Coal Tattoo

Preston residents suing Alpha Natural Resources

Vicki Smith from The Associated Press reports:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — Several property owners suing Alpha Natural Resources say a coal mine that had a history of roof falls before it closed last year is to blame for subsidence damage, ruined groundwater and explosive methane gas that now leaks into homes and outbuildings.

Lawyers for the homeowners and Alpha subsidiary Kingwood Mining Co. are set to appear Tuesday in Preston County Circuit Court, when a judge will consider motions in the case.

The plaintiffs blame Alpha’s “reprehensible, intentional and grossly negligent” conduct at the troubled Whitetail Kittanning Mine near Fellowsville for their plummeting property values and a compromised quality of life.

Alpha spokesman Rick Nida did not immediately comment on the case.

Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha closed the mine last year, after it was fined more than $763,000 for repeated safety violations.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had cited Kingwood Mining 13 times in one year for allowing highly flammable and explosive coal dust to accumulate along conveyor belts at the mine, which once employed 260 people. Five of the citations in October 2008 were assessed as flagrant violations.

Plaintiffs Gary and Linda Schooley and Jesse and Melissa Jennings are suing Alpha, Kingwood Mining, former mine superintendent Perry Ryan and former mine foreman Max Burgoyne. They accuse the mine operators of negligence, trespass, property damage, creating a nuisance and infliction of emotional distress.

Their complaints seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Linda Schooley said Monday she’s dealt with the fallout from nearby mining operations for decades, including sulfurous-smelling water for at least the past five years.

“We have water,” she said. “You just can’t drink it.”

The Schooleys use their tap water for bathing and laundry, but they haul water for drinking and cooking from a neighbor’s spring and store it in plastic milk jugs in a separate refrigerator.

The lawsuit contends Alpha and Kingwood Mining routinely ignored their own roof control and subsidence-prevention plans to increase production. It also claims a study by the federal Office of Surface Mining blamed both a drop in water levels in the aquifer and poor groundwater quality on the mine.

With more than 600 roof collapses underground, mine workers “from roof bolters to top management were aware the water supplies were being destroyed by Kingwood’s mining activities,” the complaint charges.

Still, it claims, Alpha didn’t close the operation “until it became apparent that mine regulators were about to shut down the mine.”