Federal reviewers have found numerous problems with an A.T. Massey Coal Co. mountaintop removal permit under consideration by the state Division of Environmental Protection.In a new report, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining concluded that the pending permit for Massey subsidiary Road Fork Development does not comply with federal and state strip-mining regulations.Road Fork wants a permit to mine 1,300 acres in Logan County. The operation would be along Island Creek, Rockhouse Branch, Rich Creek and Middle Fork, southeast of Omar. Richmond, Va.-based Massey hopes to produce 12.2 million tons of coal over the nine-year life of the mine.The 27-page OSM report, dated April 9, lists the following problems that would need to be fixed before the Road Fork permit could be approved:
The permit asked for a variance from the approximate original contour reclamation requirement. But Road Fork did not ensure that the final grading of the top plateau is not inward draining, a requirement for the AOC variance.The permit asked for a variance from the federal mining law's contemporaneous reclamation requirements. But a variance is only allowed if mining companies propose contour mining along with mountaintop removal. Road Fork did not propose any contour mining.The permit application's discussions of the probable hydrologic consequences "fail to provide an analysis of the potential impacts which could result from the mining of the proposed operation."The application does not consider possible damage to public water supplies and groundwater supplies, toxic discharge from the mine, or loss of water quantity because of valley fills.The application requested a variance from the 100-foot stream buffer zone rule, but did not satisfy the requirements for receiving the variance.The permit application proposed a post-mining land use of commercial woodlands, but did not demonstrate - as required by law - that the flat land created by mountaintop removal was necessary for timbering to occur.Bill Marcum, a spokesman for Massey Coal, said company officials are reviewing the OSM report and hope to resolve the issues raised.Marcum added that, "We're concerned that the involvement of different agencies in the process needs to be well coordinated to avoid more needless delays. Such delays not only cause unnecessary expense, but also threaten the jobs of our workers."An earlier OSM report on a permit for Vandalia Resources Inc. found problems similar to those in the Road Fork permit application.DEP issued that permit. OSM did nothing to make the state fix the problems identified in the federal report. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also approved the Vandalia mine. EPA Region III Administration Michael McCabe issued a news release praising it.John Ailes, chief of the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, said his staff is reviewing the OSM report on Road Fork Development.
"We're looking at the OSM report," Ailes said. "The logical conclusion is that we will deal with any of the issues that they raised."Roger Calhoun, director of the Charleston OSM field office, said, "We're going to work with the state to make corrections. I think we're honestly working with the state before they get too far along with an issued permit."Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, praised the OSM staff who reviewed the Vandalia and Road Fork permit applications."I think it's wonderful that they're putting this information down on paper to show how idiotic this process is," Rank said Friday. "The reports are confirming our assertions that just about every part of the permitting process is flawed, if not terrible." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.