Forests and fasting: Mining protests continue

July 9, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

RICK STEELHAMMER | Gazette  Blasting in Kanawha State Forest.

Gazette photo by Rick Steelhammer

The latest Capitol protest against mountaintop removal is starting to get some attention, as the “Fast for the Mountains” enters day three. There were stories today from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and from the Daily Mail, which explained:

Roland Micklem and a group of supporters are fasting at the state Capitol this week to protest mountaintop removal mining and its negative effect on the environment.

Micklem, 85, isn’t sure he has the strength to see the protest through, but he is adamant in taking a stand and bringing attention to what he said are the evils of invasive mining methods.

But frankly, I think the more interesting development on the mountaintop removal issue is the turnout at last night’s public meeting of citizens who are organizing to oppose the issuance of a new permit near Kanawha State Forest here in Charleston. The Gazette’s Rick Steelhammer reported:

With blasting already underway for a haul road to serve a new mountaintop removal mine near the eastern boundary of Kanawha State Forest, nearly 200 opponents of the project gathered in a Kanawha City church on Tuesday to discuss ways to rescind the permit for the 414-acre operation before mining can begin.

Allowing the development of a mountaintop removal mine adjacent to a 9,300-acre public park within five miles of the State Capitol “is sending the wrong message in a lot of different ways,” said Jim Waggy, a naturalist and member of the Kanawha State Forest Foundation. “Near the back entrance to the forest where mining has been ongoing for several years, it’s an area of noise and desolate views. It’s a completely different experience from what you have at the other end of the forest. …We have the Culture Center for history and the Clay Center for art and music — we should be making Kanawha State Forest a nature center for the area.”

That’s right, nearly 200 people turned out for that meeting. By contrast, a Department of Environmental Protection public hearing on a proposal to re-designate the Kanawha River as a potential source of drinking water drew only a couple of dozen people — that despite the public outcry that followed the contamination of the region’s drinking water by the Freedom Industries chemical spill.


Gazette graphic by Tye Ward

As we reported back in May, after the DEP issued this permit, agency officials insist that they’ve taken many steps to try to reduce the potential impacts:

… 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.

But as Rick Steelhammer reports:

Even so, the shooting range and portions of Lindy, Ballard and Polecat trails would be off-limits to hikers and bikers as blasting approaches the KSF boundary.

“The blasting, mining and reclamation will begin at the eastern end of the mine site — the area farthest away from the forest — and gradually work west in phases,” said Harold Ward, the DEP’s blasting chief. “There shouldn’t be any impact to Kanawha State Forest users at this time. That should occur only in the latter stages of the mining operation, when there will be an impact to several trails.”

At that time, mining company personnel would sweep the at-risk areas to make sure forest users were not present when blasting takes place.

At that time, mining company personnel would sweep the at-risk areas to make sure forest users were not present when blasting takes place? Seriously?

Citizen groups are appealing the permit to the state Surface Mine Board (see here and here), but the board has already refused to temporarily halt any mining work until that appeal is heard. Citizens say they will also ask DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to rescind the permit, and will take their cause to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. You have to wonder if Gov. Tomblin — who doesn’t exactly spend much time listening to the concerns of environmental and citizen groups (see here and here), will even agree to meet with these groups.

We’ve reported recently on the latest study, showing declining fish populations downstream from mining sites, adding to the growing body of science that shows mountaintop removal’s devastating environmental effects. And, of course, studies continue to raise questions about the increased risk of illness and premature death faced by residents who live near mountaintop removal operations.

In neighboring Kentucky, some political leaders are continuing their work on the Kentucky SOAR project, trying to find ways to move the Eastern Kentucky region forward as its coal industry declines. Here in West Virginia, we’re putting a mountaintop removal mine next to a public forest that many residents of Charleston and the surrounding area consider a jewel — the sort of thing that makes the region a better place to live and raise a family, or to visit and spend tourism dollars.

Last week, we heard a lot from state officials about the value of tourism to our economy, as those officials enjoyed the big golf tournament at The Greenbrier. Maybe those same officials should spend some time at Kanawha State Forest, and think about whether they really want blasting so close to the hiking trails.



6 Responses to “Forests and fasting: Mining protests continue”

  1. Cindy Rank says:

    Why is auger mining the coal from the other side of the mountain not being considered an acceptable alternative for the company ?? … Sure the amount of coal (and profit) is reduced, but in weighing that against the negative impacts to the Forest itself, to the visitors to the Forest, and to the image of the state as a whole as refusing to protect one of the highlight attractions of the Charleston area there should be no question.

