Another mountaintop removal site coal industry officials often refer to is the current home of Mount View High School in Welch.
DEP officials say it was built on a mountaintop removal mine, but they have not been able to identify the permit involved. Two permits DEP officials said covered the school site actually were for adjacent pieces of land that were reclaimed to pasture and hayland, records show.
Public records on file with DEP contain two other examples of post-mining industrial or commercial development:
In 1986, Buffalo Mining received a permit for a 595-acre site near Morgan Run in Grant County. The post-mining land use was listed as industrial/commercial. Buffalo Mining planned to flatten out the mountains, then rebuild them as a dump for ash from the nearby Mount Storm power plant. Among DEP officials, the site is known as "Mount Ashmore."
Also in 1986, Sand Ridge Coal Co. received a permit for a 31-acre mountaintop removal mine at Maidsville near Morgantown. The post-mining land use was listed as industrial/commercial. The company planned to use the site to expand the adjacent Beverly Hills Cemetery.
Of the five mountaintop removal mines that proposed post-mining development, one was for a site larger than 200 acres. Mountaintop permits used to be small. In 1988, the state issued 13 mountaintop removal permits covering a total of 3,924 acres. The average size of a mountaintop removal job was about 300 acres.
Today, the average mountaintop mining permit covers more than 625 acres, twice the average size a decade ago.
In 1997, the state issued at least 20 mountaintop removal permits that cover a total of at least 12,600 acres. Many mountaintop removal mining complexes are collections of three, four or a dozen permits. Entire mining complexes can cover 10,000 acres or more.
Most of the time, companies that receive these permits propose little in the way of future development. Most submit permit applications that call for mined land to be returned to fish and wildlife habitat, hayland or pastures.
Of the 34 mountaintop removal mines that received variances, 25 included plans which called for mined land to be left as hayland, pasture, rangeland, or fish and wildlife habitat. These 25 mines covered 16,000 acres - three quarters of the total area of the 34 permits with variances.
Of 70 total mountaintop removal permits reviewed, 44 proposed post-mining land uses of hayland, pasture, rangeland or fish and wildlife habitat. Those 44 permits covered a total of 24,000 acres - more than two-thirds of the total area of all 70 permits.
Some of these post-mining land uses, such as hayland and pasture, are arguably allowed under the federal strip mining law. They might fall under the "agricultural" land use approved for mountaintop removal mines, DEP officials say. OSM officials say that others, such as rangeland, aren't allowed as post-mining land uses for mountaintop removal mines.
Under the federal strip mine law, coal companies that want mountaintop removal permits must submit specific post-mining land use plans that show that the proposed land uses will be:
Obtainable according to data regarding expected need and market.
Assured of investments in necessary public facilities.
Practicable with respect to private financial capability for completion of the proposed use.
Planned according to a schedule attached to the reclamation plan to integrate the mining operation and reclamation with the post-mining land use.
The federal court lawsuit over mountaintop removal alleges that DEP Director Michael Miano "is engaged in a pattern and practice of approving permit applications for mountaintop removal mining activities that do not meet the AOC requirement, do not propose permissible post-mining land uses (but instead propose such uses as fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands or rangeland, etc.) and do not contain the specific plans, assurances and schedule" described in the federal strip mining law.
Ben Greene, president of the West Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association, said the federal rules are too stringent for today's large mountaintop removal mines.
In the 1970s, mountaintop removal mines might operate for five years. Reclamation and land development came sooner, and easier, Greene said.
Today, the active life of a mountaintop mine might be 15 or 18 years. It's harder to plan for post-mining development that far down the line, Greene said.
"This technology has become so vast," Greene said. "The massive nature of this industry has delayed the development, backed it off a number of years. The things that fit the mining practices of 1977 need to be revisited to match the mining practices of today."
John Ailes, chief of the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, said his agency, the coal industry and local developers need to work more closely on post-mining land use issues.
"There's not a lot of pre-planning done in terms of development," Ailes said. "There is a need for some long-term land use planning considerations. It's hard for us to say what's going to be out there and who is going to develop what and what the future holds.
