SUNDIAL — About 50 protesters marched past a Massey Energy operation Tuesday, demanding that the company tear down a new coal silo near a local elementary school.
“Tear it down, it’s illegal. Tear it down, save our kids,” the protesters chanted as they marched along W.Va. 3 through Raleigh County.
Outside the entrance to Marsh Fork Elementary School, more than two-dozen Massey supporters waved signs praising the company and the coal industry.
“My husband works for Massey,” one supporter’s sign said. “My child goes to this school. We’re OK with it.”
State troopers patrolled the road, and stood guard to ensure that there was no trouble between the two sides.
In Charleston, state Department of Environmental Protection officials continued their investigation of permits for the existing silo and a planned second silo at Massey subsidiary Goals Coal Co.’s Marsh Fork site.
On Friday, DEP suspended a permit for the second silo after being shown company maps that indicate it was proposed to be built outside the operation’s original permit area.
DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer declined Tuesday to say if she was upset or embarrassed that her agency did not notice changes over time in the permit area shown on the company maps.
“We found a problem and we fixed it. Period,” Timmermeyer said. “We are acting swiftly to remedy the problem with the maps.”
The Goals Coal preparation plant is tucked behind a thick stand of trees just off W.Va. 3 north of Sundial, near the Boone-Raleigh county border.
On the western edge of the operation, the existing silo — standing about as tall as the Charleston Marriott Hotel — is crammed in between a hillside and Marsh Fork.
The silo towers behind the elementary school, just 220 feet from the school’s property boundary and 260 feet from the school building itself.
Timmermeyer said Tuesday that DEP has not yet received the results of a site survey it hopes will resolve questions about the silo location and the original permit boundary.
In response to written questions submitted before an interview, Timmermeyer said that any problem with the maps was not DEP’s fault.
“We must rely on the maps submitted to our agency by licensed professional engineers, who, by law, certify that the maps submitted as part of a permit application are true and accurate,” Timmermeyer said.
“We need to make sure that we hold companies and consultants to a high standard of accuracy and that we have checks and balances in place to ensure that the information we use to make permit decisions is the best available,” she said.
Tuesday’s march in Raleigh County was the first in three days of protests Massey critics scheduled in the Coal River Valley area. Protest marches will continue today and Thursday.
On July 30, the groups Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have planned a major anti-mountaintop removal protest at the state Capitol. Group members and supporters are being encouraged to attend and “Tell Governor Manchin No More Mountaintop Removal,” according to an event flier.
At Tuesday’s march, Becky Gilfilen stood outside the elementary school that her 6-year-old grandson attends. She said she has no problems with Massey’s operation next door.
“He’s not been sick,” Gilfilen said. “There’s nothing wrong in this community. I think personally that this is just a vendetta against Massey because Massey is non-union.”
Howard Pettry, a third-grade teacher at the school, said that he thinks Massey should buy the school site, paying enough money so the county can relocate the students to a new building away from the coal operation.
“I am not a radical. I am not a trouble-maker,” Pettry said. “I am not for the closure of the mines. I understand that people have to make a living.
“But Massey needs to do the right thing so we can build a new school and move those kids out of the toxic environment they have created.”
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, saying they 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 was 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.