Why a Citizens' Commission?
Who does the Citizens' Commission represent?
What is the purpose of the Citizens' Commission?
What did the Citizens' Commission do?
One hundred thirty million gallons of water swept through the narrow, crowded valley of Buffalo Creek shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 26, 1972. The worst flood in West Virginia history, this man-made disaster left 124 people dead, 7 people missing, 4,000 homeless. $50 million in property damage included 546 homes destroyed and 538 homes damaged.
Survivors' accounts, journalists' unanswered questions, and the disappearance of the mining company official most directly involved -- together with the remembrance of past disasters -- brought a stunned citizenry to its feet. The public was jolted from the depths of sorrow and anguish to a sense of outrage and anger that continues to burn.
For the Buffalo Creek disaster, like the recent coal mine fire tragedies at Farmington, West Virginia, and at Hyden, Kentucky, could have been prevented -- it need not have happened. Clearly and simply, people living downstream from the Buffalo Mining Company's coal refuse dam at Saunders were the victims of gross negligence.
In Appalachia -- sometimes known as "the last white colony of western civilization" -- absentee owners of the region's vast energy resources and their subservient homebred and imported politicians time and again are to blame for mass death and destruction. Time and again, those most at fault throw up smokescreens to obscure their responsibility.
Following the fire and explosion at Consol #9 Mine in 1968 which killed 78 men, Governor Hulett Smith shrugged apologetically declaring, "This is one of the hazards of mining." Smith did not add that the Consolidation Coal Company was guilty of numerous violations of the mine safety laws in this mine. Another governor, Cecil Underwood, performed so well for the Island Creek Coal Company following its Holden # 22 mine disaster 5 in 1960 that he was elevated to the position of executive vice president of the company immediately upon leaving the governorship.
Aside from the attempted whitewashing of the more spectacular mass murders, our governors never decry the terrible fact that more than 120,000 coal miners have been killed in the coal mining industry since its beginning, that one out of every ten coal miners is injured each year and that an estimated one-half of the coal mining work force becomes crippled or incapacitated by the insidious black lung disease.
In this deadly drama the coal operators' script -- placing profits before people -- has been followed line-by-line by some of our political leaders. In the case at hand, the center stage characters are behaving true-to-form.
- thus, officials of the company called the disaster an "act of God" because God put all that water behind a dam that wasn't designed to hold it.
- thus, Assistant Secretary Hollis Dole of the Interior Department, testifying before a sub-committee of Congress, doubted whether the refuse dam was "hazardous" and subject to regulation by the Bureau of Mines.
- thus, Governor Arch Moore, taking charge of relief operations, said the lethal dam had a "logical and constructive" purpose. According to the image-conscious Governor, "The only real sad part is that the state of West Virginia has taken a terrible beating that is worse than the disaster."
Given the enormity of the avoidable destruction of human lives and values wrought by the man-made Buffalo Creek flood, and the public outcry for justice it aroused, such performances by official-dom will no longer be tolerated. They are recognized for what they are -- smoke screen tactics. They have served, at least in this one case, to reinforce the citizens' determination that such an event shall not ever happen again -- anywhere.
WHY A CITIZENS' COMMISSION?
How does one follow-through on such a determination? What is needed to protect the lives and property of innocent citizens and to insure adequate safeguards against negligence, irresponsibility and disrespect of human values? Better laws? New regulations? Strict enforcement of existing laws? Pinpointing the blame with punishment that fits the crime? Perhaps all of these and more, but none can be achieved without knowledge of what really happened and why. Clearly, the disaster must be investigated and the facts surrounding it brought to light.
Within a week of the event, Governor Moore appointed a nine-man ad hoc commission,"to study" the Buffalo Creek flood disaster. But the composition and mandate of this commission served only to compound the public's sense of outrage with one of despair. Since the Governor's comments indicated a reluctance to place any blame upon the Buffalo Mining Company or upon its owner, the Pittston Company, many West Virginians suspected another whitewash was in the making. Any hope for objectivity and public disclosure of the truth vanished as membership of his commission was revealed:
- the heads of three state agencies with jurisdiction in the area of mining impoundments (all of whom would be concerned to prove their respective departments blameless).
- a newspaper editor and a university official (both of whom are avid supporters of the coal industry).
- representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the U.S. Geological Survey (federal agencies which had not taken action on the basis of a study conducted five years ago indicating the weak and hazardous nature of Saunders Dam on Buffalo Creek, among others).
- and as a "citizen" representative, a retired executive of FMC (a corporation that is heavily dependent on coal).
Alarmed by the obvious bias among the Governor's appointees, approximately 40 people called on the Governor requesting expansion of his commission to include representatives of people such as Buffalo Creek survivors, environmentalists, coal miners, public interest advocates and the like.
Governor Moore refused to comply. However, he encouraged the group to begin its own investigation. In addition, the Governor solemnly promised to see that all impoundments behind coal refuse dams throughout the state would be pumped out, so people in the coal camps and hollows need not live in fear of sudden death.
Twelve members of the group subsequently formed the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the Buffalo Creek Disaster, in the belief that human rights and values, justice and morality would not otherwise be served.
WHO DOES THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION REPRESENT?
All members of the Citizens' Commission are self-appointed. The initial group of twelve was soon expanded as others with like concerns indicated interest and a willingness to participate. Membership remains open.
Although the individuals on the Citizens' Commission are all leaders or members of various organizations or groups -- environmental, disabled miners, welfare, religious, labor, public interest, and medical -- the Commission itself does not claim to represent any group of people or special sector. Its members speak for themselves. If they represent anything, it is the frustrations and fears of a citizenry that has been exploited too callously and too often.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION?
The early morning terror which engulfed twelve communities of Buffalo Creek -- the black slate muck and the piles of burning wreckage -- gave rise to painful questions. At the Commission's first meeting, a number of such questions were voiced. West Virginians who are concerned about the future of their state will want to participate in seeking straight-forward answers.
- Why did the refuse dam at Saunders fail?
- Who was responsible for its failure?
- How can other disasters be prevented from happening?
- How can the memory of Buffalo Creek be kept alive and not "swept under the rug" as happened at Farmington and Hyden?
- How can government be made truly responsive to the welfare of people in the hollows and coal camps?
- How can the people living in Buffalo Creek Hollow and other coal mine communities receive justice from the huge out-of-state corporations controlling the mineral wealth of West Virginia?
- How can coal mining communities be made safe, healthful and environmentally attractive places in which to work and live?
No amount of whitewashing or smoke screening will silence these queries. Only facts will suffice, because Buffalo Creek compels the most serious consideration. Answers must be found and changes made if the coal-producing regions of West Virginia are to be fit for human habitation.
In recognition of its manpower and money limitations, the Citizens' Commission adopted the questions of what happened and who is responsible as targets for initial focus, with the broader questions held in abeyance pending the results of the investigation.
WHAT DID THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION DO?
The first step in researching causes of the disaster was taken when members of the Citizens' Commission attempted a tour of Buffalo Creek Hollow and the site of the Buffalo Mining-Pittston dam where the flood originated. Despite the Governor's assurance that he would welcome a citizens' investigation, state troopers twice refused to allow passage beyond the checkpoint at Amherstdale. The hollow was under a "quarantine" imposed by the Governor ostensibly for reasons of public health. In fact, the blockade kept out unofficial investigators who might have raised awkward questions about what they saw.
In the meantime, the first of a series of public hearings was held by the Citizens' Commission in Accoville, where more than 200 flood survivors crowded into the Buffalo Grade School to hear eyewitness accounts of the disaster and to plead that those responsible be brought to justice.