"Over the last 20 years, I don't think anyone realized the dynamics the coal market would create that would result in what the coal industry feels is necessary for it to remain economically viable," Ailes said. "I don't think you could have predicted all of these forces and now everyone is taking a hard look at where we are."
The issue, however, isn't new. Environmental groups have complained since the federal strip mining law was passed that state regulators didn't make sure mountaintop removal permits contained proper post-mining land development plans.
In July 1978, environmental lawyer David Wooley filed a formal notice of intent to sue federal and state regulators for not following post-mining land use rules.
"Noncompliance with the post-mining land use regulations fails to protect the public and the environment from the adverse effects of mountaintop removal operations by allowing strip mining where proper reclamation may prove unfeasible," Wooley wrote to then-OSM Director Walter Heine.
During a July 1980 public hearing, Wooley complained that the state's mining statute did not include the same requirements for post-mining land use plans as the federal strip mine law.
In a 1984 report commissioned by OSM, the National Research Council predicted mountaintop removal post-mining land development would cause problems.
"There is an erroneous believe that all post-mining flatland is ready and awaiting a development project," the report said. "For the majority of sites, there is no market potential.
"Sites are in areas with inadequate transportation to regional and national markets and sources of raw materials, they are isolated from labor markets, and the available labor force may not be sufficiently skilled," it said.
Joe Parker stood on the grassy plains of Bullpush Mountain and declared the reclamation there a great success.
"The restoration we're looking for on these jobs is pretty much what we're looking at here," said Parker, an assistant DEP mining chief in charge of operations in the southern coalfields.
In June, Parker and other DEP officials closed a three-day mountaintop removal mining tour with a visit to Cannelton's Bullpush site. State officials, economic developers and coal industry officials took turns praising the operation.
Former state Sen. Tracy Hylton, whose company originally mined Bullpush, gave a rousing defense of mountaintop removal.
"I'm sick and tired of all this that goes on in the newspaper today," Hylton said. "There is a need for flat land for development in West Virginia. With mountaintop removal, we can get it."
Sandy Rogers-Tracey, director of the Upper Kanawha Valley Economic Development Council, outlined her group's plans for Bullpush Mountain.
"We have to think that this is one of the most beautiful sites in the state," she said. "We want everyone to know about Bullpush."
The council wants a developer to built a residential community and 18-hole golf course on the flattened mountain, Rogers-Tracey said. Even better, she said, it might be a spot to build a NASCAR track.
"We're trying to put a vision out to the people of the state for what we have here," she said. "What has been done here is really important to this area. It offers us a potential for development that we would not have had."
What nobody said during the DEP-sponsored tour, though, was that people like Rogers-Tracey have tossed ideas for Bullpush Mountain developments around for nearly 30 years - and none have materialized.
When Cannelton received a state permit for the 2,010-acre operation in 1970 (under the old state strip mine law), the company listed its planned post-mining land use as "land development."
In 1979, the Kanawha County Planning Commission issued a report that said development on the site was not feasible.
"Level and rolling land suitable for residential commercial and/or industrial use is needed in the area, but availability of services does not warrant reasonable use of the project area for these purposes," the commission said.
Still, the Fall 1980 edition of Greenlands, the journal of the West Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association, touted Bullpush Mountain as a potential development site.
The magazine contained a two-page map of the area. It depicted future locations of a light industrial zone, residential areas, a downtown business district, schools and a sewage treatment plant.
"The planned community shown above is a feasible example of how this concept might be carried out," the magazine said. "The mountain depicted here is the site of the oldest and largest continuous mountaintop operation in the state.
"This plan covers over 2,000 acres, and will accommodate 10-12 thousand people," the magazine said. "The plan calls for a self-contained community with churches, schools, shopping, medical facilities, and light industry."
Two years later, in December 1982, Cannelton formally changed its reclamation plans. The new, stated post-mining land use for Bullpush Mountain would be "pasture and haylands."
"I always thought this would have more utility than what we're standing on today," said Greene, of the Mining and Reclamation Association. "But you can only have so much of that."