    Shame on WV in that we’ve missed our chance to preserve the entirety of the historic Blair Mountain. …. And shame on us that citizens have to fight to continue to protect what’s left of Blair, and natural areas of importance like Cheat Canyon and Blackwater and Wilderness — the list goes on.

    But if we as a state turn a blind eye to efforts to protect the Kanawha State Forest in the backyard of the State Capitol there is no shame left !

  2. Bo Webb says:

    I am in agreement with all those that oppose this permit, but why is this permit more concerning than any other MTR permit? This permit will allow a coal company to blast a mountain near and above people’s homes. The blasting will create a human health hazard with fine particulates of silica dust blasted into the air. People will breathe those particulates into their lungs. Their children will breathe those particulates into their lungs. Cancer in the area will increase. Heart and lungs diseases in the area will increase. Birth defects will increase. Depression will increase. Premature deaths will increase. Property values will decrease. Water quality will decrease. People will be forced to choose between moving away or staying at the risk of their health. These are the same things that are happening to people living near any and all mountaintop removal permits throughout the state of WV; EVERY DAY! Let’s label mountaintop removal for what it is. It is an abusive act committed on innocent people by other people that lack respect for their fellow human being, simple as that. There are no reasonable excuses for anyone to participate or support mountaintop removal. No one gets a free pass, not the WV DEP, not the WV legislature, not the Governor, not the coal company, certainly not Joe Manchin or Rahall , or McKinley, or the winner of the next Senate election, be it Capito or Tennant, and sorry, but no free pass for those that work on these sites either. Putting food on the table does not trump participating in an act that causes sickness and death to the innocent. It is long past time that mountaintop removal ended, forever. There is a bill in the US Congress that will end it. It is call the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (The ACHE Act). It is a well thought out bill, utilizing a common sense approach to addressing the issue while at the same time protecting current workers jobs. WV’s US Senators and House Representatives are not supportive of the ACHE Act, but with the will of The People they have no choice. If you care about Kanawha State Forest and all of WV, make them hear your voice.

  3. B Scott says:

    I totally agree with everything that Bo Webb said. It should not matter where the blasting takes place. When it hurts the people living near it, it should not be allowed.

  4. Philip Price says:

    On Keystone’s DEP Permit (S300609; 10/30/13), there are several notable items:

    They state that there will be no effect on any stream within ½ mile of the mine site. This is VERY difficult to understand, since at least 200 acres to be mined drain directly into Middlelick Branch (inside KSF).

    They answered NO to “Will any park… facility be removed by the surface mining operation?” Clearly, some facilities will be removed from public use on a daily basis for 10 years.

    Their WV NPDES Permit # is WV1024299 (August 2009). However, this number is listed as “denied” August 2012 on the WV-DEP website. What is their currently valid NPDES Permit, and what are its terms? – this will have the specifics of what they are allowed to release. What is being released (total organics, pH, Fe, Se) from the current nearby MTR operation?

    They plan one blast per day, with 9 houses < 0.7 miles from the mine, and within 3,000 feet of gas transmission lines. Based on their document, working only a 5-day week, they will make 260 blasts per year, and a total of 2,600 blasts.

    There is a public paved road only 0.12 miles from the mine boundary, and they allege that this road will never be closed. This is difficult to understand, since KSF facilities much farther away are already posted with closure signs.

    The section describing how the 7 million tons of coal will be transported on public roads is left blank. It appears this will all be trucked over County Road 23. At 100,000 lbs per load, the mine traffic will be 140,000 truck trips.

    The edge of the present mining activity is less than 3,000 feet from the Charleston city limits. This new mining activity will require over 2,500 blasting events. The potential for health-related air pollution (dust, particulates containing heavy metals and silica) blowing across residential areas is significant.

    Why is Tom Scholl in the process of transferring Keystone's ownership to a company (he retains a major interest in) located in Korea?

  5. Bo Webb says:

    Thanks for the excellent information Phillip. Leaving the coal transportation section blank is a good example of how the DEP colludes with the coal industry. They hope no one catches it and then fill it in later as an after thought.

  6. BOUTTIME says:

    Thanks Phillip now you’re talkin my language, the ole nitty gritty & actual permit facts … Sounds like it has several holes in it & lots of back room deals & DEP policy put to work here for the coal co., I’m gonna have get a copy of the permit package & take it apart … I love beatin them at their own game & Oh how they hate it :-)

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