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
"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.