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Mine permit remains in limbo

TOM HINDMAN/DAILY MAIL
This area visible from a Kanawha State Forest trail shows a mining operation already in progress.
TOM HINDMAN/DAILY MAIL
Kanawha Forest Coalition members Doug Wood, left, and Jim Waggy point out the salamander species that would be threatened by the continuation of mining near Kanawha State Forest. Opponents of the mine operations there say the animals’ habitat would be destroyed, reducing the area’s genetic diversity.
TOM HINDMAN/DAILY MAIL
The Kanawha Forest Coalition took media members on a tour of Kanawha State Forest to point out viewsheds, or scenic areas, that stand to be affected by the continuation of surface mining near the property. They say the mining would remove mountaintops visible from the forest trails.

Nearly four months after the West Virginia Surface Mine Board heard arguments about the issuance of the KD No. 2 surface mine permit near Kanawha State Forest, the agency has still not decided whether or not to rescind the permit.

As the case remains in limbo, anti-permit advocates in the Kanawha Forest Coalition fear the park’s views could be permanently harmed if mining continues around Middlelick Mountain.

On Tuesday, coalition members gave a media tour of several locations where the future mining could be seen from the park. A ridgetop in its historic district and several hiking trails offer expansive views just outside Charleston — but the group says that landscape will change if mining continues.

Doug Wood, member of both the Kanawha Forest Foundation board and the coalition, stood in the middle of an access road to the park’s shooting range and pointed out a mountaintop that would be removed during the mining process.

“At that point, about 100 feet of elevation is going to be removed from that mountain,” Wood said, pointing to a mountain just above the gravel road. “Further up here, at the highest point, it’s about 300 feet of elevation. All visible from the drive along this road. It will not be invisible to the public at Kanawha State Forest. I can see (the mountain) right now, but it’s not going to be there in 10 years.”

Wood, a retired Department of Environmental Protection water quality specialist, released a 13-page report Monday scolding the DEP for issuing the KD No. 2 mine permit in May. The report points out that the state Historic Preservation Office did not jointly approve the issuance of the permit. State law requires joint approval by the DEP and the State Historic Preservation Office for surface mines that would affect an area on the National Register of Historic Places.

The report also criticized a consultants’ finding that the surface mine wouldn’t affect the park’s viewshed, or scenic vistas, and claimed that Harold Ward, acting director of the DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation, ignored information that claimed the consultants’ findings were wrong.

An assessment by Christopher Jackson and Brittany Vance of Archaeological Consultants of the Midwest dated Aug. 30, 2013, found that “the viewshed will not be impacted by the proposed project,” referring to the proposed surface mine permit. Wood’s report claims that the statement by the consultants is “false, plain and simple.” Wood pointed out that permitted area is clearly visible from the upper portion of Ballard Trail, which is within the historic district; in the winter, Wood said, the permitted area is visible from “numerous locations within the (historic district), including the Lindy, Polecat, Ballard, Mary Ingles and Middle Ridge trails.

In a memorandum sent from Thomas E. Wood, Environmental Resources Program Manager, to Ward on March 18, Thomas Wood said he, another DEP employee and two others “viewed the potential permit from selected Kanawha State Forest trails above the Middlelick Branch Drainage” on Oct. 31, 2013.

Doug Wood claimed the consultants “did not even make an effort to walk the trails near the top of Middle Ridge,” and only walked short distances up Middle Ridge Road and the Lindly and Ballard trails until they had reached the historic district’s border.

“(The consultants) said that because they didn’t come up to the trails where you can see the mountain,” Wood said. “So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They said you can’t see it, and then they took photographs from locations where you couldn’t see it. But it’s clear that you can see it. There’s a really nice view here and along a couple of the trails here on the ridge and there are two other trails further down the mountain that you can see the top of the mountain from as well.”

Wood also disputed the consultants’ findings that noise from blasting at the mine would have “no adverse effects on the historic district.” The consultants claimed that the “noise from a shotgun is much greater then (sic) will occur from a blast” — a claim Wood said was incorrect. He also pointed out that State Historic Preservation Officer Susan Pierce wrote to the DEP multiple times asking for an assessment of effect on how the noise from blasting would affect the Kanawha State Forest and a more complete assessment on the potential impacts to the viewshed at the Kanawha State Forest, including an “independent evaluation of the historic boundary.”

Ward dismissed the concerns, stating in a letter to the State Historic Preservation Office on May 1 that “the permit does not allow blast activity during times of heavy usage,” including state holidays, and that “additional mapping was not necessary as it would not provide any relevant information.” The permit for the KD No. 2 mine was issued four days later.

Since then, the mine has received 13 violations and paid $7,605 in fines. The latest two violations were issued on Nov. 6; one violation for failure to “conduct monitoring and reporting as per the approved NPDES permit,” and another for failure to submit quarterly tonnage reports and pay required fees.

Doug Wood also worries that continued mining will affect wildlife habitats. He pointed out a pond beside a roadway that houses several species of salamanders and frogs.

“The spotted salamanders in particular migrate on rainy nights in the early spring,” Wood said. “Sometimes you can see hundreds of them coming from that side of the creek, going across the road into this pool. If that mine is put in there as it’s set to do, it’s going to destroy a large amount of the habitat these creatures have and it’s going to decrease the genetic diversity of this particular population of salamanders and frogs.”

The Daily Mail reported after the Surface Mine Board hearings on the KD No. 2 mine permit in August that a decision would be handed down within one to two months. With no decision in sight, Kanawha Forest Coalition members are beginning to worry about the effects that mining activity could have on the park’s streams.

“Every day, more of Middlelick Mountain is blasted away,” said Chad Cordell, Kanawha Forest Coalition coordinator. “The Board seems to be waiting until there’s no more mountain left to save. To allow this illegal mining to continue by delaying a decision is simply unacceptable.”

Ward said via telephone Tuesday that he had “no indication” when the Surface Mine Board would have a decision on the KD No. 2 mine’s future.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.

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