Earlier this week, West Virginia environmental inspectors ordered work halted at the KD Surface Mine No. 2, the new mountaintop removal site that Keystone Industries is operating next to Kanawha State Forest.
Department of Environmental Protection inspectors issued an “imminent harm cessation order” when they found cracks in the barrier meant to contain any potential runoff in a sediment-control ditch and prevent dirt and mud from the site from entering a nearby creek. The DEP order stops all work at the mine, except for that required to repair the sediment-control ditch, agency officials said.
“Everything stops until this gets fixed,” said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.
The order, issued late Tuesday morning, was the second sediment-control violation DEP inspectors cited in a little more than a week at the Keystone operation, a mine the DEP approved in early May with a controversial permit that’s being challenged by several environmental groups and numerous citizens.
On July 7, the DEP issued a notice of violation to Keystone when inspectors found that clear-cutting being done in advance of mining operations had been conducted prior to the company constructing another required sediment-control ditch, identified as “SD14,” according to agency inspection reports.
The DEP issued that notice of violation, or NOV, after an aerial inspection of the operation on July 7 that agency records say was “field verified” by an on-the-ground inspection the following day. The DEP gave the company until July 22 to construct and certify the sediment-control structure.
In its report on that initial inspection, the DEP noted that there were cracks on a berm on a separate sediment ditch in another area. The DEP did not issue an NOV for those cracks.
Then, this week, during an inspection at Keystone on Tuesday, DEP inspectors cited “significant cracking” in that separate sediment ditch, known as SD15. The agency’s enforcement order cited the company for its alleged “failure to construct SD25 so as to minimize the threat of harm to the hydrologic balance. The DEP gave the company until July 22 to fix the problem.
“The first time they saw something ,it wasn’t that significant, and they told the operator to repair it,” said DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater. “When they went out there on the 15th, they saw something more significant and issued the cessation order.”
Gillenwater said DEP inspectors have been at the site each day since the cessation order to monitor Keystone’s abatement efforts.
On July 11 — between the dates of the two DEP inspections — the Kanawha Forest Coalition and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition filed a complaint with the agency about the lack of sediment controls after obtaining aerial photographs during a flyover of the site by the group Southwings.
“The failure to install drainage and sediment-control structures as required prior to mining creates a significant potential for non-compliant sediment discharges from the permitted area and for an increase in peak discharge that would be violations of the permit,” the groups said in their complaint to the DEP.
Appeals of the Keystone permit have alleged problems with the company’s analysis of the potential for the mining to contribute to flooding in the area, and the DEP has ordered Keystone to submit a new flooding study. Gillenwater said that study has been submitted, and is being reviewed by the DEP.
In their complaint, the citizens groups asked to be able to accompany DEP officials on an inspection of the mine. The DEP responded that that wasn’t necessary because the agency already had issued an NOV for the violation that the citizens groups were complaining about, according to agency records.
Huffman noted that there was no environmental damage from either of the violations cited by the DEP — the areas were dry at the time — but that his agency was sending a message that, “This is Kanawha State Forest, and we’re not going to allow a drop of water to escape that ditch.”
Huffman said the DEP’s enforcement actions should give citizens some confidence that the agency is carefully monitoring a mining operation so close to a popular public forest. Still, Huffman credited the citizens for keeping a close watch on the mine and informing the DEP of their concerns. Collective efforts of the DEP and citizens “will give us the best results,” Huffman said.
Rob Goodwin, of Coal River Mountain Watch, who helped with the citizen complaint about the Keystone mine, said it is good to see the DEP take action but that he’s “still skeptical” about the operation and the DEP’s oversight of it.
Chad Cordell, of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, noted that Keystone has had compliance problems at its other operations, and that, “We can expect more of the same until the WVDEP revokes this permit and stops allowing reckless coal companies to endanger our community, our health and our state forest.”
Keystone Industries did not return a phone call Thursday.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.