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Mountaintop mine adjacent to Kanawha State Forest draws protest crowd to Capitol steps

By Rick Steelhammer, Staff writer
CHRIS DORST | Gazette
Nearly 200 opponents of Keystone Industries’ KD No. 2 surface mine near the eastern boundary of Kanawha State Forest gather on the West Virginia Statehouse steps Thursday to air their concerns over how the mine might affect the forest and nearby communities.

When Daile Boulis moved into her home along Middlelick Branch in Loudendale two and a half years ago, adjusting to well water and life in a hollow seemed to be the biggest challenges facing her.

That changed earlier this year, she said, when she learned that Keystone Industries had applied for a permit to open a 413-acre mountaintop removal surface mine, part of which would lie within 1,500 feet of her home.

“Since then, I’ve had a crash course on coal, mountaintop removal mining, and the Division of Environmental Protection,” she told a group of about 200 people gathered on the Statehouse steps on Thursday to voice their opposition to the mine and their support for the mine’s next-door neighbor -- Kanawha State Forest.

Boulis said her in-laws, who have lived in Loudendale since the mid-1960s, were fearful of flooding long before Keystone’s KD #2 mine was issued a permit by the DEP in May, since the community is no stranger to high water events. Knowing that preparation work is underway for a new surface mine in the headwaters of Middlelick Branch only aggravates flooding fears, she said. “People there are so worried about flooding now, it boggles the mind,” she said.

Other worries caused by the mine include plummeting property values and the possibility that well water could become contaminated.

“How is it okay to hear your realtor say your property value dropped 50 percent the day the mine permit was issued,” and will dip even further once mining begins, Boulis said.

“The blasting’s already started,” she said. “The house shook the other day. . .The whole permit process has felt sneaky and underhanded. How can the only public notice requirement for a mine like this be an announcement in the classified ads section of the newspaper?”

Boulis was one of a half-dozen opponents of the mine and boosters of Kanawha State Forest to speak at Thursday’s rally.

Among others was Chad Cordell of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, who called on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to “protect our mountains, our health, our communities and our forests” by revoking Keystone’s surface mining permit. The Kanawha Forest Coalition will argue during a DEP hearing on Monday that the permit was illegally issued, since the State Historic Preservation Office did not sign off on the project due to the presence of Civilian Conservation Corps structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places in nearby Kanawha State Forest.

Kathy Hastings of the Kanawha Trail Club told those attending the rally that decades ago, club members built a lodge along Middlelick Branch bordering Kanawha State Forest. The lodge is now posted as being in a blast hazard zone from the new mine, as are parts of three Kanawha State Forest trails.

“We’ve hosted 18 hikes in Kanawha State Forest so far this year,” Hastings said. “To preserve these trails you need to be able to hike on them.”

Jim Waggy of the Handlan Chapter of Brooks Bird Club, imitated the calls of three species of owls living in Kanawha State Forest -- the great horned owl, the screech owl and the barn owl.

Environmental activist Junior Walk said he grew up near a mountaintop removal mine along the Boone-Raleigh County line, where well water was contaminated due to mining activity. “Our water came out of the tap red,” he said. “You all are going to be seeing the same thing if this permit goes through.”

Among those attending the rally was Rita Ray, a Kanawha State Forest user who enjoys mountain biking the old roads and trails of the forest. “I love it out there, but I don’t want to have to watch out for flying rocks when I’m riding the trails,” she said. “To me, it makes no sense to take one of the most pristine areas that so many types of people enjoy, and then restrict access to it.”

Cordell said nearly 4,000 people have signed a petition calling on Tomblin to revoke Keystone’s mining permit. He said the petition would be delivered to the governor’s office at 1 p.m. Friday.

Keystone had initially planned to surface mine nearly 600 acres at the KD #2 site, mine within 100 feet of Kanawha State Forest property, and dispose of overburden in a mile-long valley fill facing the forest. But before the DEP approved the permit, nearly 200 acres had been removed from the project and the valley fill was eliminated by Keystone opting instead to haul overburden to nearby mine site now in the process of being reclaimed. Under current plans, the closest that mining will come to the forest is 588 feet.

Blasting will not take place on weekends, holidays or after dark, under the current permit.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com, 348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.


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