At subsequent hearings certain survivors of the disaster, company personnel, and state and federal officials were invited to testify. Many witnesses failed to appear Among those who declined or ignored invitations were Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton, Pittston Coal Group Vice President I.C. Spotte, Governor Moore, members of his commission, State Water Resources Chief Ed Henry, and Buffalo Mining Company Vice President Steve Dasovich. Dasovich, probably the only man who had most of the answers, was not available. Whether he disappeared for medical reasons, or whether from prudence, could not be determined.
After meeting with an aide of the Governor, the Citizens' Commission was granted formal permission to visit the dam site. Arrangements were made for a tour by helicopter and on foot; it was conducted by E.J. Wood, Vice President, Elkay Mining Company. Regrettably, Wood was unable or unwilling to answer many questions about engineering and construction of the refuse dam. He was equally vague about the events leading up to its collapse.
Gaining access to the file of the Buffalo Mining Company posed another barrier. By law, the State Water Resources Division must inspect the refuse dam because the company used it to clarify liquid wastes from the coal treatment plant. Ever since 1964, when the State Water Pollution Control Act went into effect, reports on the dam and adjacent structures had been gathered in this file.
On March 23, two commissioners approached Natural Resources Director Ira S. Latimer, Jr., with a request to see the file. Although agreeing it was public information, Latimer refused to allow access to the file. He insisted the Governor's commission should have first crack at the records. Almost two months later, a second request was turned down by the chairman of that commission, who announced that the file had been "impounded." Congressional committees reportedly had an opportunity to see it but ordinary citizens have not.
The Governor's original words of encouragement began to sound hollow as Commission members found their way repeatedly blocked by official intransigence. Nor has there been any detailed public report following the Governor's pledge to empty other dangerous refuse dams. In fact, Commissioner Howard Dotson, an ardent coon hunter, reports that a dam above the coal tipple in Prenter Hollow which he personally checked the latter part of May still had the same level of water as when he took a New York Times reporter to see it shortly after the disaster.
"It's a mile and a half up the hollow and 275 yards across and believed to be 75 feet deep at the center," says Dotson. "I talked to Governor Moore. He said he was going to drain but it hasn't been drained yet."
Obviously, the powers-that-be were doing little to help uncover the facts of the case or to prevent a recurrence of mine-related tragedy. Nevertheless, the Citizens' Commission has undertaken its own search for answers, conscious of the difficulties but also aware of what is at stake. Despite the obstacles, its members have persevered in this mission:
- they acquired familiarity with the relevant regulations, rules, and legal requirements of state and federal laws, with the actual conditions at the dam site prior to the flood, and with operating procedures of the Buffalo Mining Company and various government agencies;
- they accumulated sufficient knowledge to charge the company and certain government agencies with outright negligence and violation of the law;
- they obtained information revealing the company's indifference, callousness and insensitivity to human life and other values -- moral, environmental, aesthetic, and community;
- they uncovered evidence raising a number of serious questions that warrant further investigation by official bodies regarding the causes of the disaster, as well as activities of both company and government officials before and after the event.
As a framework for its more specific findings, the Commission calls attention to two general observations:
FIRST, the flood was not an act of God. This terrible tragedy was caused by men, acting through corporations and governments.
Reverend Charles Crumm, a disabled miner who testified before the Commission, offered the case against divine intervention:
"I went to work for the Lorado Coal Mining Company in 1950, 18 years old, and I knew this slate pile was there. I know they kept dumping it and I know they said it was an act of God. But I told the people out of those 20 years, from my youth up, that I never saw God drive the first slate truck in the holler..."
The argument that excessive rainfall or snow melt caused the flood is not borne out by the facts. According to the preliminary analysis issued by the Department of the Interior Task Force on March 12th, "Residents of the Buffalo Creek valley discount the importance of the new melt...Flow of Buffalo Creek above Middle Fork (location of the dam) was also insignificant. The estimated peak flow of 200 cfs at this location corresponded to only 85 cubic feet of water per square mile of drainage area. By contrast, the peak flow for Buffalo Creek 4,500 feet downstream from the mouth of Middle Fork was almost a thousandfold greater -- an estimated 49,000 cfs."
SECONDLY, West Virginia bureaucracies are interested in maintaining coal production first and protecting the safety of miners and their families last.
The fourth largest coal producer in the nation, Pittston Company owns these companies in West Virginia -- where it is also fourth largest coal producer (8.7 million tons in 1970): Amigo Smokeless, Badger Coal, Clinchfield Coal, Buffalo Mining, Elkay Mining, Ranger Fuel, Sewell Coal, and Snap Creek Coal. The company employs 10,800, with assets in 1970 of $470 million. The board of directors includes Thruston B. Morton, brother of Interior Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton.
Standard and Poore's Industry Survey, in recommending Pittston for long-term investment, states, "The company's unique position as a possessor of large reserves of relatively scarce low volatile coking coal -- essential for blending purposes in metallurgical coal -- has afforded Pittston a premium price position and has enabled the company to enter into very favorable long-term contracts with foreign mills. Strong demand in Japan and Europe for high quality metallurgical coat in addition to the steady domestic needs of utilities for steam coal promises to provide a solid base for expansion in coming years."
Every ton of coal coming out of the eight mines operated by Buffalo Mining. Company brings dollars to the state treasury, the UMW welfare fund, and Pittston's stockholders. Compared to the urgency of moving coal to the fantastically profitable Japanese and European markets, the human needs of the Buffalo Creek mining communities have dwindled into insignificance.
Bureaucracies, whether of union, state, or corporate origin, adhere to a basic laissez-faire policy where profits are concerned. Overlapping interests make a mockery of the law. Tough-sounding rules and regulations turn out to be an illusion.
The people of Buffalo Creek assumed that their governors and regulatory agencies were dedicated to protecting their welfare. They were woefully misled. Many have paid with their lives for this misplaced faith. The survivors are struggling to find their way back through a morass of quarantines, red tape, image-makers, and self-seeking politicians.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE THE BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER
On the basis of the facts and information derived from hearings, documents, studies, on-site interviews and observations, and other relevant sources, the Citizens' Commission herewith presents its initial findings and conclusions relating to what happened, why it happened and who is responsible for the Buffalo Creek Disaster. Supportive evidence for these findings and conclusions is presented beginning page 15.
1. Officials of the Buffalo Mining-Pittston Company are guilty of murdering at least 124 men, women and children living in Buffalo Creek Hollow.
2. The Buffalo Mining-Pittston Company is guilty of gross negligence, willful violation of the law, and incomprehensible callousness to human needs and values.
a. The Company was grossly negligent in constructing and operating the refuse dam on its property.
b. The Company's first concern has been to increase its profits by using the same refuse dam to (1) dispose of refuse, (2) clarify waste water, and (3) store water.
c. The Company should have been aware the dam would fail, because the dam had a partial failure in 1971, and a smaller dam had completely collapsed in 1967.
d. The Company discharged waste water behind the dam even after the danger became apparent -- when the level of water approached the top of the dam.
e. The Company had installed no effective devices for maintaining the water at a safe level. Last minute efforts to relive pressure on the dam may have triggered its collapse.
f. The Company violated state and federal law since the dam was never approved for proper design and maintenance.
g. The Company was insensitive to its community responsibilities in that no system existed for warning people living downstream of the dam, although the Company must have known the dam was dangerous.
h. The Company showed callousness toward human suffering by failing to help with relief and rehabilitation efforts.
