Worth an estimated $1.7 billion, Justice ranks No. 292 on Forbes magazine's list of wealthiest Americans. The magazine estimates that his personal wealth has grown by $500 million in the last year. But his Appalachian coal operations are struggling and business owners have filed at least nine lawsuits since late 2011 claiming they are not being paid for work at Justice mines. He says that's emblematic of larger industry and economic struggles.
The DEP has requested engineering plans for the Glade Springs dam, but on June 25, Leslie Vincent of Justice's Southern Coal Corp. instead sent a letter proposing a plan to deal with potential for water to come over the top.
Vincent suggested sensor systems with mechanical or pressure triggers that trigger alarms in the nearby guard house and at resort offices. Workers would erect flashing warning signs and barricades to keep drivers off the road.
But in a July response, Long deemed that insufficient. Among other things, he said, it wouldn't protect people if power fails. He also said overtopping can occur after dark, and motorists could unknowingly drive into high water. An erosion channel crossing the crest could go undetected, he said, and seepage could create sinkholes.
Long said the dam has a storage capacity of 100 acre-feet, or the equivalent of 32.7 million gallons of water. That type of dam is legally limited to 6 feet in height and 50 acre-feet of volume.
It's unclear who built the dam or when, but Long said it's more than 10 years old. The DEP discovered and inspected it in 2008, but Cosco said further action was delayed as the department's resources were overwhelmed by other obligations.
Since 2010, the DEP has issued 31 orders -- 27 of those requiring dam owners to submit applications for certification, Cosco said. Sixteen were issued since January 2012.
In his letter to property owners, Justice mocked the DEP's assertion that the dam must be able to withstand an inundation of 27.5 inches of rain in six hours.
"Please, if this ever occurs, don't drive anywhere,'' he wrote. "Just start walking for the highest mountain.''
But Long notes that is the Probable Maximum Precipitation standard, set not by DEP but by the National Weather Service.
"That standard is in use by dam safety programs around the country,'' he said.
Cosco said the DEP will continue to try to talk with Emco, but "ultimately, down the road, if no action by the owner takes place, the state has no choice but to take a civil action.''