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DEP slammed for approval of strip mine near Kanawha forest

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer

Local citizen groups are criticizing the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for approving a new strip-mining permit located near Kanawha State Forest.

“We don’t go to KSF to hear explosions, breath blasting dust and see our mountains torn apart,” said Chad Cordell, a leader of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, a group that opposes the permit sought by Keystone Industries. “To the people of the Kanawha Valley who are still recovering from the contamination of our drinking water by coal-cleaning chemicals, this mine will have further negative impact on our quality of life and well-being.”

Late Thursday afternoon, DEP officials issued a news release announcing that they had given final approval to Keystone’s request for a 414-acre permit to strip mine opposite Middlelick Branch from Kanawha State Forest’s northeastern boundary.

Over the years, it’s been rare for the DEP to issue a news release to announced approval of a mining permit, even a controversial one.

In its release, the DEP emphasized that Keystone’s KD Surface Mine No. 2, originally proposed in 2009, “has been subject to many changes, primarily associated with minimizing any potential adverse impact to the forest.”

For example, the DEP said, the size of the mine was reduced from nearly 600 acres and the company eliminated plans for valley fills and in-stream sediment ponds. The DEP said the permit increases buffer zones around the forest property, and requires that the ridge facing the forest be mined last, “thereby limiting the time the operation is visible to park visitors.”

“The company also agreed not to use state forest roads for access, coal hauling or other mining-related activity and will clean out a fishing pond that is full of sediment,” the DEP stated in its news release.

Cordell agreed that the DEP had made changes to the permit but said those changes won’t eliminate impact on the forest. He said his group likely will appeal the permit approval to the state’s Surface Mine Board.

“As to the DEP asserting that they’re minimizing the adverse impacts, the only way to minimize adverse impacts to Kanawha State Forest is to stop allowing coal companies to blow up the mountains surrounding it,” Cordell said Friday. “To the thousands of people who go to Kanawha State Forest for hiking, biking, church picnics, birding, playing or just simple, quiet reflection, this mine will have enormous impact.”

Dianne Bady, a leader of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, agreed.

“It breaks my heart to hear of more mountaintop removal permitted by the DEP,” Bady said. “Will this never end? There is so much solid evidence pointing to negative impacts of mountaintop removal on water, land and human health. This is a relatively small permit but, based on much previous experience, I just don’t trust the DEP to protect much other than coal industry profits.”

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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