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Complete report at DEP website. Look under Citizen Information or direct link.
Bevel: Complete report at DEP website. Look under Citizen Information or direct link.
                                                                                                               

 

   

   

After the July 2001 floods, Gov Bob Wise ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to study whether mining and timbering contributed to the floods, since so many in the flooded areas believed these land disturbances made the flooding worse. The study incorporates a computer model of runoff in three watersheds, citizens' comments and DEP inspectors' years of observation of flooding near valley fills and timbered areas.

    DEP's team was headed by Matt Crum, director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation; John Ailes, former director of DMR and now special advisor on mining; and Jim Pierce, with assistance from another half dozen staff members and staff from the Division of Forestry.. A citizens' advisory committee oversaw the study and included Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Elaine Purkey of the West Virginia Organizing Project, Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch, and Ben Greene of the West Virginia Coal Association.

    In the fall of 2001, DEP held four public hearings in the flooded areas. The summary of comments is below.   

     The DEP technical team used field observations and computer modeling to estimate increased runoff from mining and timbering in the watersheds below the mines at Scrabble Creek and Seng Creek. The contribution to flooding varied at different places in the hollow. The largest increase from mining was  21 percent near the toe of the valley fill at Scrabble Creek (see photos). At the bottom of Scrabble Creek, logging increased runoff 3.8 percent, while mining added another 9.3 percent. The influence was less at Seng Creek, where recent logging added 5.9 percent at the lower end of the community, while mining actually reduced runoff by 0.2 percent, because the hillsides had been regraded with a lesser slope.

    After the public release of the study on June 14, DEP officials said that the recommendations (at the bottom of the page) are based as much on their years of experience as on the computer modeling. John Ailes, who has a degree in forestry from West Virginia University, has also been in the National Guard for several decades and has cleaned up after numerous floods. He said he saw cut logs in the kitchen of an elderly lady's home in Gauley Bridge last year. So determined was he to find the source that he asked the helicopter pilot to reroute and fly over Gauley Bridge. There he saw timbering, and gas and logging roads above her now destroyed home.

    Many citizens had little hope that the DEP study would produce anything of substance, let alone find that mining and timbering increased the flooding. It didn't help public confidence that the study was delayed six months. The citizens' advisory committee had so little faith that it was prepared to issue a rebuttal statement. In the end that was unnecessary. The more than 700 page opus is solid and thoroughly documented. Part 1 (117 pages) is well worth reading and can be accessed through the link at the top of this page.

 FLOOD ANALYSIS TECHNICAL TEAM RECOMMENDATIONS

These recommendations are meant to foster enhanced runoff control for logging and mining operations. Most of the recommendations contained herein will have to be implemented through rulemaking or, in the case of forestry, formal changes to the Best Management Practices, while others pertaining to forestry can be implemented through policy or programmatic development, as indicated. As noted below, a number of these recommendations are the result of the technical analysis conducted for the development of this report. Others came as a result of field observations made by agency professionals and information developed from the public meetings that were conducted as part of this effort.

A. FATT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MINING AND RECLAMATION OPERATIONS

1. Recommendations Resulting from the Technical Analysis

a.  Revise regulations to enhance Hydrologic Reclamation Plans for all existing, pending and future permits to prohibit any increase in surface water discharge over pre-mining conditions.

b. Revise regulations so that the post-mining drainage design of all existing and future mining permits corresponds with the permitted post-mining land configuration.

c. Revise regulations to enhance contemporaneous reclamation requirements to further reduce surface water runoff.

