The rain began in Mingo and Logan Counties around midnight at the start of Memorial Day, May 31, -- and never seemed to end over the next two weeks.
Wilkinson, Monaville and other communities along Island Creek south of Logan, as well as Belo along Pigeon Creek, took the hardest hits on May 31. When a storm stalled over the head of Pigeon Creek late in the afternoon of Friday, June 4, damage was worst in Pie, Musick Bottom and Varney. A fierce storm on the afternoon of Saturday, June 13, deluged Magnolia Gardens townhouses in North Matewan, pooled water by the high school and sent rocks streaming out of Warm Hollow above Matewan.
Other Mingo and Logan communities were hit hard during the storms as well. Mt. Gay, Holden, Riffe Branch, Duncan Fork, Parsley Bottom, Ragland, Delbarton, Elk Creek and Chattaroy all sustained serious damage.
|Read DEP study that found mining and logging contribute to flooding. Also see Flood Protection Plan|
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PENNY WISE POUND FOOLISH
Could some of the worst damage in Logan and Mt. Gay have been prevented?
Quite possibly. But state and local officials never put up the approximately $4.5 million need to match a 1986 Congressional-authorized flood control project. For $14 million, Island Creek would have been dredged, widened and gotten tall retaining walls from near Route 44 in Mt. Gay to the power station where Island Creek joins the Guyandotte River.
The project was resurrected after the 2003 floods. It now costs at least $24 million. The state and Logan County would have to pay $1.2 million in cash. Another $4.8 million could be in-kind contributions.
Residents of the badly damaged Monaville area believe Island Creek needs to be dredged and shored up there as well. Perhaps, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will look at the hardest hit parts of Island Creek if it gets the funds to go ahead with this major flood-control project.
Prevention could save millions.
By July 4, federal and state aid was nearly
$17 million just for Mingo and Logan Counties. $8.3 million went for
individual and family assistance grants. The rest went to state and local
governments to clean up trash and repair roads and bridges. FEMA had
received 2,122 applications for assistance from Mingo and 944 from Logan.
I was able to photograph most of the flooded areas. I also walked up a mountain along Pigeon Creek and looked at logging and abandoned mines in several other areas. As in the previous floods, I usually found a land disturbance above many of the most severe rock slides or hillside erosions. I found much more recent logging along the head of Pigeon Creek than I had expected.
Residents were quick to blame mining for the severe damage. But as they took a closer look, they more often found recent logging, rather than mining, up the hills from the flooding.
This area is at the epicenter of mountaintop removal mining. One of the mines starkly visible from a main road is White Flame Energy, which hovered over Varney Grade School for six years and now can be seen going down Route 52 towards Delbarton. Indeed the night of June 4, at least one television station warned residents to evacuate since a slurry impoundment had broken. Residents, aware of problems from valley fills in previous years' floods, were ready to blame the mines for the first ever severe flooding along Pigeon Creek.
There was no slurry pond breach. And as a few flood victims started walking up mountains behind their homes and inspectors from the Department of Environmental Protection flew the flooded areas, active surface mines were found to have much less to do with the flooding than logging.
Several mountaintop mines did contribute to the flooding. Massey Energy's Alex Energy mountaintop mines, which stretch from Whitman to the west end of Holden and Riffe Branch, were found to have serious erosion below valley fills in at least three hollows. A lawsuit is already being considered for the Whitman side of the mine. Mines on the Kentucky side of the Tug River below Matewan added considerable silt-laden runoff to the Tug. A slide off the White Flame mine in Ragland blocked one road for a few days. And a completed part of the White Flame mine on the south side of Pigeon Creek contributed to a huge rock slide out of ravine. A mine inspector said that mine caused a smaller washout in 1996.
However, other mines, such as one between Oceana and Cyclone seemed to have done a better job of controlling runoff from valley fills. DEP officials believed that the runoff controls passed as a result of the DEP flood study have already begun to do their job.
Another, more isolated problem, were blowouts from old abandoned deep mines, especially in North Matewan. I also found some runoff from roads to gas wells. And in fact, the DEP Office of Oil and Gas issued five violations for failure to control erosion. (see here)
Logging is more difficult to see than mining. Yet I found considerable logging on the hills above Pigeon Creek, Shady Woods and Little Muncy along upper Pigeon Creek, at the head of Elk Creek and Conley Branch on Pigeon Creek between Delbarton and Belo. I also found logging on Straight Creek, which feeds into Rockhouse Branch above Ragland.
While stronger runoff controls are being implemented at surface mines, Matt Crum, who had pushed so hard to get the new mining laws passed, told me it would take a catastrophe to convince the legislature to pass the controls on logging recommended in the DEP study. Whether this year's floods are such a crisis won't be known until next year's legislative session.
In the meantime, the only thing residents can do is buy flood insurance and look up the hills behind their houses. They should find out about land disturbances are up there, then protect their homes with berms and diversion ditches. Some people are already raising their houses. Others are putting valued possessions in water-proof containers on high shelves.
Interestingly, I found at least one place along Pigeon Creek where both an old surface mine, an old deep mine and old and new logging probably contributed to a washout of at least an acre of rocks over gardens and homes. More than just controlling logging and mining, every aspect of drainage on these steep mountains needs to be examined and mapped, especially when new disturbances by logging, mining or even housing are added to the complicated mix of water flow.
In a state with an intense aversion to zoning, accomplishing such master plans would take more than a miracle. Yet, such wise control and use of the abundant natural resources could involve landowners, home owners, natural resource developers, government regulators and environmental experts. A new, safer future could be created with everyone working together. And the federal government could save tens of millions of dollars it will pay out for future floods.