 30, 2005.”Randy Huffman, director of DEP’s mining division, said the decision to allow the foundation construction was made in the Oak Hill field office.“That’s not an uncommon practice, and we view it as not being a big deal,” Huffman said.“There is no risk to the environment or the public or the state or anybody involved,” Huffman said. “All of the risk is on the company.“It’s just done to give them a head-start on the project.”Carte Goodwin, Manchin’s in-house lawyer, said Tuesday that he had heard that the silo foundation work started the day DEP issued its permits.Goodwin said that he was not aware that the work started as early as April.“That’s news to me,” Goodwin said. “I know nothing about that.”Lara Ramsburg, the governor’s media spokeswoman, said that she was also not aware the work started that early. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” she said.