A warm, almost muggy day with a promise of sunshine for the weekend. No rain in sight, although a light shower last night. Being Friday, there is no imperative to deal with the heavy subjects of mining: USA uranium laws, mountaintop permits, powerlines to new mines, the rights of multiple nations, or event the price of gold. Instead we delight in this story from the coal mines of West Virginia. I repeat in its entirety as I find it so fascinating a sketch of mining, ambition, and blunder.
Twenty Mingo County families have filed a lawsuit alleging that strip mining related to construction of the King Coal Highway caused flooding that damaged their homes. Melissa Lester, her family and 19 other families in the Murphy Branch area of Pigeon Creek, near Rawl, sued four coal companies in Mingo Circuit Court. Named as defendants were Alpha Natural Resources, Nicewonder Contracting, White Flame Energy and Cobra Natural Resources.
The suits blame unpermitted mining that allegedly did not include construction of runoff control structures that would typically be required by regulators. Mining in the area, the suits allege, has “exacerbated flooding because inadequate or non-existent stormwater control, failure to return the land to Approximate Original Contour and other deviations from accepted standards of care increased peak-load water flow and proximately caused flooding and flood-related damages.”
The King Coal Highway is intended to run roughly parallel to U.S. 52 from the outskirts of Huntington to near Bluefield. The new four-lane highway will tie into the new Interstate 73/74, which will extend from Michigan to Myrtle Beach. Mining companies became involved to build part of the roadbed with waste rock and dirt from adjacent mountaintop removal coal mining sites. State and federal regulators allowed at least some of this mining to proceed without strip-mining permits, because they concluded it fell under an exemption for mining that is “an incidental part” of highway construction.
But the new lawsuits allege that, “Rather, the King Coal Highway construction is incident to the primary purpose of mining coal at the Red Jacket Project site, without following regulations intended to protect the public from just the sort of catastrophe that occurred in the instant case.” The lawsuits cite two earlier flooding events in May 2008 that “should certainly have alerted” the mining companies “that their stormwater runoff control structures, if any were in place at all, were woefully inadequate along the Pigeon Creek watershed.”
There is a serious side to this story: mines do need to control surface water. Here is a link to more I have written on this subject. And here is another bloggers take from May 2009:
Last weekend, Mingo County West Virginia flooded something terrible. You see, the entire county is filled with strip mines and mountaintop removal sites. With no vegetation to keep soil intact, it just pours down the mountain and destroys towns. There’s a lot of nasty stuff going on in the area… they’re building King Coal Highway, a highway that is being built so that coal companies can mine the shit out of everything. (You don’t need permits and the like to mine if you just happen to want to extract the coal, but you’re really there to help build a highway!) Never mind that they don’t even bother logging these sites… they just tear down the forests and burn them in big piles. It’s a mess. And it’s the coal companies fault.