If you go out to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protections’ website, specifically the page for the Division of Mining and Reclamation, you will notice that it says “Our Mission” and then nothing. No mission statement. It’s difficult to determine exactly what they do. I know that by law they approve, regulate, and inspect the surface mine permits. But what, exactly, does that mean for our neighborhood?
We requested a meeting with the DEP. I called and expressed some of our most pressing concerns and the gentleman I spoke with said he would pull together some experts to answer our questions. We were limited to six people. Four of us went. The DEP had, I don’t remember exactly, between eight and twelve people.
Our most pressing concerns were:
- flooding – we don’t believe that their surface run-off analysis is accurate
- contamination of our well water (all five homes are on well water)
- damage from fly rock
- damage from dust
- damage from our rock wall becoming unstable due to vibration
The ridge (which we are calling Mt. Middlelick) on which the mining site is located, currently drains into creeks running on both the eastern and western boundaries of this permit. Those creeks feed into the creek which defines our hollow. Our creek feeds into Davis creek, affecting the residents of Loudendale and Davis Creek. The area is already considered a flood zone. The permit only requires a “25 year flood” prevention plan. But no one could tell us clearly how a “25 year flood” event is defined. Common sense says if you remove all of the trees and undergrowth, and all of the topsoil, the rain water / snow melt has no where to go but into the watershed. And there is nothing to slow it down. No one at the DEP said it directly, but we were all left with the impression that nothing would change in the permit UNTIL it was proven to be a problem. Lucky us.
We were told to mark measurements on our bridge into the hollow, to keep a daily journal and make note daily of the water level in the creek. And to purchase a rain gauge.
We are very concerned that our well water and ground water will become contaminated because of the watershed issue. They will monitor our well (our well is the monitoring well) every three months. They won’t be monitoring for heavy metals, which I don’t understand. If our water should become contaminated we have to prove that the mine contaminated it. WE have to prove they contaminated it. If anyone spots chemicals in the creek water as part of our daily monitoring, a call can be made to DEP, but unless a DEP inspector actually SEES the contaminant, well, nothing happens.
At the meeting we asked about Fly Rock – the debris that can fall from the explosives used to get to the coal. DEP gave conflicting answers. We were told that we shouldn’t expect any. We were also told that debris can fly as far as 3000 ft. They also told us that 1000 ft is considered the minimum safe distance. Finally, we were told that by law nothing is to leave the permit boundaries. I’m still researching to see what the truth is regarding fly rock. But they agreed that three of the hiking trails at Kanawha State Forest would be at risk for hikers, bikers, horseback riders to be struck by fly rock. We were stunned! We asked them how they were going to make certain that users of the Forest were safe? The DEP said that was the responsibility of the mining company, not them.
And if our homes are damaged by fly rock, or by blasting vibrations, we have to prove that the mine is responsible and that we (or our insurance companies) have to sue the mining company. The issue would go before a third party insurance examiner who would determine if it should go to arbitration. If the claim goes to arbitration, there is a $600 fee which is split with the coal company. DEP is not involved.
So. We monitor our own creek levels. If we want to make sure we don’t have heavy metals in our water we either have to fight to get the DEP to provide monitoring equipment, or find a way to get it through another agency. If we believe our groundwater is being polluted we have to first prove that it is being contaminated and then prove the contamination is due to the mine. If we believe our air quality is polluted from dust, same thing. Plus, unless an inspector visually sees an excess of dust from the mine, personally, the DEP will do nothing. Videos, photographs, are not considered valid proof.
Are you noting the pattern here? The burden of protecting our homes, our health and the health of our community and environment is on us, the citizens. So, who does the Department of Environmental Protection protect? Not this: