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New lawsuits target mountaintop removal landowners

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia environmental groups have renewed a legal effort that targets the landowners of former mountaintop removal operations that continue to pollute state streams.

Lawyers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club filed three new lawsuits in U.S. District Court over former mining sites in Boone and Mingo counties.

The suits allege that toxic selenium continues to flow from valley fills at the mine sites, despite production having ended and mine reclamation listed as having been completed.

"Water pollution from mountaintop removal mining doesn't end after the blasting stops," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

The suits alleges continuing water quality violations at the former Sprouse Creek West Surface Mine north of Rawl in Mingo County, the former site of the Colony Bay Surface Mine west of Wharton in Boone County, and the Pounding Mill No. 1 Surface Mine and Surface Mine No. 8, both in Mingo County.

Named as defendants are Pocahontas Land Corp., Shepard Boone Coal Co., and David Francis Testamentary Trust.

Pocahontas Land Corp., a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Cop., owns part of the Pounding Mill and No. 8 properties. The David Francis Trust owns portions of the Sprouse Creek site. Shepard Boone Coal, a subsidiary of Natural Resource Partners, owns part of the former Colony Bay site.

Surface mining and water pollution permit for all four mining sites named in the three suits have been released, court records show, indicating state regulators believed the sites were properly reclaimed.

In a press release, the Sierra Club said that the sites named in the suits were selected based on a number of factors, including recent water samples from streams below the sites and the absence of any other mines or likely sources for selenium upstream of the sampling point. All of the samples were taken from publicly accessible locations, the Sierra Club said.

This isn't the first time environmental groups have targeted landowners at former mountaintop removal sites for continuing pollution.

More than a year ago, in April 2012, the same groups filed suit against Boone East Development, alleging continuing water pollution at a former mine site on Bullpush Mountain along the Kanawha-Fayette County line. The citizen groups, though, voluntarily dropped that suit last August.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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