A hearing over the permit for a mountaintop removal mine near Kanawha State Forest wrapped up Wednesday, with a decision from the West Virginia Surface Mine Board on the fate of the mine expected within one to two months.
Issues brought up Wednesday included potential harms to users of Kanawha State Forest and whether those effects were properly considered during the permitting process.
Lawyers for mine opponents also questioned the effects of the mine on well water for Loudendale residents.
In May, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a surface mining permit to Keystone Industries for the 414-acre KD No. 2 mine next to Kanawha State Forest.
Since then, opponents of the mine, including Loudendale residents, Kanawha State Forest users and other concerned citizens, have been fighting the issuance of the permit.
The first day of the Surface Mine Board hearing was on Aug. 11.
Like at the first day of testimony, Department of Environmental Protection attorney Jason Wandling and attorneys for the coal companies frequently objected to questions and exhibits brought by the mine opponents.
Much of the afternoon testimony came from Linda Torre, the president of Decota Consulting, which wrote the mine permit application for Keystone.
Torre was questioned on why the mine permit appeared to not acknowledge the location of the park adjacent to the mine permit area.
Attorney Tom Rist, repeatedly brought up the permit’s lack of acknowledgment about the park’s presence beside the mine area.
“The permit states without question that no publicly owned park will be affected by the proposed operation,” he said. “There’s a great effect to this park that’s occurring,”
Rist pointed out Torre received a letter from the DEP in 2010 stating that the mine permit had the potential to “adversely affect” Kanawha State Forest. However, the permit itself did not reference those effects.
Torre did not contest Rist’s statements.
Rist asked whether drainage control systems for the mine, which Torre said can contain no more than a 25-year rainfall event, would be effective at stopping heavy metals and other pollutants from contaminating groundwater.
Torre said blasting for the mine could occur a few times a week or even daily, depending on the geology of the coal seam. She said it was “likely” users of Kanawha State Forest will hear blasting.
“Typically, mining operations will do their blasting during shift change,” she said. “There are occasions . . . they may have to speed up their schedule, there may be times they have to delay.”
Rist also questioned the safety of forest users during times of blasting.
According to the permit as presented during Wednesday’s hearing, mine personnel will restrict the public’s access to public roads, trails and the shooting range during times of blasting.
Kanawha State Forest’s Ballard, Polecat and Lindy trails will all be affected by the permit as written.
Rist expressed concern over trail users not being aware of blasting before it takes place; thus, there could be people using the trails during blasting periods that would not be contacted by mine employees.
In particular, mountain bike users could descend those trails without any notice of blasting.
“You don’t have anything in the permit to stop that, do you?” Rist asked Torre. “You can drop Polecat trail probably in two minutes or less on a mountain bike.”
Other testimony Wednesday included state Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro and Kevin Quick, an environmental resource analyst at DEP.
Jezioro testified that the roughly $700,000 the Division of Natural Resources stands to gain from the mine will be dedicated to Kanawha State Forest, though he also said there will be disruption to public use of the forest both by the damage to the “viewshed” from part of the park and to park facilities.
“Hiking is very popular there so if you close some of the hiking trails temporarily, this will be a disruption,” he said.
Jezioro said any knowledge he had of the mine permit throughout the permit process came from the DNR’s chief of parks, the superintendent of Kanawha State Forest and other DNR administrators. He said the DNR did not hire outside consultants to review the permit.
“That’s the only knowledge I have of it,” he said.
Jezioro said he hasn’t been to a mountaintop removal mine but he understood the section of the operation that directs mine operators to return the area to the approximate contour.
“The mountain, obviously, will not be brought back,” he said.
Quick spoke about the mine’s relation to the Endangered Species Act.
Quick said no Indiana bats have been found in the permitted area, but northern long-eared bats have been found. He also said no caves or mines — habitats for some bats — were in the area affected by the permit.
The northern long-eared bat is currently being considered for classification as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Quick said if the bat is listed, the mine operators will need to come up with a plan to protect the animals.
It will be several weeks before the Surface Mine Board issues a decision.
DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said the next step in the process is for the court reporter to submit the transcript of the hearing to attorneys, something the reporter has 30 days to accomplish.
After that, the attorneys have 15 days to file responses to the transcript and then 10 days to respond to the other lawyers’ responses.
When that’s complete, the board will make a decision and issue a final written order.