ICG mine plan draws complaints
Beth Baldwin and her husband had just about finished the foundation on their new Taylor County home when they heard the news.
International Coal Group had proposed a new underground mine nearby. ICG's longwall mining machine would tunnel under the Baldwin's house near Knottsville.
Baldwin went to ICG community meetings and to a state Department of Environmental Protection public hearing. The more she heard from the company and the DEP, the more worried she became.
Now, Baldwin is among approximately 100 members of the group Taylor Environmental Advocacy Membership, or TEAM, who are challenging the DEP's approval of the mining permit.
"They have said that [the mining] will cause substantial damage, crack our foundation and our pond will be lost," Baldwin told the state Surface Mine Board during a Tuesday hearing.
"It would be a devastation to our home and our whole family if the water and the wildlife were gone," said Baldwin, a nurse practitioner who commutes to Morgantown every day. "That's the whole reason we moved there."
Baldwin testified Tuesday as the mine board began hearing arguments over the permit DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer approved for ICG's Tygart No. 1 Mine.
Scott Depot-based ICG wants to mine about 3.5 million tons of coal every year for more than a dozen years, according to permit records. The operation would employ about 380 workers, a company lawyer said.
The Tygart No. 1 Mine would cover about 6,000 acres underground just southeast of Grafton, adjacent to Tygart Lake and the state park there.
ICG plans to use an advanced longwall mining machine. Such equipment removes all of the coal in long panels, leaving nothing to hold up the ground above the mine. Longwall mining inevitably causes the ground above the mine to shift, a process called subsidence.
Joe Lovett, a lawyer with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said the ICG plan would dewater area streams, springs and wells. The mining would also cause subsidence that would damage homes and other buildings, Lovett said.
DEP lawyer Tom Clarke argued that a layer of rock called Pittsburgh Redbed, located between the mining and the water supplies, would prevent any damage to water quantity. Clarke also argued that geology in the area was not likely to produce acid mine drainage.
"There will not be a pollution problem," Clarke said. "The potential for taking water from wells is very low."
ICG lawyer Bob McLusky agreed.
"We think it's an exemplary permit and DEP did a fine job," McLusky said.
In permit documents, ICG argued "any disturbance" of water supplies "is likely to be minimal and temporary." DEP officials agreed.
Clarke and McLusky also argued that subsidence of the sort the mine would cause is perfectly legal under federal and state law.
Lovett responded that subsidence of land might be legal, but that damage to homes and other buildings is not.
Lovett also argued that the coal seam ICG wants to mine, the Lower Kittanning, is known to cause acid pollution. He produced documents about one mine where the DEP predicted such pollution and about another mine where the company is still paying $1 million to treat acid drainage.
"The potential for perpetual treatment of the water is still there," Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, whose district includes Taylor County, told the board Tuesday morning.
Chuck Norris, a hydro-geologist working for Lovett, told mine board members that the DEP is wrong in concluding the mine will not cause water pollution or dewater streams and springs.
Norris said that during mining, the longwall subsidence would likely re-channel the flow of area groundwater and surface water.
Once mining stops Norris said, the mined-out area would likely fill with that water. At the same time, the water - now laden with toxic iron - will begin to seep out into what's left of the area's streams.
"It's going to be oozing out from all over this mine and is not going to be capable of being treated," Norris testified.