People who fish and hunt at Wayne County's East Lynn Lake must feel as if they've done something wrong.In early March, a tornado blew through, uprooting and damaging more than 3,000 acres of trees near the lake. Now the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has officially set guidelines for coal operators that hope to mine the thick coal seam that surrounds the impoundment.Two companies have applied to deep-mine more than 13,000 acres of the 22,928-acre East Lynn Wildlife Management Area.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the land and leases it to the state Division of Natural Resources for recreational use. Sportsmen - especially anglers and boaters - are concerned about mining's potential effects on the lake's water quality.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees coal mining on federal lands. Last week, BLM officials set the boundaries coal operators would have to observe if they wish to mine the area.First and most important, there would be no mining within 1,585 feet of East Lynn Dam. That makes sense. The dam's structural integrity must be maintained.The BLM requirements would also include a 200-foot buffer around the lake's perimeter as well as studies of the area's geology and potential risks from mining activity.Because the East Lynn WMA is located in an area of the state where public land is relatively scarce, it is an extremely popular hunting, fishing and boating spot. It gets heavy recreational use from people in Wayne, Lincoln, Logan, Cabell and Mingo counties.Paul Johansen, the DNR's assistant wildlife chief, understands why recreational users are concerned, but added that his agency's experience with coal mining on state-leased lands "has been positive.""We have some examples where coal operations have been able to take place [on DNR-managed WMAs] with minimum or no impact," Johansen said. "A prime example is Panther State Forest in McDowell County. There is deep mining all under the forest, but the mine portals are offsite so the impacts have been negligible."Since the East Lynn tract would be deep-mined, Johansen doesn't expect much impact on the area's deer, turkey and squirrel hunting."What's of particular importance to us is to maintain the integrity of the lake itself," he said. "It's an incredibly important fishery for us. We want to make sure safeguards are in place so that there are no impacts to the fishery and the lake's water quality."Based on past experiences with mining and land-holding companies throughout the southern portion of the state, Johansen expects the two companies involved in the East Lynn mining to cooperate with the DNR and other regulatory agencies."We don't own the land around East Lynn - we only lease it," Johansen said. "But we will be an interested party because we have the area under a license agreement."A number of our larger WMAs operate under license agreements with landholding companies, including mining companies, and we've found them to be really good to work with," Johansen said. "Our relationship with those companies has been very positive, and the sportsmen and sportswomen of West Virginia have benefited from the agreements that have been made through the agency."
Actual mining on East Lynn is probably years away. Environmental studies take time, and mining permits can be deucedly difficult to obtain.If the demand for coal increases, East Lynn will probably be mined. If it is, though, the companies will have to meet requirements set forth by three agencies - the BLM, the Corps of Engineers and the DNR. In other words, it's pretty well protected.