It only took a few weeks. A generation of trees disappeared from the hollow behind Lonnie Dean's home in the first weeks of December 1997. A thin, pink surveyor's ribbon explains why. A valley fill is coming down the hollow behind Dean's home. The ribbon marks the edge of the sedimentation pond -- about 300 feet from Dean's porch.
The woods just behind Lonnie Dean's house.
The White Flame Energy mine will stretch more than 800 acres over the mountain from Varney to Ragland on the other side. The valley fills are just a short ways up the road off of Route 52. Turn by the old lumberyard. In about half a mile, the road forks. The left one goes to Dean's house. The right goes up over the mountain to Ragland. As you come up the mountain, the hillsides appear--clear cut in preparation for a valley fill. The mine plans to truck coal out down these narrow roads past the houses that hug the edges of the road.
More than 50 residents of Varney, Ragland and nearby communities crowded into the Varney School at the end of October for a public hearing on the mine. The DEP officials initially said it was a hearing only on a haulroad. The hearing officer said no one had requested a hearing or filed a protest when the mine was advertised in the paper. By law, mines are required to run legal notices with maps. However, the maps are small and the text of the ad does not fully explain what mining is going to be done. Many people fail to understand that a mine is proposed and that they have a certain amount of time to ask questions, protest or request a hearing.
The DEP hearing officer eventually let everyone speak about all aspects of the mine. Numerous residents made impassioned speeches. They said they feared that rocks from the blasting would land in the schoolyard or hit children at play. Others who have lost their wells because of deep mining were concerned about more water loss from the new mine.
DEP approved the permit for the mine in less than a month. Some restrictions were placed on blasting near the school.
The school in Varney. Mining will start soon on the mountain.