3. State agencies involved are guilty of nonfeasance.
4. State government is charged with negligence, buck-passing, and dereliction of its duty. Many laws and regulations that it is sworn to administer were given only token enforcement or completely ignored.
a. the Water Resources Division did not insure adequate decanting of the dam by means of spillways, pipes, siphons or pumps.
b. The Water Resources Division never penalized the company for polluting Buffalo Creek in 1967.
c. The Public Service Commission did not inspect the dam as required by state law.
d. The Public Service Commission took no action against the company to enforce compliance with the law.
e. The Reclamation Division did not exercise its legal jurisdiction over the area even though the reclamation chief and natural resources director were in the immediate vicinity the day before the disaster.
f. A letter from a resident of Buffalo Creek to former Governor Hulett Smith warning of the impending disaster brought about no preventive activity.
g. Governor Moore and former Governor Hulett Smith were warned in 1967, when the Department of the Interior sent each a copy of its study completed after a coal refuse disaster in Wales. No effective action was taken by either administration.
5. Strip mining above the dam probably contributed to its over-filling and failure, since runoff from benches drained into the area.
6. Federal government is charged with negligence and poor judgment in interpreting its own studies and data. The U.S. Bureau of Mines neglected to enforce its regulations requiring inspection of hazardous mine structures above ground.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE THE BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER
On the basis of findings and other accumulated information and data, the Citizens' Commission puts forth the following recommendations and welcomes their endorsement, support and active promotion from all quarters:
1. That the Prosecuting Attorney of Logan County make a presentment to the first available grand jury and subpoena witnesses to testify before the said grand jury in order to determine the appropriateness of bringing suit against officials of the Buffalo Mining-Pittston Company for the heinous crimes committed against the people of Buffalo Creek, and that all pertinent testimony from witnesses be returned against the party or parties responsible for those homicidal acts. Further, that the United States Attorney impanel a special grand jury to consider, or alternatively present to the next regular grand jury, witnesses' evidence concerning the abridgement of the civil rights of the victims of the Buffalo Creek disasters and that he pursue these matters to the fullest.
2. That Buffalo Mining-Pittston be penalized by the U.S. Bureau of Mines to the full extent of the law for violation of the Federal Mine Health and Safety Act Regulations, Sec. 77.200, and 77.1713.
3. That Buffalo Mining-Pittston be penalized by the State Water Resources Division to the full extent of the law for polluting Buffalo Creek, Under Chapter 20, Article 5A of the West Virginia Code.
4. That Buffalo Mining-Pittston be prosecuted by the Logan County Prosecuting Attorney for violating state law requiring approval of dams by the Public Service Commission. (Chapter 61, Article 3, Section 47, Code of West Virginia)
5. That Buffalo Mining-Pittston be sued by the state for damages to roads and bridges in Buffalo Creek Hollow.
6. That Buffalo Mining-Pittston reclaim the entire mine refuse dump at Saunders and develop it as the community sees fit.
7. That the State Reclamation Division initiate an effective reclamation program on Middle Fork as soon as possible, and take jurisdiction over other such areas having impoundments.
8. That the State Soil Conservation Committee, which issued a highly questionable proposal for moving Buffalo Creek residents onto strip mined areas, get on with implementing the watershed project (submitted in 1970 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funding under The Watershed Improvement and Flood Prevention Act) as a practical and humane way of helping the survivors.
9. That the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assist the Natural Resources Director to evaluate, make safe and if necessary eliminate all dangerous refuse dams under the new Mined Hollows Protection Act.
10. That the West Virginia Legislature enact a law requiring all coal mine refuse to be disposed of underground in coal mine voids.
11. That the West Virginia Legislature enact a law prohibiting the use of coal refuse for filtration banks, settling ponds or water storage impoundments.
12. That the West Virginia Legislature reorganize, consolidate and strengthen all state authority over environmental quality and safety in and around coal mines and mining communities.
13. That all coal companies reconstruct existing dams on their property according to sound engineering principles and eliminate impoundments which pose a danger to areas downstream.
14. That the U.S. Senate Labor Subcommittee promptly investigate charges that the Bureau of Mines failed to enforce the Mine Health and Safety Act and take appropriate action.
15. That the conditions presented to the Pittston Company by the Citizens' Action Committee be expeditiously carried out. (See page 30.)
16. That Governor Moore hold local public meetings in compliance with the Federal Highway Administration Practices and Procedures Manual 20-8 whereby Buffalo Creek survivors may have a voice in planning reconstruction of the state highway.
17. That the individual's right to possess his property be fully respected in state and federal planning for redevelopment of the Buffalo Creek communities.
18. That citizens diligently search out presently existing dangers to their lives and property resulting from industry's use of resources, and that they take such action as may be necessary to remove the dangers.
19. That citizens throughout West Virginia, individually and through organizations, provide back-up, strength and support to every government official at any level when he is known to be diligent in his public responsibilities and in trying to serve the interests of the citizenry.
20. That all citizens give serious thought to the facts, findings and recommendations and broad questions contained in this Report, and that each in his respective way undertake to promote dissemination and discussion in local neighborhoods, communities, clubs and organizations.
21. That all individuals and organizations who are concerned with preventing the recurrence of mine-related disasters and who are seeking ways and means of improving the safety and living quality of the coal mine areas of West Virginia convene together in order to develop a program of action based on pertinent findings and recommendations including those contained in this report.
SUPPORTIVE EVIDENCE FOR FINDINGS OF THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION
THE CASE AGAINST THE BUFFALO MINING-PITTSTON COMPANY:
1. Its officials are guilty of murdering at least 124 men, women and children living in Buffalo Creek Hollow.
2. The Company is guilty of gross negligence, willful violation of the law, and incomprehensible callousness to human needs and values.
a. Buffalo Mining-Pittston was grossly negligent.
The failure of dam #3 at Saunders above the refuse dump on Middle Fork caused the disaster. (See pages 16-17 ). This dam impounded 130 million gallons of water. It is described as being 45 to 60 feet high, 2500 feet across and 450 feet wide, composed entirely of waste material removed from five company mines operating in the vicinity. Waste was dumped on top of fine material which had accumulated behind dam #2.
The Preliminary Analysis of the Department of the Interior Task Force concludes in part as follows:
"From an engineering point-of-view, the dam was not designed and constructed such that it would be considered safe for the retention of large volumes of water over any lengthy period of time ... Foundations were inadequate and failed prior to and during the total dam failure...The volume of water stored behind #3 dam seems far in excess of that needed to clear sediments and otherwise for treatment to conform with state standards before discharging the water into Buffalo Creek....
The very nature of the natural waste (refuse-sludge) in the West Virginia and possibly all of the Appalachian coal fields dictates that a change in embankment physical properties will occur with time and consequently a change in the factor of safety...Typical design parameters which change with time include: sheer strength, density, permeability, and void ratio, all of which determine the structural stability of the embankment." (pp. 19-21)
James Tallerico, from the town of Man, was a bulldozer operator who testified he had constructed dams #1 and #2. He had no previous knowledge or experience in building dams, nor did he receive any engineering or other supervision while on the job. The dams were built on the existing ground slope and drain pipes where put in place to carry off excess water from both dams. Apparently dam #3 received virtually no engineering. It had no discernible drain pipes. Refuse had been superimposed upon a layer of sludge which had accumulated behind dam #2.
In short, there was no possible engineering justification for putting that much water behind that kind of dam.
b. Buffalo Mining-Pittston's first concern apparently was to increase its profits.
In Europe, coal producers are not permitted to dump their wastes whenever it is most convenient or most economic. Mine wastes are returned underground to fill the voids left by the mining operations. Not so in West Virginia and Appalachia. Here thousands of "gob piles" or slate dumps pollute the mountains with acid draining, noxious fumes and huge ugly scars.
Prior to the disaster, Buffalo Mining-Pittston was producing 4,000 tons of clean coal and 1,000 tons of refuse per day. Refuse was hauled to the dump on Middle Fork in 30-ton trucks. About 600 gallons per minute of waste water was also pumped from the preparation plant (tipple) through mine #5 and discharged above dam #3. Thus, in addition to the 200,000 tons of coal refuse, 50,000 to 100,000 tons of silt were deposited annually in Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek above the community of Saunders. (Task Force, page 6)
Two decades of accumulating refuse had reared a mountain of slate filling the whole lower end of Middle Fork and extending 1,500 feet upstream. Beginning in 1964 when the state pollution control program went into effect, three dams were constructed on top of the dump. The uppermost dam, #3, was the largest and was built in 1969-70.
These dams served three purposes. First, they provided a ready disposal area for refuse. Second, they allowed waste water to filter through, thus clarifying the water in conformity with state stream quality standards. Third, they stored water which eventually was led downhill via a ditch alongside the haul road to a lower impoundment from which it was pumped back to the treatment plant for use in cleaning coal. The cycle was complete when black waste water was pumped from the treatment plant and discharged above dam #3.
This system was the least expensive method of meeting its water requirements available to Buffalo Mining-Pittston.
To have returned refuse underground, to have built a real water treatment facility, and to have stored water behind a properly designed dam would have been a far more costly process. Multiplied by the number of mining operations controlled by Pittston (147) the cost could be expected to have taken a sizable share of the corporation's $44.5 million profits in 1971. Thus, Pittston's profit became Buffalo Creek's loss.
Question: How many other communities are subsidizing coal company profits in this way?
c. Buffalo Mining-Pittston should have been aware the dam would fail.
Kenneth Osbourne is a miner for the Buffalo Mining Company who lived for 36 years just below the main state dump at the coat camp of Saunders. Osbourne said the dam failure had happened before on a smaller scale. Water topped dam #1 in 1967 and the burning refuse in the main dump exploded with a sound like the detonation which occurred on February 26 when dam #3 collapsed.
"From the first water hole back," Osbourne testified, "that's how far it blew that time. It covered up the railroad, the highway and the recreation hall they had up there (at Saunders)."
On the orders of the State Water Resources Division, Buffalo Mining then proceeded to build a much higher and larger dam above dam #2. In February, 1971, just one year before the fatal collapse, "a small failure occurred on the northeast or right side of the dam (#3) which required new material to be placed. Undoubtedly this resulted in a poor coupling to the rest of the dam and, because of construction procedures, resulted in a "weak spot."* (Task Force, page 14)
It is reasonable to assume, then, that officials of Buffalo Mining-Pittston must have known that on at least two occasions their dams had given way. However, ignoring the obvious risk involved, they went ahead and stored 130,000,000 gallons of water behind dam #3.
d. Buffalo Mining-Pittston discharged waste water behind the dam even when the danger became apparent.
E.J. WOOD, Buffalo Mining temporary manager, admitted that the company did not stop pumping sludge from its treatment plant into the area above dam #3 until the eve of the disaster, even though for at least two days previously the dam was too water-logged for the dump trucks to traverse safely. Undoubtedly the company's reluctance to slow down production dictated this policy. To stop pumping would have meant closing down the preparation plant, which would have backed up coal into the mines, bringing operations to a halt, and reducing the corporate income.
In a newspaper story (Charleston Daily Mail-February 28) Ben Tudor, a company official, claimed the Department of Natural Resources would not allow decanting of water behind dam #3 because pollution discharged into the stream would kill the trout. "It either had to be the people or the trout," Tudor was quoted as saying, "and now both are gone."
Most likely, the company wanted to release black sludge from the tipple directly into Buffalo Creek, which under law the agency could not permit. So the company chose instead to continue pumping into the hollow behind dam #3, thus increasing the possibility that the dam would fail.
e. Buffalo Mining-Pittston had installed no effective devices for maintaining the water at a safe level.
Since the dam was not capable of holding a large quantity of water, some device for keeping impounded water at a safe level should have been installed. On this point, witnesses disagree with the finding of the Task Force, which states, "The only provision for the outflow of excess water was the 24-inch pipe situated about 7 to 10 feet below the topmost compacted layer near the right center of the dam." (Task Force, page 10)
Two sections of pipe were visible in the debris left just below the dam site. The question is: Where and when were they installed? Witnesses testifying before the Commission were unanimous in recalling there was no pipe of any kind in the dam until shortly before the disaster.
KENNETH OSBOURNE, who lived just below the dump, feared the dam because of the "blow-out" in 1967. He kept a sharp eye on it. At 4:30 on the morning of the disaster, he visited the dam and found Jack Kent, Buffalo Mining strip boss, checking the water depth. At that time it was 12-14 feet below the top of the dam, according to his testimony.
Kent's truck passed Osbourne's house several times during the night. At 6:30 a.m. when Osbourne returned to the dam, Kent was not on hand and the water was running into two 24" pipes which were situated only two feet below the top of the dam. The pipes extended only 3,040 feet into the dam, so water entering must have seeped into the center of the dam. The dam was so water-logged, Osbourne would not risk stepping on it, and he noticed a large crack some 18 feet long and 40 feet across near the central area of the dam. Water was passing through the dam.
Wisely, Osbourne did not wait to see what would happen. He left to spread the alarm in Saunders, thus saving many of his neighbors' lives.
JAMES S. MORRIS, maintenance repair man for Buffalo Mining, formerly of Lundale, passed the dam on Friday before the disaster and saw no pipes in it. About 7:00 Saturday morning he was called to the company office by Daniel "Steve" Dasovich, Buffalo Mining Vice President, who ordered him to go to the dam and weld two forty-foot sections of pipe to "make a bleeding valve." He was told two bulldozers were on their way to the dam to assist.
Morris was worried about the dam because he had seen it nearly topped several times. He remembered the 1967 "blow-out" and knew the explosive potential of the extremely hot interior of the refuse dump. On Friday the 25th, he had seen Natural Resources Director Ira S. Latimer, Jr., Reclamation Chief Ben Greene and other state employees with I.C. Spotte (Vice President of the Pittston Company) in the company office. He understood they were visiting the dam site (although Latimer later insisted the is purpose of their tour was only to inspect prospective strip mine areas)
Morris and other men on his crew had been notified there would be no work Saturday because of water in the "strip pits" and because of the dangerous condition of the dam, which Jack Kent was checking on his own initiative. "If there was a drain pipe in that dam," Morris testified, "it had to be put in there between dark Friday night and prior to the time the dam broke loose."
On Saturday morning Morris never reached the dam: "When I got to the old farmhouse, I met my supervisor coming down the road hollering that the dam had broke, turned me around and sent me out of the holler. And when I got to Lorado I had to hit the mountain with the rest of the people."
Another miner, JOHNNY WELLS, was coining off the "hoot-owl" shift at #5 portal above the dam on Saturday morning, arriving just in time to see the mass of water moving through the broken dam, taking out the two smaller dams, a garage and two dump trucks. His car, some 150 feet above the surface of the impoundment, was covered with sludge thrown high in the air, presumably by backwash caused by the water coming up against the main state dump. Since the road was washed out, Wells returned to the mine office in a futile attempt to call his family.
Wells testified that he had travelled past the dam on his way to work daily since January, 1969. He had never seen any pipe in #3 dam, nor any siphons, nor any pumps, nor any spillway.
HERBERT PRUITTE, also a miner on the hoot-owl shift, verified Wells' testimony. He arrived at the scene just as a huge cloud of smoke rose from the main dump. Steam generated by the mass of water penetrating into its red-hot depths caused it to explode with volcanic force. Slate and cinders showered down on his car.
Pruitte had never seen drain pipes in dam #3, but he had been told that pipes were put in place sometime Friday. Two bulldozers, one returning from the dam area and the other on its way there, were seen on the haul roads immediately after the dam collapsed. Presumably these were the dozers Kent had dispatched to help Morris install the remainder of the pipes. They had arrived too late.
There being no way to relieve pressure on the dam, it would appear that as a last desperate measure drain pipes had been placed late Friday. Because the pipes extended only part way into the dam they undoubtedly did more harm than good, for water penetrating into the center of the dam would weaken the old break on the right-hand side. The entire structure, supersaturated with water and practically afloat, needed very little to set off the catastrophe. Placing these pipes may have been the last straw.
Rumors persist that an attempt was made to blast out a spillway. Although a large hole in the haul road below the dam site may have been dynamited (in the judgment of the miners on the Commission) this theory cannot be substantiated.
f. Buffalo Mining-Pittston violated federal and state law.
As far as the Commission has been able to determine, the only inspections of dam #3 were carried out by the State Water Resources Division. Under provisions of Chapter 20, Article 5A of the West Virginia Code, the company was legally obligated to treat its waste to meet standards established for Buffalo Creek. The three dams or "stilling ponds" were used as a method of treatment.
Chapter 61, Article 3, Section 47 of the Code requires inspection and approval by the Public Service Commission of all dams or obstructions across streams higher than 15 feet or impounding more than 10 acres of water. PSC never inspected dam #3, having neither the staff nor the inclination to enforce this statute where refuse dams are concerned. Buffalo Mining Company was clearly in violation.
Under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, Section 77.1713 of the regulations states: "At least once during each working shift more often if necessary for safety each active working area and each active surface installation shall be examined by a certified person designated by the operator to conduct such examination for hazardous conditions and any hazardous conditions noted during such examination shall be reported to the operator and shall be corrected by 11 11 the operator."
Both as to the construction and as to the maintenance of dam #3, Buffalo Mining ignored provisions of the law designed to protect miners and communities downstream from the hazards of dam failure.
No system existed for warning people downstream.
Witnesses could recall no method ever having been developed by Buffalo Mining-Pittston for alerting people if the dam was in a dangerous condition. The Task Force implies that false alarms had occurred so often ("at least four other occasions") that Buffalo Creek residents in many cases refused to take the final warning seriously. Those testifying were uniformly bitter in denouncing the company's failure to give any kind of adequate notice.
BRADY HATFIELD, who lost his wife, daughter, granddaughter, and everything he owned, insisted that the people of Stowe Bottom received no warning of any kind. A neighbor, ROBERT BOWENS, agreed. "I've heard them say that they knowed Friday night early that the dam was going to break, that they wouldn't be able to hold it, and they should have gotten the people out and warned them."
Bowens also reported that Steve Dasovich let it be known at the Man Smokehouse at 6:00 Saturday morning, some two hours before the disaster, that "they were working on it (the dam) and the safest place ... would be in the mines." According to Morris, Dasovich insisted to the group of mine bosses and others gathered at the company office at 7:00 that same morning that the dam was safe. But Jack Kent was worried enough to keep a watch on the dam all night and Elswick, his assistant supervisor, turned back all the men on his morning strip mine shift because he was concerned about the safety of their families.
Apparently Buffalo Mining-Pittston had no general warning policy because it was unwilling to acknowledge that it had created a monster. So, it was every man for himself, and 124 people in Buffalo Creek hollow didn't make it to high ground in time.
h. Buffalo Mining-Pittston showed callousness toward human suffering by failing to help with relief or recovery efforts.
Locally owned until 1970, Buffalo Mining Company was acquired by the Pittston Company, whose offices are in Richmond, Virginia, and in New York. Pittston showed a profit of $44.5 million in 1971.
As Governor Moore indicated soon after the disaster, the refuse dams at Saunders were not unusual. Slate dumps, many of them perpetually on fire, many impounding water, are scattered through the coal fields. They have long since been accepted as part of the scenery.
Although the coal industry is typically deficient in concern for the communities affected by these slate dumps, Buffalo Mining-Pittston is guilty of remarkable 22 insensitivity because its officials must have been aware of the destructive possibilities in 130 million gallons of water being held behind a dam completely devoid of any engineering. The threat hanging over the 4,000 people who lived and worked in the congested downstream area must have been quite obvious, because the company knew there had been dam failures twice before -- in 1967 and again in 1971.
That other coal companies are harboring such environmental monsters on their property, with the connivance of government officials, in no way lessens the moral or legal accountability of Buffalo Mining-Pittston.
No witness could recall ever seeing any equipment of the Buffalo Mining Company assisting in the recovery of bodies or helping to clean up after the disaster, a fact confirmed by a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which directed the demolition of damaged structures.
Not one company official offered Condolences to the victims. Company officials were conspicuously absent in the Buffalo Creek hollow, although repair of the railroad line was pushed ahead to get the coal moving again. The company did establish a claims office, and is attempting to settle individual claims out of court.
THE CASE AGAINST STATE GOVERNMENT:
3. State agencies involved are guilty of nonfeasance.
4. State government is charged with negligence, buck-passing, and dereliction of its duty. Many laws and regulations that it is sworn to administer were given only token enforcement or completely ignored.
a. the Water Resources Division did not ensure adequate decanting of the dam.
JOE HOLLY, a state inspector whose territory includes all of southern West Virginia, had recommended the company build a larger dam after the 1967 "blow-out." An increased capacity for settling out the fine sludge was indicated. Holly and Ed Henry, Water Resources Chief, were concerned with the manner in which the dam was built. They thought there was a pipe in it but they couldn't be sure. Holly's repeated complaints about lack of a spillway were ignored by the company.
Henry claims the company was ordered to keep the impoundment (or settling pond) pumped out to a depth of 12 feet. There is no way for the Commission to verify this assertion. Although E.J. Wood, pro tem manager of the Buffalo Mining Company, pointedly referred to the dam as a "filtration bank," Henry insists water should not have been allowed to percolate through because of the coal refuse's acid production. In Henry's view, dam #3 was simply a device to hold waste water long enough to settle out the fine solids.
b. the Water Resources Division never penalized the company.
The state Water Pollution Control Act (Chapter 20, Article 5A of the West Virginia Code) prohibits the release of sewage or industrial wastes into the waters of the state without a permit from the Water Resources Division. Sub-section 6 of Section 5 of the law, enacted in 1969, specifically applies this prohibition to mine wastes such as material which 23 Buffalo Mining-Pittston dumped into and behind its three dams at Saunders.
This law states that it is illegal to "dispose of any refuse or industrial wastes or other wastes from such mine or quarry or preparation plant: Provided, that the (division) permit shall only be required wherever the aforementioned activities cause, may cause, or might reasonably be expected to cause a discharge into or pollution of waters of the state. . The record shows that Buffalo Mining-Pittston violated this law repeatedly and with impunity.
For example, in 1967 when dam # I "blew out" releasing tons of refuse into Buffalo Creek the state agency made no attempt to penalize the company. The partial collapse of dam #3 in 1971 is not even noted in the Division's file. State inspectors' orders to stop putting black water into the stream, to control coal dust or to install spillways were sometimes carried out halfheartedly, sometimes completely ignored by the company.
Since dam #1 had failed previously due to inadequate spillways, the question arises as to why the Division ordered the company to build a much larger dam which, because it also lacked adequate spillways, "might reasonably be expected to cause pollution" by its eventual failure. Why did the state agency not revoke Buffalo Mining-Pittston's permit and impose penalties until dam #3 was brought under adequate control and maintenance?
In West Virginia when an ordinary citizen pollutes, it is a crime. But when big industry pollutes, it is either an "act of God" or an "accidental spill." Both excuses offer convenient escape hatches from law enforcement. The case of Buffalo Mining-Pittston is a classic example of how the state in understanding protect the public interest.
Understaffed, poorly equipped, and confused as to its role, the Water Resources Division was in no position to regulate a segment of industry which has dominated the political and economic scene for generations.
c. The Public Service Commission did not inspect the dam.
In 1968, an engineer of the Public Service Commission inspected dams #1 and #2 at the request of the Department of Natural Resources following a complaint by Mrs. W.H. Woodrum of Lorado. He saw no serious problem. However, dam #3 was not built until 1969-70.
At no time did the Public Service Commission inspect dam #3, because the company never applied to it for approval of its dam construction as required by law. Since the company apparently considered its activity at Saunders was either (1) disposing of mine wastes or (2) building a "filtration bank" rather than a dam, it seemingly felt free to proceed at will. More than likely, the legality of its action in relation to PSC was given little if any thought.
d. The Public Service Commission took no action against the company.
It is possible the Public Service Commission was totally unaware of its legal responsibility under Chapter 61, Article 3, Section 47 of the Code to check dam #3. Following the disaster, PSC took the position that since the dam was not "under construction" it was not under PSC's jurisdiction, although logically, as long as company trucks continued to dump refuse on the dam it could be regarded as still under construction. In fact, PSC was not interested in applying the law to coal refuse dams in West Virginia.
e. The Reclamation Division did not exercise its jurisdiction.
Chapter 20, Article 6, Section 3 of the Code states, "The division of reclamation shall have within its jurisdiction and supervision...river, stream and pond shore areas subject to soil erosion and waste." The Middle Fork basin above dam #3 would seem to fit this description. It had been extensively strip mined with little if any reclamation done. The Division had surveyed the area previously so was aware of the poor condition of the disturbed land and the erosion and siltation resulting.
It is most unfortunate, and almost unbelievable, that the reclamation chief and the natural resources director did not take the opportunity of examining dam #3, considering they toured the area the day before the disaster when company employees were becoming very anxious about the dam. Once again, it seems the state was eager to avoid stepping on corporate toes even though the safety of whole communities was at stake.
f. A complaint from a Buffalo Creek resident to former Governor Hulett Smith brought no preventive activity.
Mrs. W.H. Woodrum of Lorado wrote the governor on February 5, 1968, "Please send someone here to see the water and how dangerous it is. It scares everyone to death. We all are afraid we will be washed away and drowned. They just keep dumping slate and slush in the water and making it more dangerous...for God's sake have the dump and water destroyed. Our lives are in danger."
This letter, "bucked on" to the Department of Natural Resources, resulted in a joint investigation by an inspector of the Water Resources Division and an engineer of the Public Service Commission. PSC Chairman Boyce Griffith, in a letter to the Department, said no approval had been sought for the two dams and it would be "helpful" if in future such "stilling basins" were less than 15 feet high so they would not require approval. He also suggested "it would be well for the mining company to employ an engineer versed in hydrology and hydraulics to give it advice as to how to provide proper drainage to reduce the flood hazard."
Dam #3 was not in place at the time, but dam # I had already failed. The PSC engineer, reporting on his inspection, stated "there could be a possibility of saturating the lower slate dump and causing slippage." The Water Resources Division brought the complaint to the attention of Oval D. Damron, Logan County Prosecuting Attorney, implying there was cause for legal action against the company to abate the public hazard. There is no evidence that Damron took any action.
Mrs. Woodrum received a reassuring letter from then director T.R. Samsell, explaining the Department's limited jurisdiction -- and there the matter rested. The administrative machinery cranked out letters and reports, none of which improved the situation one particle. The only substantial response was that by March the Water Resources Division was actively pushing the company to build dam #3, thus eventually compounding the dangerous situation Mrs. Woodrum had exposed to official scrutiny.
g. Governor Moore, Governor Smith, and others were also warned in 1967.
Following the disastrous collapse of a coal waste bank at Aberfan, Wales, Interior Secretary Stewart Udali ordered a study of 38 waste banks in southern West Virginia.This study was completed by W.E. Davies of the U.S. Geological Survey and copies were sent to then Governor Hulett Smith and to members of' the congressional delegation, including Arch A. Moore, Jr., the present Governor.
The report warns that 30 refuse dumps in West Virginia were inherently unstable. The geologist examining dam # I declared it to be unstable in "hurricane-type precipitation." Subsequently dam #1 was overtopped, causing the flood in 1967 already described. In July 1968, Davies published an article in Mining Congress Journal entitled "Coal Waste Bank Stability" which describes the causes of refuse dam failures in some detail.
Neither the Democratic administration of Governor Smith nor the Republican administration of Governor Moore undertook to apply the information contained in the report or in Davies' article. After the Buffalo Creek disaster, the legislature appropriated $1 million to assist the victims and enacted the Mined Hollows Protection Act, giving the Department of Natural Resources authority to inspect refuse dams and to take appropriate action to prevent their failure. So far, the department has been in no hurry to carry out its mandate; in fact the director at first claimed it impossible due to lack of funds.
5. Strip mining above the dam probably contributed to its over-filling.
Aerial photos of the Middle Fork area (available from the Huntington District Office of the Army Corps of Engineers) show extensive strip mining of several forest coal seams on both sides of the slate dump. Auger mining has also taken place.
Although the disturbance is not of recent origin, surface run-off during heavy precipitation must have been accelerated due to the decrease in water-absorbing forest undergrowth. The possibility of water trapped in abandoned underground. areas breaking through auger holes into the impoundment behind dam #3 should not be discounted. Other parts of West Virginia experienced such floods about the time of the disaster.Allegedly, attempts had been made in past years to dispose of sludge from the tipple in abandoned underground voids of mine #5, but the sludge broke through onto the surface.
THE CASE AGAINST FEDERAL GOVERNMENT:
6. The U.S. Bureau of Mines did not enforce its own regulations.
On March 15, Hollis M. Dole, Assistant Secretary-Mineral Resources, Department of the Interior, appeared in Washington before the Subcommittee on Mines and Mining of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to explain the role of the Bureau of Mines. Under sharp questioning, Dole admitted the Bureau hadn't gotten around to enforcing regulations which became effective July 1, 1971:
Sec. 77.200 "All mine structures, enclosures, or other facilities (including custom coal preparation) shall be maintained in good repair to prevent accidents and injuries to employees."
Sec. 77.216 "If failure of a water or silt retaining dam will create a hazard, it shall be of substantial construction and shall be inspected at least once each week."
Judging from Dole's testimony, the Bureau is unconcerned about the safety of miners going to and from mine portals, and, apparently, is totally oblivious of the well-being of miners' families.
NICHOLAS T. CAMACIA, president, Pittston Company ...native of Welch, W.Va., spent approximately 20 years working up through management ranks of Island Creek Coal, became president of General Dynamics coal-mining subsidiaries, then was picked to become president of Pittston in 1969. First-year salary with Pittston was $100,000, now up to $134,000 (he got a 25% raise in 1970), with additional $25,000 set aside annually to be paid to him if he quits or is fired prior to 1976. Owns about half-million dollars' worth of Pittston stock, most of it made available to him at much less than market price, and got Pittston to provide him with free housing when he agreed to move to New York to head the company. Regarded in coal industry as very shrewd, especially with long-term contracts; Pittston now has lucrative contracts with Japanese, French steel companies in which buyers absorb all increased costs (such as UMW pay increases) and increases are not covered by wage-price freeze (doesn't cover exports). Camacia says Buffalo Creek was "not reasonably foreseeable." Company is covered by multi-million dollar insurance policies, expects to suffer no loss.
