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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coalfield residents and activists on Tuesday pressured federal regulators to take tough action in response to concerns over the safety of a huge coal-slurry impoundment in Raleigh County.
Coal River Mountain Watch supporters gathered outside the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's Charleston office for a brief press conference and then met with Roger Calhoun, OSM's top official in West Virginia.
The event was timed to call attention to an ongoing review by OSM of citizen complaints that pressure readings from inside part of the impoundment's dam indicate a stability problem that hasn't been addressed by the state or the company.
"This has been an ongoing, flagrant problem that makes this dam dangerous," said Joe Stanley, a former coal miner and activist who has been urging federal officials to take a closer look at the site for nearly three years.
Stanley said he feared that a major accident at Brushy Fork would "make Buffalo Creek look like a walk in the park," referring to the February 1972 collapse of a Pittston slurry dam that killed 125 people in Logan County.
The Brushy Fork site, located five miles upstream of Whitesville, is among the largest coal-slurry waste impoundments in the coalfields and has been the subject of repeated citizen concerns for more than a decade.
Officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection insist the facility is safe, and Calhoun said Tuesday that OSM investigators have not come up with any proof showing the state's assessment is wrong.
Alpha Natural Resources acquired the 750-foot-tall dam and an impoundment with a capacity of roughly 8 billion gallons last month as part of Alpha's buyout of Massey Energy.