Elk Run (A.T. Massey)


            Dickie Judy could be the poster child for blasting. For six years, he has gone to every level of state and federal agency and governing body. Amazingly, most agree that the blasting from the mine is causing problems. Yet, none want to order something done.

            Dickie Judy builds houses for a living. So when it came time for his dream home, he wanted everything perfect. The location is idyllic, more than 100 acres at the end of Foster Hollow in Boone County, an ample flat lawn, and even a visiting bear. He let the large white colonial settle a year before moving in—only to be greeted with a notice that he needed a pre-blast survey.

            The survey was done in September 1994. Another survey was done of Judy’s older rental house nearby. Within a few months Judy filed his first of years of complaints. Bill Cook has been the DEP inspector the entire time. After nearly two decades with the forestry department, he had moved over to DEP with an unusual enthusiasm for enforcement. He jumped right in and issued a violation: “failed to prevent damage to private property outside of the permit area¼Elk Run Coal Co. must provide a list of repairs that it is willing to make and a time frame for such repairs by Friday 3/24/95.”

            On March 30, 1995, OSM inspectors Mike Superfesky and Richard Frazier inspected the Judy’s two houses along with Bill Cook. About the older house, OSM found: “I totally agree with the WV DEP that it is obvious that the paneling separations in three different rooms of the house was caused by blasting¼It is also obvious that the age, type of construction, and type of foundation make this older structure more vulnerable to both air and ground-induced loading. The dynamic response of non-conventional pier or rock footings and non-conventional floor and wall framing to ground vibration is different from that normally expected in the more conventional system; therefore a larger scaled distance factor is required to insure protection of a non-conventional structure.”

            About the Judy’s new house OSM wrote: “has also sustained additional cracking from the time of the pre-blast survey conducted in September, 1994. Currently many of these cracks are considered minor or threshold cracks, particularly the cracks in the room corners and at the intersection of walls and ceilings; however, there are documented changes  in the size and number of cracks since blasting commenced. Based on the age and the excellent quality of the design and construction of this house, it is evident that this house can resist greater air or ground-induced loading than the older, non-conventional house. It is also very possible that in addition to air blast, this house is being subjected to low-frequency ground vibration that are near the natural frequency of single family frame structures and particle velocities could be amplified within the structure.” And this was happening when the blasting was 5,000 feet away.

            DEP inspector Cook issued three violations for blasting, which forced DEP to issue a cessation order. Massey appealed to the Surface Mine Board, which overturned the blasting violations in July 1995.

            Next OSM issued a Ten Day Notice on August 8, 1995, saying that Elk Run failed to conduct blasting operations so as to prevent damage to private property outside the permit area. In December 1995, OSM issued a violation and ordered Elk Run to improve its blasting designs. In March 1996, Federal District Court ruled in Elk Run’s favor and overturned the OSM order.

            Meanwhile Judy had gone to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress about the harm of cutting OSM’s budget, which happened anyway.

            Interestingly, his case became a dilemma for OSM’s Nationwide Blasting Work Group in early 1996. OSM had found damage at the older house at a vibration of .2 inches/second. Blasting regulations are based on the theory that no damage will occur below 1 inch/second. Since the Work Group has not issued a final report, the resolution is a mystery.

            OSM made another inspection on April 2, 1997. After finding two air blast readings of 128dB, the inspector recommended more stemming (cover over the explosives in the holes) and smaller diameter holes. It appears that holes were reduced from 9 inches in diameter to 7 and 7/8 inches only about a third of the time.

            In the summer of 1998, Dickie Judy hosted a tour of the legislative committee studying blasting. He also lobbied the legislature for better laws.

            After a series of particularly hard blasts last Fall, DEP Director Mike Castle issued an order that air blasts should be reduced. However, Massey threatened to sue, and DEP backed off the order. Instead, Darcy White and Jim Miller of the Office of Explosives and Blasting convinced the mine to submit a revised blasting plan, which included longer delays and shots in sections. In March 2000, the mine got a new manager, Mike Snelling. He said he could minimize the complaints, but not eliminate them. However, from the Spring through November, the blasting and mining was being done in an area of the mine far away from the Judy’s home. Inspector Bill Cook said they won’t be able to determine how much the new blasting plan has helped until the blasting comes closer to the homes in a few months.

            Most recently, the engineering expert for Bailey & Glasser found that Judy’s home has $5,000 in damage from blasting. However, it is too small an amount for them to take on as a lawsuit. Mike Mace, director of DEP’s Office of Explosives and Blasting, refused to order the mine to fix the damage based on the engineer’s finding.

            Dickie Judy doesn’t know where to turn next.



            We examined 88 blasts of which 23 caused problems.

            First, this mine has the biggest blasts. Of the 88 blasts, 37 were more than 100,000 pounds. Evergreen, the next largest, had 20 of 111 over 100,000 pounds. Granted, large blasts can be barely noticeable if properly designed. But the Judys repeatedly characterize the blasts as feeling like they are being blown off the earth.

            More than half – 42 blasts – were more than 1,200 pounds per delay, the only mine to shoot such a high percentage. Regulations permit such large shots because the blasting was usually between 3,000 and 9,000 feet of the Judy’s house. However, when the large amounts were shot within 4,600 feet, there was usually a problem. Those blasts include: 1,954 lbs/delay at 3,200 feet, 2,858 lbs./delay at 3,500 feet and 5,162 lbs./delay at 4,300 feet.

            In fact, 17 of the 23 problem blasts shot more than 1,900 pounds per delay. Four of the other 6 problem shots were binder shots.

            Binder shots were a problem at this mine, as at all the others where they are used. This time, only about half the binder shots caused problems. All those that did cause problems were 9 inches in diameter. Several of the less bothersome used both 9-inch and 7 7/8-inch holes.

Continue to in-depth analyses of blasting problems in nine communities: