For the second time in a year, a state appeals board has thrown out Department of Environmental Protection approval of a new underground mine proposed by International Coal Group for Taylor County.The state Surface Mine Board this week released its decision reversing DEP's approval of a permit for ICG's Tygart No. 1 Mine.Board members ruled that DEP officials did not properly consider potential acid mine drainage from the mine and approved an inadequate ICG plan to treat that water pollution.Scott Depot-based ICG proposed to mine about 3.5 million tons of coal per year for more than a dozen years at the mine site southeast of Grafton. The longwall operation would employ about 350 people and cover about 6,000 acres underground next to Tygart Lake and the state park there.
A citizen group, Taylor Environmental Advocacy Membership, or TEAM, challenged the permit. Members are concerned about the proposed longwall mine's possible impacts on area streams and springs, and about subsidence damage to their homes.In November 2007, the mine board ruled that DEP was wrong to grant a permit for the mine. Board members ordered DEP to make ICG submit a new analysis of the mine's potential impacts on water quality and quantity. DEP was required to then study that analysis, and write a new report on the mine's potential cumulative hydrologic impacts. DEP officials were told to use that new report to determine if the permit should be issued.During a hearing on that permit, an expert who testified for the citizens predicted that longwall mining subsidence would likely re-channel the flow of area groundwater and surface water. Once the mining stopped, the expert projected, the mined-out area would likely fill with that water.
At the same time, the expert said, the water - now laden with toxic iron - would begin to seep out into what was left of the area's streams.In their new ruling, board members found that a new ICG "contingency plan" for dealing with acid mine drainage was "inadequate.""The board finds that the contingency plan is open-ended with no clear limits, timelines or monitoring regime required by the permit," the board said.Board members found the plan did not explain how material damage to streams would be identified, and included no enforceable monitoring requirements that would allow pollution to be controlled.Gene Kitts, senior vice president of ICG, said the company was "obviously disappointed" by the board ruling and would "be closely reviewing the ruling to determine the best course of action to address their concerns.""We believe the Tygart No. 1 mine plan is environmentally responsible and meets all state and federal regulatory requirements," Kitts said. "That makes us confident that the perceived deficiencies in the WVDEP mining permit can be appropriately resolved and that development of our planned Tygart No. 1 underground mine can proceed."But Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, praised the board's ruling and said it supports citizen concerns about water pollution in the acid-producing seams of northern West Virginia."These deep mines in the acidic areas are really time bombs waiting to happen," Rank said Thursday. "We really have to prevent acid mine drainage from happening, not try to clean it up later."