Burdette said that, when the carbonaceous material was subtracted from the dust total, the levels were below the legal limits. So, she said, the mine-related dust was not a violation of the previous settlement agreement.
After the hearing, mine board Chairman John W. Straton gave lawyers for both sides until Aug. 5, 1997, to settle the dispute themselves.
The deadline passed, and no settlement was reached.
Nine days later, on Aug. 14, coal company lawyers and DEP submitted a joint motion to drop the appeal. No settlement was ever reached, and neither side would explain the reason the appeal was dropped.
Three days earlier, on the morning of Aug. 11, one of Dal-Tex's blasts sent rocks bigger than softballs sailing more than 1,000 feet into the yard of one of the Moore's neighbors, Carlos Gore.
On Aug. 15, citizen activists and news reporters visited Blair. They listened to Gore and his neighbors as part of the three-day tour sponsored by the DEP Office of Environmental Advocate.
After the tour, DEP ordered Hobet Mining to stop blasting within 2,000 feet of homes. Normally, coal companies can blast up to 300 feet from homes. DEP later backed off, and allowed Hobet to blast within 2,000 feet of homes if the company limited the size of the blasts.
Darcy White, who supervises inspectors at DEP's Logan field office, said the agency doesn't get many complaints anymore about dust from Dal-Tex. White said she didn't think the number of complaints dropped because the number of people who live in Blair has dropped.
Milligrams and micrograms In September 1997, Tommy Moore and his wife, Victoria, sued Hobet Mining. They alleged the company's mine blasts and dust forced them and their neighbors to move from Blair.
In June and July 1998, the Moores' lawyers questioned Terah Burdette as part of the lawsuit.
This time, Burdette acknowledged that the company monitoring data, from a contracted lab called R.J. Lee Group, did not prove the dust was mostly pollen and mold spores, rather than mine dust.
Under questioning by Patrick McGinley, one of the Moores' lawyers, Burdette also said that her reports to the mine board underestimated the amount of dust. Burdette converted dust concentrations from milligrams to micrograms by multiplying by 100, instead of by 1,000.
There are 1,000 micrograms in 1 milligram.
After they questioned Burdette, the Moores' lawyers filed court papers which alleged that company officials, "knew their dust monitoring program could not and did not produce accurate data " The court motions also alleged that, "Hobet knowingly employed a person to implement the dust monitoring program who had no prior experience and who knowingly gave false testimony to the Surface Mine Board regarding the data collected from that dust monitoring program." Hobet Mining never filed a response to those allegations. The Moores' case was settled in early September. Last week, Harvey, a lawyer for Hobet, declined comment.
The future of Blair Today, Arch Coal wants to expand Dal-Tex. On Nov. 3, DEP Director Michael Miano issued a permit to allow Hobet Mining to strip another 3,100 acres along Pigeonroost Branch.
James Weekley, 58, has lived along Pigeonroost Branch all of his life.
He doesn't want the company to mine the area.
In July, Arch Coal lawyer Blair Gardner visited Weekley's home.
Gardner said the company would be happy to buy out Weekley and his mother, who lives just up the road. Weekley told Gardner he didn't want to sell.
"When you come in here and do this, all I'm going to have left are memories," Weekley said. "Money can't buy my memories. Why? Why? Why?" Gardner replied, "The reason, Mr. Weekley, is that we have a resource that is valuable and that the market wants. That is coal." For now, Arch Coal's plans to expand Dal-Tex are blocked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In late October, EPA held a public hearing on the mine. Hundreds of people, mostly coal industry supporters, turned out.
When Victoria Moore walked through the door at the hearing, Dal-Tex General Manager Mark White confronted her. White reminded Moore that, when her family settled their lawsuit against the company, she agreed not to talk about the settlement or to protest the Pigeonroost Branch permit.
When her turn came, Moore got up to speak anyway.
Moore told the crowd that she tried to get DEP or some other agency to help her family. No one would stop Dal-Tex from blasting rocks and dust into the community, she said.
"Everybody tells us 'you have a problem, but there's nothing we can do,'" Moore said. " 'Go hire yourself a lawyer' - that's what you're leaving us to."