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Permit's blasting rules too strict, Arch Coal says

Arch Coal Inc. has appealed several provisions of a 3,100-acre mountaintop removal coal mining permit, alleging they are too stringent.The state Division of Environmental Protection issued the permit in early November, after the company said it would lay off 400 miners if the permit wasn't granted before the end of the year.DEP Director Michael Miano said he and Gov. Cecil Underwood wanted to do whatever they could to prevent the layoffs of miners at Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc.'s Dal-Tex operation.The 5-square-mile permit - the largest in state history - would allow Hobet Mining to expand Dal-Tex, located near Blair in Logan County, across W.Va. 17 up Pigeonroost Hollow.The existing Dal-Tex mine has been the subject of citizen complaints and has been cited for blasting and dust violations.Arch Coal has purchased the property of the area's residents, and paid an undetermined amount of money to settle lawsuits filed by several families who said the mine was a nuisance.In one recent settlement, the company paid Tommy and Victoria Moore $225,000 to drop a lawsuit the Moores filed over mining damages, according to Logan Circuit Court records.During public hearings and press interviews, Arch Coal officials have argued the permits should be granted because they agreed to strict limits on blasting and dust at the expanded mine. "I think that if you will review the permit, you will find that, in many instances, we've exceeded the requirements of the regulations," John McDaniel, Hobet Mining's chief engineer, said during a public hearing in December 1997.In their appeal, however, Hobet Mining lawyers argue that three additional restrictions on blasting are too stringent.One restriction would prohibit any blasting within 1,500 feet of an occupied structure, including homes, schools and churches. The second mirrors a long list of blasting restrictions put in place at Dal-Tex's existing mine. The other would limit the size of blasts detonated within 2,000 feet of an occupied structure.Robert G. McLusky, a Jackson and Kelly lawyer for Hobet Mining, filed an appeal of those provisions Thursday with the state Surface Mine Board.
The appeal states that the blasting restrictions are "arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and unnecessary.""There are no facts or findings in DEP's permit record to explain, support or justify these conditions all in violation of applicable laws and regulations," the appeal states. "These conditions also effectively sterilize substantial coal reserves, thereby effecting a taking of those reserves without just compensation."The Dal-Tex expansion is still held up because of separate permits that haven't been issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection A-gency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Some citizens who live near the Dal-Tex operation allege Hobet Mining has already started work on the new mine.In a complaint filed with the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, environmental lawyer Joe Lovett said that the company was cutting trees and installing a power line in the permit area.The mining permit issued by DEP stated that "no disturbance, including cutting of timber in preparation for mining, is allowed on this permit until such time as" the EPA permit is issued.During a hearing in federal court in November, Hobet lawyers agreed that the company would not commence any mining activities until the EPA allows a water permit for the mine to be issued.DEP inspector Harold Ward looked into the complaint, and decided it was without merit."While select harvest timbering is active north of Pigeonroost, logging operations have been active in the permit area for the last three to four years under contract from the land holding company and from observations have not escalated since permit received OMR approval," Ward wrote in a complaint investigation report.
"The only clear-cutting found was related to power line relocation and was obviously not for the purpose of mineral extraction," Ward wrote. "Mining activity has not been initiated on this permit." 
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.
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