Upstream from Dunkard Creek, in the coalfields between Fairmont and Morgantown, CONSOL operates a series of water collection and discharge points. Old underground mines in the area are filling up with tainted water. CONSOL pumps those mines out to avoid blowouts, and pumps out active operations to protect miners from floods. The company discharges the pumped water into area streams, treating it first for acid mine drainage.
But the company's existing treatment is far from perfect and doesn't do anything to help with levels of chlorides that are potentially harmful to aquatic life.
Dunkard Creek has been on the DEP's list of impaired streams since at least 2002. Over the last decade, DEP repeatedly gave CONSOL more time to fix its chlorides violations.
CONSOL continued on Monday to argue that its operations "were not the cause" of the algae bloom and DEP said, "it was never determined" how the algae got into the stream.
But federal government lawyers alleged in court documents that hundreds of chlorides violations by the company "created and/or contributed to the creation of conditions favorable for the golden algae to thrive and bloom, which ultimately led to the fish kill."
"In this settlement, CONSOL takes responsibility for its past failures to abide by the terms of its Clean Water Act permits," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Justice Department.
The proposed consent decree, however, specifically states that CONSOL admits no liability, a point that CONSOL also made in its news release.
DEP officials said that fish are beginning to return to Dunkard Creek, and spokesman Tom Aluise said the $500,000 settlement would go into a Division of Natural Resources fund to be used to replace the stream's fish and mussels.
Betty Wiley, of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association, said she is "90 percent satisfied" with the settlement, but is concerned about some of the details.
"That's not enough money to restore the stream," Wiley said. "I don't know what they will do with the money, and they don't have to spend it all on Dunkard Creek."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.