State regulators on Tuesday revoked a permit for one of two Massey Energy coal storage silos next to a Raleigh County elementary school.
The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Massey subsidiary Goals Coal Co. to rip up the silo’s foundation and reclaim the area.
In a one-page news release, DEP said the agency had “concluded that the silo was permitted based on inaccurate maps and may be outside the legal permit boundary.”
DEP officials took no action concerning the first of Goals Coal’s two 168-foot silos, and said they had no plans to do so.
Randy Huffman, director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, said Tuesday evening his agency really has no idea exactly where the company’s legal permit boundary lines are located.
“The question remains — ‘Where is the permit boundary?’” Huffman said. “I don’t know that we can answer that today.”
A week ago, DEP suspended a permit for Massey to build the second of the two coal silos just 220 feet from the property line of Marsh Fork Elementary School near Sundial.
DEP then took the unusual step of hiring a survey crew to help agency officials determine if the silos are within the company’s legal permit boundary.
Agency officials acted after The Charleston Gazette pointed out major discrepancies in permit maps submitted by Massey engineers.
Under state and federal law, no new mining operations are allowed within 300 feet of a school.
In 2003 and again last month, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer approved the Massey silos anyway.
After the first silo was built and when the second one was proposed, coalfield residents and activists objected, saying the facilities were too close to the school.
DEP officials dismissed those complaints, and insisted that the silos were exempt from the 300-foot limit because they were within the permit boundary of an operation that existed prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act on Aug. 3, 1977.
But before they approved both silo permits, DEP officials did not go back and check original permit maps to make sure that was correct.
The Goals Coal operation along Marsh Fork is home to a large coal preparation plant that Massey bought from Peabody Coal in 1994.
Massey proposed the silos as part of a plan to ease storage of different grades of coal and to improve its ability to ship coal from the site by rail.
But maps that Goals Coal filed with DEP showed that one silo has been built and the other was under construction on land that appears to have been slowly added to the company’s legal mine boundary over the last eight years.
Massey never specifically asked for the permit changes, and DEP never approved them. Instead, the changes just showed up on maps that company engineers filed periodically with DEP.
On Tuesday, Huffman said a DEP inspector found what was believed to be an original permit boundary marker on the site.
Judging just by that marker, Huffman said, both silos appear to be within Massey’s permit boundary.
But, Huffman said, the marker was not located where company maps said it should have been.
“The bottom line is that none of the maps match up with the end of permit marker that we found on the ground,” Huffman said. “And, the second silo is off of what was previously ever claimed as a bonded area.”
Huffman said DEP’s probe focused only on the second silo. The agency did not examine as closely the first silo, which was permitted in 2003 and is already completed.
In a one-page order issued Tuesday, Huffman noted that state law requires coal operators to demonstrate that permit applications are “complete and accurate” and that “permit modifications contemplated ... [are] in an approved permit area.”
In this case, Huffman said, Massey “failed to make the affirmative demonstrations required.”
Massey officials have not returned repeated phone calls from the Gazette.