2. Recommendations Resulting Primarily from Observations

a. Revise regulations to require that each application for a permit contain a sediment retention plan to emphasize runoff control and minimize downstream sediment deposition during precipitation events.

b. Revise regulations to require durable rock fills be limited to  "bottom up or incremental lift construction" methods for enhanced runoff and sediment control.

c. Revise regulations to require the condition of the total  watershed be reviewed prior to any approved placement of excess spoil material. Conditions that should be considered include the proximity of residents, structures, etc., to excess spoil disposal structures.

d. Revise regulations to require that valley fill designs minimize erosion within the watershed during precipitation. The permittee shall consider the total disturbance of the disposal area.

e. Revise regulations to prohibit "wing dumping" of spoil in excess spoil disposal structures.

f. Revise regulations to prohibit placement of windrowed material in areas that encroach upon natural drainageways.

g. Revise regulations to limit areas allowed for clearing/grubbing of operations in excess spoil disposal areas.

h. Revise regulations to maximize reforestation opportunities for all types of post mining land uses.

i. Revise regulations to require rain gages be located on all mine sites and that monitoring and reporting schedules be developed.

B. FATT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FORESTRY OPERATIONS

Agency observations and comments by the public indicated substantial movement of logging debris and sediment from logging operations into streams during the flood event. Transport of this material was caused in part by concentration of flow by logging and skid roads. In addition, disposal of slash near streambeds also contributed material that may have increased flood damage. Erosion of material from roadways was evident from aerial overflights after the July 8 storm.

FATT recommends that the forestry oversight committee, established under the Logging Sediment Control Act, W.Va. Code 19-1B-7, include the foregoing recommendations as revisions to the West Virginia Best Management Practices to enhance sediment and runoff control. We further recommend increased staffing to aid in: forest fire prevention and suppression, forest hydrology, and field inspection and verification of the use of existing and proposed BMPs. While research shows the value of using BMPs, close field verification and vigorous enforcement are necessary to provide the benefits associated with proper timbering methods.

1. Recommendations

a. Revise BMPs to limit logging activities within the total area of a watershed based upon acreage, basal area removed, silvicultural methods or any combination so as to minimize runoff velocities and channelization of flows due to total watershed disturbance.

b. Revise BMPs to prohibit the use of lopped slash as a substitute for seeding on skid roads, require out-sloping and seeding of all roads prior to a post-operational site inspection or within sixty days of the end-date in the timber harvesting notification.

c. Revise BMPs to require a slash disposal plan be included in all timber harvesting notifications to provide for the removal of slash from roadways and landing areas. The BMPs should be revised to prohibit placement of large woody vegetation in intermittent and perennial stream channels.

d. Revise BMPs to require that the past history of uncontrolled burning in the watershed be taken into account in designing timbering operation plans to reduce runoff from these areas. The committee should investigate increased staffing for forest fire prevention and suppression with the long-term goal of eliminating forest fires as a contributor to increased runoff.

e. The Division of Forestry should conduct pre-operational site inspections to review proposed timbering operation plans, sediment control practices, and BMPs to be used by operators.

f. The Division of Forestry should implement a routine inspection regime to monitor and enforce BMPs and timbering notification requirements during active operations.

g. The Division of Forestry should conduct a post-operational site inspection at the end-date of the timbering operation to insure that all BMPs and sediment control practices have been met prior to removal of equipment from the site.

h. The Division of Forestry should provide increased technical assistance to timber operators in training and field verification, specifically with regard to road construction, stream-crossing construction, log landing location, and sediment control measures.

C. ADDITIONAL AREAS OF CONCERN EXPRESSED BY THE GENERAL PUBLIC AND RECOGNIZED BY FATT

FATT recognizes the following areas as appropriate for study to prevent or minimize storm-related flood damage. While assessments of these issues were beyond the scope of the instant analysis, FATT understands that most, if not all, of these matters are being addressed by the statewide flood protection task force.

1. Undersized road culverts in streams.

2. Inadequate flow areas under bridges and failure to maintain the bridge stream flow area.

3. Stream encroachment from land development.

4. Littering and placement of debris into streams and their flood plains.

5. Oil, gas, and other large scale earth disturbance projects.

D. FATT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER STUDIES

1. Follow-up studies on any implemented recommendations resulting from this report to analyze effectiveness.

2. Additional studies to determine effectiveness of current logging BMPs and possible enhancements.

Summary of Citizens Concerns and Observations

During November 2001, a series of public meetings were conducted in five counties with representation from both the Advisory Committee and FATT.

