MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Upshur County Board of Education is fighting plans for a new 1,800-acre underground coal mine that would run below Buckhannon-Upshur High School and the proposed site of a new middle school.
School board members are worried about potential subsidence jeopardizing significant financial investments in its facilities and the possibility of explosive methane gas leaking into its buildings.
International Coal Group Inc. and subsidiary Wolf Run Mining Co. are seeking permits for the Hampton Deep Mine in Buckhannon, targeting the 52-inch-thick Middle Kittanning coal seam. ICG's application documents show the company expects the 500- to 600-foot-deep seam to produce about 1 million tons of coal a year for eight years.
ICG spokesman Ross Mazza declined to answer questions about the mine or comment on the dispute with the school board but acknowledged in an email that "discussions are ongoing with legal counsel involved."
Upshur County Superintendent Scott Lampinen, several board members and the board's attorney, Hunter Mullens, all did not respond to telephone and email messages.
In a 22-page objection to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the board said ICG had long promised that its operation would not undermine or otherwise affect the district's facilities.
The board says it learned otherwise through a legal advertisement outlining the mining plan after it had spent $600,000 acquiring 114 acres next to the high school for a new $32 million middle school.
It contends ICG has failed to evaluate the potential for methane seepage from either its own operations or the old workings above the proposed Hampton Mine in the overlying Upper Freeport coal seam.
Subsidence and seepage are "a very real possibility" that the board claimed would at best render the school inoperable and at worst endanger students and staff.
"In fact, it could become a disaster of unprecedented proportions," the board argued. That possibility "should be enough for everyone involved in the process to stop and really assess allowing mining underneath the one area in Upshur County where, in the future, most of Upshur County's children will be on any given weekday."
When the board first objected publicly in March, ICG general counsel Roger Nicholson told a local newspaper that Wolf Run has mined near a school for years without incident.
"We will by definition have to mine under the school," he told The Record Delta of Buckhannon, "but we have designed it so there are no ill effects on the surface."
But subsidence has caused problems for schools before.