J.C. SPOTTE, Vice President, Pittston Company Coal Group ... a graduate of Missouri School of Mines, Spotte presides over Buffalo Mining Company, as well as Clinchfield Coal Company in Dante, Virginia, another component of the Pittston web. Coming to Clinchfield from Princess Elkhorn Coal Company in Kentucky, Spotte, a businessmen's businessman, quickly installed his own administrators and soon after stripped subordinate officials of their company cars. Arriving at his office daily at 5:00 a.m., Spotte's "all work and no play" philosophy prompts him to make frequent, unannounced mine visits, a practice that makes people nervous and wary. Virtually antisocial because of his dedication to business (i.e., making money), Spotte's rating on the popularity scale is not high.
DANIEL "STEVE" DASOVICH, Vice President, Buffalo Mining Company ...reared on Buffalo Creek, Dasovich began working in the local mines of Island Creek Coal Company in 1942. Armed with a degree in Mining Engineering from West Virginia University, he was hired by Alfred D. "Buster" Skaggs, Jr., reported in the press as a Logan County Democratic backer of Arch Moore and the brother of Neal Skaggs, beneficiary of half a million dollars worth of government improvements on property leased to the State for emergency housing for Buffalo Creek Disaster victims. Skaggs' genius for converting ailing coal mines into moneymakers attracted the attention of the Pittston Company. After Skaggs sold out to Pittston in 1970, Dasovich, known up and down the hollow as a tough hard-driving boss, chose to remain with Buffalo Mining. Almost up to the moment the Company's dam collapsed, he refused to acknowledge it was dangerous. Immediately following the disaster, Dasovich vanished from public view, reportedly under treatment for shock. He has since been transferred elsewhere.
E. J. "ED" WOOD, Vice President, Elkay Mining Company ... an electrical engineer who became involved in "Buster" Skaggs' developing coal empire. Wood reportedly realized a handsome profit from stock he owned in Buffalo Mining Company upon its sale to Pittston. Well-regarded locally, he was recalled from retirement on February 26 to replace Dasovich during the latter's disappearance. Wood did yeoman service for Pittston by handling swarms of reporters and other investigators angry at the Governor's arbitrary control of the fatal dam site. If anyone knew whether incriminating evidence was removed following the tragedy, it may be this angular personable Company official who, when the excitement subsided, quietly resumed his retirement status.
ARCH A. MOORE, JR.-- Republican Governor of West Virginia; a Congressman from 1957-1969; during that period Moore also doubled as Legal Counsel for Pittsburgh Glass Company, Texas-Eastern Transmission Corporation, Columbia Southern Chemical Corporation, Molay Chemical Company, and Allied Chemical Corporation, whose subsidiary is Semet-Solvay Division, a coal producer in West Virginia. The Governor currently serves as Director of the Mercantile Banking & Trust Company of Moundsville, whose out-of-state relationships include the First National City Bank of New York, Pittsburgh National Bank, and Mellon National Bank, also of Pittsburgh.
HULETT SMITH -- Former Democratic Governor of West Virginia; is now head of a Beckley insurance agency; also Director of the Bank of Raleigh, which has connection (through another Director, H. Louis Kirkpatrick) with Winding Gulf Coals, a subsidiary of a major absentee landowner situated in Philadelphia, the Penn-Virginia Corporation.
IRA C. LATIMER, Director, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources ..."Sandy" Latimer received his Masters Degree in Geology from West Virginia University in 1958. He served as coal geologist with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, where he co-authored a definitive text entitled "Coal Resources of West Virginia and Their Importance to the State's Economy"-facts missing from his official biography. While still employed by a Democratic Administration, soft-spoken Latimer engaged in behind the scenes maneuvering on behalf of Arch Moore's gubernatorial campaign. In 1969, he was advanced to the position of Special Assistant to Governor Moore, and in January 1970 was appointed Natural Resources Director. Latimer waited over a year after passage of the 1971 Strip Mine Law before issuing new rules and regulations, and is defendant in a suit filed by a citizens' group charging him with failure to enforce the law. As the State's chief regulator of surface mining, he was guest of honor and presented awards at the Annual Conference of the West Virginia Surface Mine and Reclamation Association in 1971. Five months after enactment of legislation requiring his Department to survey and to make safe all coal refuse piles through the State, Latimer has announced completion of only the preliminary phase.
ELIZABETH HALLANAN, Chairman, West Virginia Public Service Commission ...daughter of Walter Hallanan, prominent oilman and Republican politician of the 1920's through 1940's. Miss Hallanan graduated from West Virginia University Law School with Arch Moore, Jr., in 1951, was a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1956, and Assistant Commissioner of Public Institutions under Governor Underwood. In a recent speech entitled "The Real Crisis," discussing the role of the PSC in relation to the utility industry, Commissioner Hallanan predicts that Federal air quality regulations requiring that electric power plants burn only low sulfur coal will force 70% of West Virginia's coal out of the electric utility market by 1978. Alarmed by such environmental pressures, she had some soothing words for West Virginia utilities: "New health and safety regulations create new expenses that must be passed along the consumer." Miss Hallanan's Commission by law must approve all dams over 15 feet in height.
OVAL D. DAMRON, Prosecuting Attorney of Logan County ... Son of a former Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney, Damron is a fixture in Logan County's coal-dominated Establishment. Although legally charged with responsibility to prosecute violations of the law requiring dams to be approved by the State's Public Service Commission, Damron for four years ignored an official warning that the dam on Buffalo Mining property was hazardous. He later explained that he simply didn't have the necessary manpower or expertise to examine the offending impoundment.
ROGERS C. B. MORTON, Secretary of the Interior, former Maryland Congressman, as chairman of Republican Campaign Committee was chief fundraiser for Nixon in 1968, in close contact with oilmen and other industrialists who bankrolled campaign. Appointed Interior Secretary 1/71 after firing of Walter Hicket. Attempted to hire Nixon's publicist, Harry Treleaven, for mine-safety p.r. campaign (theme: accidents are caused by miners' carelessness, not by management). Appointed former lobbyist Lewis Helm as his key assistant, former lobbyist Edward D. Failor as chief assessment officer at Bureau of Mines. Declined to testify at Senate inquiry into Buffalo Creek disaster. Morton's brother, Thruston, who was chief GOP fund-raiser in Nixon's first presidential campaign in 1960, is a member of board of directors of Pittston. Both Mortons are millionaires.
HOLLIS DOLE, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Mineral Resources ...a former Oregon state geologist who was a member of the board of the American Mining Congress (AMC) prior to appointment to Interior in 1969, recommended to Nixon administration by western oil/metals-mining men who dominate AMC, which is industry's most hard-nosed operation in Washington. Dole was instrumental in firing Bureau of Mines director John O'Leary in 1970; his staff consists mostly of former lobbyists and industry public relations men. After Buffalo Creek, he insisted that there was no federal responsibility, and that the disaster was the result of random, unforeseeable circumstances.
ELBURT F. OSBORN, director, Bureau Of Mines ...When he was appointed to the Bureau of Mines in 1970, Osborn accepted only after receiving assurances from the Nixon administration that he would not have to concern himself on a regular basis with mine safety. A former vice president of University of Pennsylvania, he is interested only in research. Has gradually become concerned about extent to which Interior is now dominated by political appointees, but regards himself as powerless to do anything about it. Known at the Bureau as a weak, shiftless administrator whose instincts are often correct but who will not buck opposition from White House. Follows party line on Buffalo Creek: no federal responsibility. Leaves mine-safety questions to DONALD P. SCHLICK, former Consol engineer who now heads Bureau's safety division.
