CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily stopped Massey Energy from beginning work on a 2.5-mile valley fill that's part of a new mountaintop removal permit in Logan County.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers ordered Massey not to bury the stream at its Reylas Surface Mine site near Ethel until he could hold a more detailed hearing on a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The judge scheduled a hearing, to consider a request for a longer-term injunction, for March 22 in Huntington.
Chambers noted that without a temporary order to stop the valley fill, the company could have proceeded with mining activities, meaning the environmental damage citizen groups were concerned about would be done before their case was heard.
"Once these streams are disturbed, they are destroyed, and they can't be re-created," the judge said during a telephonic hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Chambers allowed Massey to continue work it had already started on a sediment pond at the site. The judge ordered Massey to provide a report on the status of the pond within three days.
Environmental groups, through, were most concerned about emergency action by the court to stop Massey from starting work on the valley fill under a Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permit issued Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Massey said the 635-acre mine would eventually employ about 100 people for about six years, producing more than a million tons of coal a year. The company plans to create a 235-acre site with paved road and utilities that could later be used for temporary housing during flooding and other emergencies.
Mike Snelling, Massey's vice president for surface mining, said the mine would "both provide good-paying jobs in Logan County" and "create a one-of-a-kind site that will help local residents affected by flooding and other emergencies."
During Tuesday's hearing, citizen group lawyer Joe Lovett told Chambers the Corps had not adequately considered potential water quality impacts of the mine, including selenium runoff and other pollution that would increase the electrical conductivity of downstream waters.
"This valley fill is just too big," Lovett said. "You cannot build a 2.5-mile-long valley fill and not elevate conductivity above levels that cause significant degradation."
Corps lawyer C.J. Morris said she had not had time to review the permit in any detail, but argued that the government was being much more thorough in examining mining proposals.
"The public certainly has an interest in seeing that these projects, after proper review by the appropriate agencies, can move forward and are not held up forever," Morris said.