Public Meeting 1 – November 5, 2001, Whitesville Junior High School, Boone /Raleigh counties, WV.

    The November 5, 2001, Boone/Raleigh combined public meeting was the first of a four-county tour. The meeting was held in Whitesville at the Whitesville Junior High School. Those in attendance were asked to share with members of FATT and the members of the Advisory Committee what they saw and what they experienced during the flooding of July 8, 2001.

    There were approximately eighty citizens at the Boone/Raleigh meeting and many shared their accounting of that July day. Many of the speakers spoke of a tidal wave-type wall of water with debris carried on top. Various residents spoke of living in their respective communities for twenty to thirty-plus years and never experiencing anything close to this magnitude of flooding. Additionally, numerous residents mentioned a diesel or gasoline odor and others just a strong stench to the waters. There was mention of the water being yellow then turning gray.

    One resident of Whitesville commented, "there’s enough coal in my yard to heat the hollow for four years. I mean coal, lumps of coal, sludge and stuff in my yard." The same resident spoke of logging trucks running in and out of the hollow, all day and all night, without resting at all. This went on for three years. She states: "To me, that’s what’s happened. They have logged and logged, and it’s not just them." Many commenters spoke of seeing logs and boulders the size of cars washing off the hillsides. Several residents from Round Bottom, in Sylvester, spoke about the "bridge" jamming up with rock and debris. The debris backed up from the dam causing an overflow onto residents’ property. The water could not get through and under the bridge nor through the dam but overflowed onto the banks of the river and onto residents’ property.

    One resident of White Oak in the Clear Fork area spoke about logging and mining activity in June, 1997. He stated that there was an increase in water runoff after logging activity began on the right-hand fork of Clear Fork and mining activity began in the left-hand fork of Clear Fork. He also said that two of his neighbors had lost their lives. The resident said that of the three floods that took place in 2001, July 8 th was the worst, with water coming out of the hollow just "black as black gets, and it was swift. It was capping up, real rough water." The creek had been cleaned out three times this summer (2001), each time "they went in the creek and started digging them a little deeper." "Then after July the 8 th they took our creek bed down six foot, and everybody in the left-hand fork immediately we lost all of our water. We’re still using water out of tanks filled by the fire department."

Public Meeting 2 – November 8, 2001, Falls View Grade School, Fayette County, WV.

    The second public meeting was held November 8, 2001, in Fayette County at the Falls View Grade School with approximately eighty citizens in attendance. Much like the residents of Boone and Raleigh counties, the committee heard more personal experiences from the Fayette county residents regarding the July 8, 2001, flooding. The majority of residents spoke of seeing a yellow thick mud. The yellowing is believed to be, by some residents, a result of mining. Many addressed logging activity and associated red water since logging began in their communities. One speaker commented that oil and gas and utility companies were also responsible for the flooding as they have cut roads up and down the hillsides and across the roads.

    Another speaker stated that the railroad was also responsible for the flooding. "Well, a lot of that problem was caused by the railroad not having adequate drains and the water came under the railroad, through the banks and washed out on the other side and washed into people’s property, and if it had the right drains in there, a lot of that water wouldn’t have done that." "There was drains that had been clogged up since I was a kid, and they finally come in there and halfway cleaned them out, the railroad did, after this flood."

    One resident of the Charlton Heights area complained that the Department of Highways has inadequate drainage lines in that area. He said that he has been dealing off and on with the DOH since about 1986.

Public Meeting 3 – November 19, 2001, Mt. View High School, McDowell County, WV.

    The third of four meetings was held November 19, 2001, in McDowell County at Mt. View High School with approximately 45 people in attendance. Residents reported much the same damages and experiences as did other residents in the previous county meetings. Reports of the diesel smell and rainbow film in and on the waters, oil spots that had washed off the hill, tidal waves, black mud after the water subsided, heavy coal dust, trees washing down and clogging up drains and bridges and several references to a slate dump in Carswell Hollow and inadequate drain pipes from the mine site nearby.

