Environmental activists and coalfield residents on Monday announced three days of marches to protest Massey Energy facilities along the Coal River Valley.The marches start today at Marsh Fork Elementary School, where state regulators on Friday halted construction of a new Massey Energy coal silo just 220 feet from school property.Department of Environmental Protection officials took action on the silo after conceding that company maps do not show the silo as being within the operation’s original permit boundary.“Our battle cry every day is going to be ‘Tear it down,’ ” said Bo Webb, a spokesman for the group Coal River Mountain Watch. “It’s in the wrong place.”In today’s protest, citizens will march from Marsh Fork Elementary near Sundial about three miles north to Massey’s operations at Montcoal.On Wednesday, activists and residents will march from Coal River Mountain Watch’s offices in Whitesville to Eunice, near where Massey operates a large slurry impoundment. On Thursday, they will march into Sylvester, where residents in 2003 won a $473,000 verdict from Massey subsidiary Elk Run Coal Co. for dust pollution from a preparation plant.Over the last two weeks, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer and Gov. Joe Manchin have been under fire for approving Massey’s permits for the new silo and continued operation of a huge slurry impoundment just up the hollow from Marsh Fork Elementary School.Under state and federal law, no new mining operations are allowed within 300 feet of a school.In 2003 and again last month, Timmermeyer approved the Massey silos anyway. Agency officials said that the silos were exempt from the 300-foot limit because they were within the permit boundary of an operation that existed prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act on Aug. 3, 1977.But maps that Goals Coal filed with DEP showed that one silo has been built and the other is under construction on land that appears to have been slowly added to the company’s legal mine boundary over the last eight years.
Massey never specifically asked for the permit changes, and DEP never approved them. Instead, the changes just showed up on maps that company engineers filed periodically with DEP.On Friday, DEP officials ordered Massey to stop construction of the second silo and began an investigation of the site’s permits. Agency officials acted after The Charleston Gazette pointed out the permit map inconsistencies.Through a spokeswoman, Manchin said Monday that it “would be “premature” for him to comment on the development.“He’s still waiting to get all of the facts,” said Lara Ramsburg, the governor’s communications director. “He just doesn’t have all the information he needs.”Timmermeyer has also not yet commented on the issue, leaving it to DEP mining director Randy Huffman to answer questions.
On Monday, Huffman said that he hopes to have preliminary results of the site survey sometime this week.Huffman said surveyors will give DEP a report that shows the silo location in relation to several fixed points, such as W.Va. 3. With that information, Huffman said, DEP hopes to be able to determine for sure if the silos were built inside or outside of the company’s original permit boundary.Huffman said DEP officials are also hoping to locate at the site an “end-of-strip marker” that depicted the original permit’s boundary line on earlier maps. In later maps submitted by Massey engineers, that marker was no longer shown.“That should be a key piece of evidence,” Huffman said. “The bonded area on a map is good and close, but it’s not always right.”