Arch Coal warnedMore than two months ago, however, the Corps warned Arch Coal that the agency wanted to revoke its approval of the Spruce Mine under a nationwide permit, according to internal government records and interviews.In an April 29 memo that she placed in her files, Corps regulatory specialist Teresa D. Hughes wrote that the issue was discussed in a conference call that day with Kirk Stark, an official at the Corps' Washington office."He explained that Hobet Mining should be contacted tomorrow concerning the withdrawal of its application," Hughes wrote. "There would be no further litigation regarding the Federal Government, provided the Nationwide application is withdrawn."Wolfe confirmed Friday that "some months ago, someone on our side got a call from someone, I think in the local Corps office, stating that they were thinking about withdrawing authorization."
Complicated history The history of various permits for the Spruce Mine, along Pigeonroost Branch in Logan County, is complicated.In November 1998, Hobet Mining asked the Corps to approve the project under a general, nationwide permit. Such permits are allowed only for activities that would cause minimal, cumulative adverse environmental impacts.The Corps proposed to issue the permit. Agency officials drafted a letter approving it, but never sent the letter.In February, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and a handful of coalfield citizens went to court to stop the Corps.On March 3, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden issued a preliminary injunction that barred the Corps from issuing its permit for the operation. Among other things, Haden said Hobet Mining and the Corps had illegally "segmented" the Spruce Mine into smaller parts, so regulators wouldn't take a closer look, as they would if it were one large mine proposal.
No nationwide permitBut on June 24, the Corps told Hobet Mining it would not approve the project under a nationwide permit. The company would have to seek an individual permit, which requires extensive environmental studies that could take two years.In a letter to Hobet engineer James Johnston, the Corps said it had "reluctantly reached the conclusion, for a variety of reasons, that there is virtually no chance" that Haden would allow the mine under a nationwide permit.In a June 22 letter, Corps lawyer Steven Rusak told Haden that the Corps was concerned about the accuracy of a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Corps files on the permit. A week later, on June 28, during a pretrial conference, Rusak told Haden the permit was withdrawn, based on "a re-evaluation" of the Hobet proposal.Stan Laskowski, regional director of environmental services for the federal EPA, said Friday that Rusak had recently asked him about a letter EPA wrote to the Corps in January.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702 or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.