To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702, or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.
Arch Coal Inc. has quietly come up with a plan that might reduce the amount of streams buried by the expansion of its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine in Logan County, documents filed in federal court Wednesday showed.Engineers for Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc. have drafted a plan for smaller valley fills at the company's proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine, according to the documents.Nearly 400 members of the United Mine Workers are facing layoffs by July 23 because Arch Coal has not received approval for the Dal-Tex expansion.Yet Arch Coal executives have never submitted the new revision to the state Division of Environmental Protection, and have claimed in court there was no way to further reduce the mine's impacts.Lawyers for citizens who oppose Arch Coal's original permit filed portions of the permit revision Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.Lawyers for the citizens asked Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden to allow them to question Hobet engineer James Johnson about the revision during a trial scheduled to start Tuesday."In that revision, Hobet has attempted to address some of the deficiencies that plaintiffs have alleged in their complaint with regard to the existing permit," the lawyers wrote. "The revisions include changes to the size of the three valley fills and the spoil balance."The lawyers did not say whether they were satisfied with the permit revision.St. Louis-based Arch Coal wants the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.The 3,100-acre proposal would expand the company's Dal-Tex complex east into Pigeonroost Hollow near Blair, Logan County.Arch has been unable to win regulatory agency and court approval for the project for two years.Arch Coal and the UMW have publicly blamed the problems, and the layoffs, on environmental groups.Originally, Hobet Mining proposed to dump nearly 150 million cubic yards of rock and earth into 7.8 miles of Logan County streams.In December, the company agreed to reduce the size of the fills.About four miles of streams would be buried, but Arch Coal never indicated how much rock and earth would be dumped.But the new plan, negotiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, represented the first phase of a two-phase project. Eventually, the company wanted approval for the entire original project.On Friday, Arch Coal lawyers unveiled a new plan. They provided the proposal to John Morgan, an engineer working for environmental groups, during a legal deposition.Portions of the proposal filed in federal court indicate that, under the proposed revision, Arch Coal would dump about 62.6 million cubic yards of rock and earth into valley fills.The documents do not say how many miles of streams would be buried.It is also unclear from the court records whether the proposal represents the first phase of a two-phase permit, or the entire project as a whole.If it is the first phase of a two-phase project, it would represent a valley fill-size reduction of about 10 percent from what EPA negotiated.If, however, the new revision is for the entire project, it would cut the final size of valley fills in half.Roger Wolfe, lead lawyer for Arch Coal, did not return a phone call seeking comment.Included in the court filings was a draft letter submitting the revision to Larry Alt, permitting supervisor at the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation in Logan.The draft letter, dated June 30, was never sent to him, Alt said Wednesday.