THE BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
1945 Mine #5, opened by the Lorado Coal Mining Company on Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek, Logan County, West Virginia, begins producing coal.
Coal refuse ("gob" or slate) is dumped at the mouth of Middle Fork, above the community of Saunders.
1947 A preparation plant for cleaning coal produced from mines in the area is completed on Buffalo Creek. It uses 500,000 gallons of water per day. Black sludge from the plant is discharged directly into Buffalo Creek.
1964 Buffalo Mining Company acquires the Lorado Coal Mining Company.
Sludge from the preparation plant is pumped through a mine tunnel into a refuse dam on Middle Fork, in compliance with the new state water pollution control law.
1967 Dam #1 fails, causing a steam explosion in the burning refuse dump and doing local damage at Saunders.
Dam #2 is constructed from coal refuse dumped upstream of dam #1. Clarified water is decanted by pipes through the new dam into the area behind dam #l, and thence along a ditch into Buffalo Creek, where it is pumped back to the plant.
1968 February -- Governor Hulett Smith receives an appeal from a Buffalo Creek housewife: "Our lives are in danger." inspectors from Public Service Commission and Water Resources Division looked at the 2 dams but no further action was taken.
1970 June -- Pittston Company acquires Buffalo Mining Company.
Dam #3 is operational. Made from coal wastes dumped onto silt accumulated behind dam #2, this so-called "filtration bank" blocks a 700-acre water-shed area impounding 130 million gallons of water at a maximum depth of 44 feet.
1971 February -- Dam #3 collapses. One-half of its downstream face slumps. There is no flood, but black water bubbles up into the impoundments behind dam #2. The company dumps in more coal refuse to fill up the break.
1971 April 16 -- The State Water Resources Division cites the company for lack of emergency spillway or over-flow system in dam #3.
1971 June 24 -- A 24" spillway pipe reportedly has been installed by the company in dam #3.
1971 October 8 -- In a letter to the state agency, the company acknowledges the need for an additional emergency spillway. None is installed.
1972 February 22 -- A Federal coal mine inspector and the company safety engineer observe the dams and find conditions satisfactory.
1972 February 24 -- Company strip mine superintendent Jack Kent places a measuring stick at the lowest portion of dam #3: Water stands five feet below the dam's crest.
1972 February 25 -- Fed by heavy rains, the water level rises one or two inches per hour.
1972 February 26 -- At 4:30 a.m., Kent finds his measuring stick almost covered. Water is approaching twelve inches from dam's crest. The surface of the dam is oozing water like a sponge.
At 5:30 a.m., spontaneous warnings go out to automobile travelers along Buffalo Creek. The Logan Sheriff's Office sends two deputies to notify families. Some move to safe ground, others ignore the warnings.
At 6:00 a.m., Kent and Company Vice President Daniel "Steve" Dasovich confer. They call in equipment to clear a slide blocking the haul road below dam #3. Water diverted by the slide is overflowing dam #2. They decide to cut a diversion ditch and install a pipe to relieve pressure on dam #3.
At 6:30 a.m., Kenneth Osbourne of Saunders sees two lengths of 24" pipe joined together on top of the dam. Water is flowing through the pipes.
At 8:05 a.m., dam #3 fails. Dams #1 and 2 are carried away. The wall of water and gob causes an explosion in the burning refuse dump before cascading through the valley of Buffalo Creek toward the town of Man.
AND NOW WHAT?
As indicated earlier in this Report, the Citizens' Commission is committed to keeping the Buffalo Creek disaster alive as a public issue until all of the painful questions raised at its first meeting are answered. Clearly, its work has only begun.
Now that its basic investigatory effort is concluded and the results reported, the Commission has decided to concentrate its energies in two areas of major concern:
1. to assist the residents of Buffalo Creek at their request with problems of disaster relief, survivor reparations, and community rebuilding; and
2. to encourage broad-based citizen participation in discussion of the basic questions related to the Buffalo Creek disaster, and in the search for answers and ways to implement them.
Nationwide publicity generating sizable sums for disaster relief, arrangements for temporary housing, breath-taking plans for rebuilding and the like, may have contributed to public complacency and led to the belief that everything that can be done is being done. Unfortunately, this is not the case -- the people of Buffalo Creek still suffer.
- they seek damages from those responsible for the disaster;
- they seek assurance that disaster relief activities and funds will benefit the residents of the area;
- they seek assurance that their communities are rebuilt in accordance with the desires of the residents;
- they seek permission to move back to their former communities in order to reconstruct their lives.
The Commission has already indicated to the citizens of the Buffalo Creek area its intent to support and assist them in any way possible to achieve their goals. To this end, in early May, members of the Commission assisted the Buffalo Creek Action Committee, headed by Mr. Lucien Conn,* with arrangements for a bus load of citizens to attend the Pittston Company stockholders' annual meeting in Richmond, Virginia, where their demands were presented.
* Not to be confused with the Buffalo Creek Citizens Disaster Committee, Inc., headed by Mr. Charles Cowan.
In view of this experience and on the basis of its own findings and conclusions, the Citizens' Commission supports the continuing activities of the Buffalo Creek Action Committee and it urges the following actions be taken on behalf of all disaster victims:
1. That the Pittston Company promptly and fully compensate all survivors of the disaster by complying with the following conditions laid down by the Buffalo Creek Action Committee:
a. Payment to be made on the basis of actual replacement value of property lost.
b. Affidavits sworn to by survivors to be accepted as accurate statements of loss.
c. Releases signed by survivors not to preclude future claims for loss of loved ones or psychological or other damage.
d. Pittston Board Chairman Rauth and President Camicia to supervise negotiations or authorize personal representatives to do so.
2. That Governor Moore immediately lift the so-called quarantine and allow survivors to move their mobile homes onto their own property. While lack of sewage treatment and water supply are very real problems in the flood-ravaged hollow, these can be dealt with after people repossess their lands. They should not be forced to live in congested refugee camps one day longer than absolutely necessary.
3. That Governor Moore hold local public meetings in compliance with the Federal Highway Administration Practices and Procedure 20-8 whereby Buffalo Creek survivors may have a voice in planning reconstruction of the state highway 30.
There is a basic question raised anew by Buffalo Creek, the latest assault by the coal operators in their long slaughterhouse in death, injury and disease: Whether the people of Appalachia and West Virginia can any longer afford this senseless destruction of their lives, their land, and their democratic institutions; or whether the ownership and operation of the coal mines should be brought under democratic control to benefit all the people. All too clearly the tragedy of Buffalo Creek has torn away the mask, revealing the ugly truth that powerful coal interests dominate the government, the environment, and the West Virginia way of life to the detriment of all its citizens. Discussion and action are needed now to transform King Coal, the tyrant, into Citizen Coal, the servant of all -- before and not after another Buffalo Creek disaster.
The publication of this Report is the Commission's first step in connection with the second area of future focus -- stimulation of widespread citizen discussion and action regarding the broader implications of the Buffalo Creek tragedy.
Although all specific activities have not yet been determined, future plans of the Citizens' Commission include:
- broadening and strengthening the Commission with additional members representing new groups;
- holding public meetings elsewhere in West Virginia in order to disseminate the results of the investigation;
- soliciting support for Buffalo Creek survivors;
- stimulating citizen interest regarding the broader issues; and
- calling a conference of individuals and organizations concerned with the safety and living quality of West Virginia's coal mining areas.