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Mountaintop removal to be discussed at Oct. hearing

Residents of Boone and Logan counties will get another chance to speak their minds about two huge mountaintop removal mines proposed for their communities.

Federal regulators have decided to host a joint public hearing on permits for the mine permits requested by Arch Coal Inc. and A.T. Massey Coal Co., records show.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scheduled the hearing after receiving five requests from individual citizens and one from an environmental group.

In an Aug. 31 letter to the state Division of Environmental Protection, EPA Region III water protection Director Tom Maslany agreed to hold the hearing.

Maslany cited the citizens' "serious concerns about impacts related to valley fills" proposed as part of the mountaintop removal operations.

Dan Sweeney, an EPA environmental engineer at the regional office in Philadelphia, said the hearing would probably be held sometime in mid-October.

The hearing will focus on two massive mountaintop removal operations:

  • Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining wants a permit to expand its Dal-Tex operation to mine 3,100 acres near Blair in Logan County. The mine would bury four miles of streams under valley fills and be the largest surface mining permit in West Virginia history.
  • Massey subsidiary Independence Coal wants a permit to mine 1,600 acres south of Madison near Uneeda in Boone County. The operation would dump 100 million cubic yards of rock and earth into seven valley fills.
  • The state DEP proposed to issue permits for both mines, but the permits have been stalled because of EPA objections.

    EPA Region III Administrator W. Michael McCabe said his staff is taking a hard look at the long-term environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mines. McCabe said he won't allow permits for new mines until he's convinced the effects are being minimized.

    "The magnitude of these things is just amazing," McCabe said in a Washington Post interview published Aug. 31.

    "When you consider how many miles of streams have been filled in - more than 450 - this is clearly something we've got to address," McCabe said.

    James Weekley, who lives in the path of the Arch Coal mine proposed for Pigeonroost Branch near Blair, was among the citizens who asked EPA for the public hearing.

    "What percentage of the streams in our watershed have already been filled?" Weekley's lawyer, Joe Lovett, wrote in an Aug. 28 letter.

    "At the current rate of mining, what percentage of the streams in the watershed will have been filled in 10 years? Twenty years? What effects will this have on the streams," Lovett asked.

    "What will be the long-term effects of the fills on the communities that use these streams?" Lovett wrote. "What will be the long-term effects of the valley fills on the economy of the region?"

    Under EPA regulations, the agency can hold a public hearing on any water pollution permit if objects to if a member of the public or a state agency involved asks for the hearing.

    In his letter to DEP water chief Barb Taylor, Maslany wrote that EPA would give 30 days public notice of the scheduled hearing date.

    To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.


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