    There were many references to the flooding of 1986 but, according to the residents, this flood was much worse. One resident of Welch commented that Welch got the rains and flooding later, mid to late afternoon, and that it took longer to rise, but within two to three hours, it was gone. "I had fifty-eight inches of water in my basement. Our flooding was caused by debris that floated down the river and lodged itself against the bridge that goes over to the city park, and that had that not occurred, most of our homes on Lake Drive would never have even been affected." "My observation was that most of that debris was natural debris. I didn’t see any cars floating down there. It was tree limbs, you know, tree trunks and that sort of thing that lodged in the bridge and the water backed up from that."

Public Meeting 4 – November 26, 2001, Wyoming East High School, Wyoming County, WV.

T    he fourth and final meeting of the five county tours was held November 26, 2001, in Wyoming County at Wyoming East High School with approximately eighty people in attendance. A resident of Mullens stated, "I’m a lifelong resident of Mullens. I’ve lived there for sixty years. I’ve been through floods there. I’ve got brothers and sisters there. We’ve never been flooded like we have this time. I’ve never seen water come so quick, come so high. I do know that all the mountains around Mullens have been logged out and I went back in those mountains and it looked like a bomb went off back in there."

    Another resident said that, "there were no warnings of an anticipated flood. We had four very hard rains in a six hour period but no harder than we had many times in the past." "I heard something and looked, and it looked like a tidal wave coming. That thing was thirty feet high and looked like a surfer could be underneath it, an ocean wave." This resident spoke of a chemical smell in the air and a sheen that could be seen on the water. The resident commented that she smelled this same chemical odor when they de-gassed the holes on her property and that it burned her throat and caused her difficulty with breathing. The resident also stated that a "mine blowout right below the Hilton Strip caused a big tidal wave which never touched the ground until it hit the creek in Indian Creek. There it met one just like it coming down Indian Creek and it was just unreal, and it will happen again."

    One individual stated that he has surveyed almost all of the watersheds affected. "We’re surveying these watersheds where there are disturbances such as mountaintop removal, valley fills, steep slope logging, old gob piles, old strip mines and possibly mine blow-outs maybe filled by water being gathered up by old strip mines. The old strip mines, particularly in this county, are everywhere." "Where you are closer to these disturbances the flooding is much, much, more severe, and that I think is just about unquestioned. I was at the 4-H camp on Glen Fork below some of the worst steep slope logging I can imagine. There is no question as to how and why logs ended up in the swimming pool of the 4-H camp, and ironically the cabin furthest up the hill, it was pointed out to me, had the worst damage because it was below logging and it came down a little hollow and bashed up the cabin." "On the other side of Clear Fork, the entire watershed of Sycamore has been totally clear-cut. Above Mullens, there is tremendous timbering in the Rhodell area, and that caused water to roar down the Guyandotte River." "I’d also like to comment about the watersheds that have been chosen for this study. There is more in common between the Scrabble Creek watershed and the Seng Creek watershed than there is the control. Seng Creek and Scrabble Creek are both long, rather somewhat short, narrow watersheds with steep headwater. Anyhow, those two watersheds are very similar." The control watershed at Sycamore at Colcord is a large watershed and is shaped like a funnel. It does have steep headwaters, but it is a very large basin of water that converges to a very small point which is where the community unfortunately was located. I don’t know where, it’s so hard to find undeteriorated watersheds in southern West Virginia, I don’t really know where you look for a control, but you’re comparing two apples to one orange."

    Many of the residents at this county meeting spoke directly to timbering/logging issues associated with the flooding. Residents at all the public meetings spoke of the devastation and loss of lives had this flooding occurred during the nighttime hours versus the daytime hours. Neighbors were able to warn and help each other and, in most cases, could see the flooding coming.