ARMSTRONG CREEK

Three trailers marked for demolition near Kimberly, along Armstrong Creek

    The mountaintop removal mining complex along Armstrong Creek is one of the oldest and most rambling in the state. Originally Cyprus Kanawha and now AEI Resources Inc. Kanawha River Mining, it stretches from near the West Virginia Turnpike at Mahan all the way back to Powellton in Fayette County.

    We were able to drive close to the newest valley fill less than two weeks after the flood. The fill is open and appears active. A large sediment pond is a distance away from the fill. We couldn't see much erosion from the ground that day. However, when Bob Gates flew over a few weeks later, he found a huge washout from the fill into the pond, as well as heavy equipment trying to clean up the erosion.

                        

                                                                        Photo by Bob Gates

    We met Charles Johnson, who lives along the creek below the mine. He enjoys traversing the mountains on his four-wheeler. He told us about a large slide on a fill on an old part of the mine beyond the sediment pond for the new fill. Indeed, we found substantial runoff and erosion from that section of the mine. Large rocks from the drainage spillway and dam had been dislodged into the creek. Johnson told us that washout from the creek blocked the road out of the hollow for hours.

       

    According to a Charleston Gazette article by Ken Ward, Kanawha River Mining has a history of erosion problems. (Some of these can be seen in aerial photos to be added soon) On July 12, inspector James Lucas issued two notices of violation for flood-related problems. Lucas noted that a similar citation had been issued six months earlier, in December 2000. He also noted that the company is currently under a consent order with DEP because of repeated slides at the operation. The mine was cited at least eight times for the same kind of mudslide violations in the year between December 1999 and December 2000. "The company failed to protect off-site areas from damage from slides during surface mining operations," read one violation.

    "Under state mining law," Ward's article stated, "When DEP concludes that an operator has shown a "pattern of violations," the agency can take more drastic actions than simply issuing a notice of violation. Companies can receive larger fines. They can even be shut down, or denied future permits.

    "But in Kanawha River's case, DEP supervisors overruled the inspector's conclusion that the company had committed a pattern of violations. To decide if a pattern of violations existed, DEP officials looked only at three of the citations that Lucas had issued to Kanawha River Mining.

    "Grant Connard, an inspector supervisor, said two of those citations 'appear to be isolated departures from lawful conduct. Therefore, a pattern of violations does not exist at this time.' Joe Parker, deputy assistant chief of the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, upheld Connard's decision.

    "On Feb. 22, DEP signed a consent order with Kanawha River to resolve five more notices of violation. The company promised to prevent future slides. Any new notices of violation would result in an automatic $2,500 fine, the agreement said.

    "Last week, Parker said the mine site in question was not actively producing coal, so there was only so much DEP could do about problems there."

    We also traveled down the Powellton Fork of Armstrong to McDunn. There was a significant amount of washout, and parts of the road had been destroyed. Some young women who lived up one of the tributaries with particularly bad erosion said the mountain at the end had been timbered recently.