The preparation plant, just north of Sundial along W.Va. 3, was originally built and operated by Armco Steel's mining division.
Marsh Fork Elementary School was originally built in 1968 and underwent major expansions in 1982 and 1995, according to the Raleigh County Board of Education.
In October 1975 and again in May 1977, Armco obtained a water pollution permit for the coal preparation facility from the state Division of Natural Resources.
So in 1982, the preparation plant and some related facilities were grandfathered in so they could obtain permits under the 1977 federal strip mining law.
But the company's original application from 1982 indicates that the permit boundary stopped short of the western corner where Massey now wants to operate the two silos.
DEP officials say that they could never approve a permit expansion into that area, because it is within 300 feet of Marsh Fork Elementary. Early in its operation of the site, Peabody in 1988 moved back a proposed coal stockpile area when residents objected that it was within 300 feet of a home.
The first hint of a permit boundary change appears on a 1997 map filed when Massey obtained its five-year permit renewal.
Then, during review of an unrelated permit change in July 1998, DEP employee Dave Dancy noted, "There are several errors in how the bonded area is shown on the proposal map."
Dancy did not explain the errors, and DEP permit files do not indicate what if anything was done at the time to fix them.
DEP officials said Friday that they were not aware of Dancy's memo.
But the maps related to that permit revision clearly show a change that pushed the permit boundary closer to Marsh Fork Elementary.
The Gazette-Mail raised questions about the permit boundary on July 8, and asked DEP spokeswoman Jessica Greathouse for an agency explanation.
As late as Tuesday, top DEP officials insisted that there had been no change — either approved or unapproved — in the permit boundary near the school.
"The agency is not aware of any boundary change," Porterfield said.
Asked about the issue that same day, DEP legal service chief Perry McDaniel said, "We're trying to track down a map."
Told about the map inconsistencies, Huffman said, "That's a pretty basic issue that is at the heart of this. That's a big deal."
During a meeting Friday afternoon, DEP officials said that the first boundary change near the school that they see in the permit file was on a map submitted in a more recent and unrelated permit change.
That map, submitted earlier this year, was meant to show parts of the permit boundary being deleted because they had also been covered by an adjacent Massey permit.
But the boundary also appears to have been altered — at least slightly — on a map submitted in 2003 when Massey obtained DEP approval for the first of the two Goals Coal silos.
"They don't appear to match up," Huffman said when he reviewed that map and compared it to a previous version during Friday's meeting.
DEP officials also provided copies of aerial photos that they say may indicate that the silos are built further east than they are shown on Massey's maps.
If this is true, DEP officials said, then it is possible that they may be within the company's original permit boundary, even though they appear on maps not to be.
"Clearly, we had an inaccurate map submitted," Huffman said. "[But] We're talking to you in the middle of our investigation.
"We're not in the position to say today whether either or both of the silos is on the original permit boundary."