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Miners pack hearing to support strip permit

SHARPLES - Coal miners and their families packed a public hearing Tuesday evening to show they support the largest mountaintop removal strip mine permit in state history.

More than 250 people filled the bleachers at the Sharples Elementary School gym. Most wore green T-shirts supplied by Arch Coal Inc.

Arch's Hobet Mining Inc. subsidiary wants a permit to strip 3,100 acres - about 5 square miles - east of W.Va. 17 across from its current Dal-Tex mining complex near Blair.

John Hardin, a United Mine Workers member from Arch's Hobet 21 job in Boone County, traveled to Logan to speak up for the company. He said the area needs the jobs.

"What are we going to give the next generation to live on?" Hardin asked. "How are they going to make it? What are we going to do for jobs for our families?"

Miners, other company employees and contract workers clearly outnumbered environmentalists and local strip mine critics at the hearing, the second such public meeting on the project.

Company officials put a notice about the meeting into workers' most recent paycheck envelopes.

"There will be people there who don't want this permit issued," the flier said. "They don't care about your job.

"Please attend this hearing and show that you support the future of our jobs here at Dal-Tex," it said. "Encourage your family and friends to join you. Arrive early to get your 'I'm proud to work at Dal-Tex' T-shirts while supplies last."

David Todd, a spokesman for Arch Coal, said the company wanted Division of Environmental Protection officials to see that many people support the company's plans.

"It's a method of encouraging people to attend and show their support," Todd said of the fliers.

Since a previous public hearing in December, Hobet Mining officials have agreed to scale back the mine slightly, to limit blasting near homes, and to otherwise alter their mining plan to try to keep from bothering mine neighbors.

"It will be a lot better than it was," said DEP permit engineer Ken Stollings. "They've learned from their mistakes."

Hobet's current mine at Blair has driven many residents from their homes with dust, blasting and noise.

Carlos Gore, a Blair resident and activist, asked the pro-company crowd how many of them lived near the mine.

"How many of you people in the green shirts live in Blair and live with this?" Gore said. "I don't see any hands at all. Something's wrong here, isn't it?"

Others complained that the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation has been too easy on the company.

A Gazette investigation, published Sunday, found that three-quarters of the mountaintop removal mines permitted over the last 20 years have not received a variance required by state and federal law.

Among 11 applications pending before DEP, six - including the proposed Hobet mine - have not requested the variance. The variance allows companies to remove entire tops of mountains and not reclaim mines to their approximate original contour.

"DEP is now the division of environmental permitting," said Secretary of State Ken Hechler.


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