22 MINE ROAD
September 2001 (May 2003 update at bottom)
Lorn Hall put his entire savings into the new house. Here was a brand new development, a rare swath of open space tucked into a long, narrow valley just off Corridor G on the Logan-Mingo County border. Turn up 22 Mine Road on the way to the new wood products industrial plant on a reclaimed mountaintop mine. Less than a quarter mile off Corridor G, there's a 15-foot high rock with the name of the development: Hidden Cove. Lots for sale signs are plunked in front of the rock. In the summer of 2001, there were just three houses. There's room for two dozen more.
When construction began early in 1999, Lorn Hall came to watch nearly every day. He wanted everything just right. He had spent more than two decades underground in the deep mines and finally he would have a new home where he and his wife could live in peace. He had no idea that blasting would soon begin within 800 feet of his home. And he wasn't even the closest house to the mine. The Mary and Jeff Lester's home is the closest, right under the edge of the mine.
This Massey Energy mine can be seen clearly as you drive up 22 Mine Road to the wood products plant. A huge pit stretches nearly a mile just below the edge of the road. This is more of a highwall mine than a mountaintop removal job.
The blasting problems began in the fall of 2000. Hall noticed that pictures were falling off the wall or knocked askew. One day, the blast shook the stove while his wife was cooking. The pot bounced and burned herfoot. Another time, Hall set a glass of soda on the edge of the table, only to have it bounced off when the blast came. The cabinets have pulled apart, and cracks have appeared in the corners of most of the rooms. He can point out several places in each room where cracks squiggled up the new dry wall. The actual cracks are gone, though. He covered the cracks with caulk, and then his wife painted most of the rooms with two or three coats of fresh paint. Their children were coming home for the 4th of July, and they wanted their home to look nice.
Massey's insurance company does have photos of the cracks. Hall had the pre-blast survey done when the mine offered. The cracks aren't on the pre-blast survey, but the insurance company has refused to pay. Hall called the mine a half dozen times and sent certified letters. All he asked for was the cost of the paint and his wife's labor--about $900. One time, a mine manager said he used to live near a strip job. After he talked with the mine, he was bought out.
"I don't want to be bought," Hall said. "I go to church, and they just about got on my bad side."
DEP has investigated and set up a seismograph at both houses. Each time, the inspector reports the blast was in compliance. The seismograph readings do give some clues to the cause of the problems, though. Several times the air blasts were between 126 decibels and 130 decibels, high enough to generate complaints at most mines. In addition, the frequency of the blasts was usually in the 2 Hz to 11 Hz range. Blasting experts have found that such low-frequency blasts are at the same frequency as homes, and exaggerate the shaking of the structure, thus causing damage.
Hall was told by a DEP inspector that this is an older permit (1985) and, therefore, doesn't have to abide by the new blasting laws. This is incorrect. Because the blasting is within 1000 feet of the homes, the mine should have a site-specific blasting plan for preventing damages to the Hall and Lester homes. Hall was never told this, or shown a blasting plan.
In February 2001, Jim Miller of the Office of Explosives and Blasting came to see Hall. After he left, Hall really felt that Miller would stop the blasting problems. Unfortunately, he died about a week later. No one from the blasting office has contacted Hall since. He is going to try the federal Office of Surface Mining and the West Virginia senators and representatives. "It's rough to invest everything you have in a house," he said.
Now there are seven houses in 22 Mine Hollow -- and the blasting is so bad, all the homeowners have hired a lawywe to sue the Massey mine.
"My garage floor is cracked a lot more. It had three cracks; now it has 300," Hall said. "A door inside of the house doesn't open. We fixed the walls and repainted the house. Had some pipes bust loose, busted under the sink. We had to fix that. The new driveway is cracking."
It's now been four and a half years since Hall moved into the hollow, which was to be filled with tidy new homes. And it's been almost four years since the blasting began. The mine keeps expanding on the hills that surround the long hollow. Two years ago, it was on one side, now it seems like it's on at least three sides. Hall believes Massey already has a permit to mine coal seams a few hundred feet from his house. That's scary, he said.
He calls DEP in Logan whenever there is a bad blast. But so far DEP has been no help; every blast seems to be in compliance. He hasn't dealt with the blasting office at DEP headquarters in Nitro. Neither has the blasting office contacted him, he said.
So last fall, after several tries, they found a lawyer in Logan who agreed to take their case. He had success with cases over the blasting during construction on Route 10. Hall hopes he can help him and his neighbors as well.