Arch Coal Inc. and the Logan County Commission on Friday announced plans to form a new business development corporation to create economic opportunities for Southern West Virginia.
Arch Coal said it would donate $10,000 to fund the formation and promotion of the corporation.
The company also said it plans to donate an undetermined amount of land at its Wylo Mine near Buffalo Creek in Logan County for the group's first project.
"We are pleased to be joining forces with the Logan County Commission in this exciting new entity," said Steven F. Leer, Arch Coal's president and chief executive officer.
"Southern West Virginia is vitally important to the future of Arch Coal," Leer said. "It is the site of many of our largest mines and the home to many of the 2,500 men and women who work at those mines."
State law authorizes the formation of business development corporations to promote, develop and advance business prosperity and economic development.
The Arch Coal-Logan commission group is apparently trying to find new businesses and other development for land flattened by mountaintop removal mining.
"We believe mountaintop mining creates two major benefits for the people of Southern West Virginia," Leer said.
"First, it provides thousands of jobs and tremendous economic benefits to the region during the process," he said. "Second, it creates the kind of land - complete with roads, sewage systems and electrical infrastructure - that can be used for future development."
Under federal law, most strip mines must be put back the way they were. Post-mining land must be reclaimed to the approximate original contour of the land before mining.
Mountaintop removal was legalized as a limited exception to this rule. Companies could flatten the land, or leave it with gently rolling hills, but only if they planned future development of businesses, farms, schools or other public facilities. To qualify, companies must provide detailed development plans when they submit permit applications for mountaintop removal.
These mountaintop removal rules, however, have been abused in West Virginia. Gazette investigations found that most mountaintop removal mines did not receive the required approximate original contour variances or propose the required post-mining developments.
A draft report by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining reached the same conclusions.
The final version of that report is now more than two months overdue. Roger Calhoun, director of the OSM field office in Charleston, said earlier this week that he does not know when it will be finished.
Arch Coal announced its new development corporation plan just one day before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's scheduled hearing on two mountaintop removal permits.
EPA has halted the two permits - including one to expand by 3,100 acres the Arch Coal Dal-Tex operation near Blair in Logan County - until the companies provide more concrete information about the mining's environmental impacts.
The hearing is scheduled to start at noon today at Southern West Virginia Community College near Logan. It was originally scheduled to run through 5 p.m., but was extended until 7 p.m. More than 1,000 people are expected.
In a news release, Arch Coal said it would donate an undetermined amount of land at its Wylo mining complex and work with local officials to create a multipurpose recreational facility. The facility will probably include baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, walking trails and other outdoor activities.
Whether such recreational facilities are allowed as a post-mining land use for mountaintop removal mines is a hotly debated issue. Companies want the land use to be permitted, but federal regulators have yet to do so.
"We believe this high, rolling terrain is ideal for a host of recreational pursuits," Leer said. "Making the land useful to the people of the region is part of our overall vision for reclaiming our mine sites, and we believe this project will help make that vision a reality."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.