CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials are insisting that a huge Alpha Natural Resources coal-slurry impoundment in Raleigh County is safe, even as new tests that might confirm that analysis have continued to be delayed, records showed Monday.
Department of Environmental Protection officials had ordered the testing plan more than two months ago to resolve federal Office of Surface Mining concerns over the Brushy Fork impoundment upstream from Whitesville.
In a letter released Monday, DEP deputy mining director Harold Ward revealed that the tests still hadn't been conducted.
Ward said the DEP and Alpha had agreed on a plan for three types of testing at the impoundment, but offered no timeline for completion of the work. Ward also urged the OSM not to wait for the results to lift a 10-day notice that could lead to federal enforcement action at the site.
Ward cited previous inspections by the DEP and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, as well as reports from an engineering consultant working for the impoundment's former owner, Massey Energy.
"There is no reason to believe the impoundment has not been constructed as designed," Ward said in the letter to Roger Calhoun, director of the OSM field office in Charleston. "Consequently, regulatory compliance has been achieved.
"Therefore, it is requested that you determine that our response to the TDN [10-day notice] be determined appropriate and this matter be resolved," Ward wrote.
Coalfield activists, in a meeting last week with Calhoun, pointed to a string of MSHA citations in 2004 in which federal inspectors found the impoundment was being built with stairlike lifts that were much bigger than allowed under its design specifications and approved permits.