Mary Farley was sound asleep on the couch when the a loud blast went off from the mine above her small house.
"It woke me from a sound sleep," said the 71-year old Farley. She and her husband built the modest white house 48 years ago. After following her husband's changing jobs around the country, Farley had returned to live in Wharncliffe. A couple of years ago, she had open-heart surgery and has been slowly recovering She was delighted when her son, who works for a builder of upscale homes in Ohio, treated her to a new kitchen floor.
Then the blasting began from the Mingo Logan Coal Co. (a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc.) above her house. First the kitchen wall above the sink separated from the ceiling in a 1-inch crack. Next the floor dropped 6 inches in one corner. "I thought the house was coming down around me," she said.
The inspector from the Division of Environmental Protection checked the seismograph records at the mine. He reported that the blasts were all within permitted limits. A spokesman for Mingo Logan confirmed that no violations occurred. Farley is not satisfied: "They have the audacity to tell me they are within the legal limits."
The adequacy of the standard limit for blasting vibrations is much in question. Usually the DEP limit states that the house nearest to the mine cannot vibrate more than 1 inch per second. Citizens who have been impacted by blasting say that an arbitrary limit does not apply to all areas. It does not account for geological differences that can sometimes amplify vibrations and make some houses more susceptible to damage. In fact, investigators from the federal Office of Surface Mining ruled that such amplification occurred in Laurel Creek.
Just a few houses down from Farley, Melvin Brooks also believes blasting has damaged his house. His Tudor house is much newer, only 15 years old. It is within a half mile of the mine, so he was offered a pre-blast survey. In fact, his house was given three surveys. None showed any significant damages. So when he noticed several new cracks and other changes after the blasting began, Brooks thought he had provable damage.
A fairly large crack appeared in the brick wall in the family room. In the bedroom the frame on the door into the walk-in closet is separating. The hall into the bedroom is tilting to one side. Outside, small cracks are beginning to appear in the roof. But so far, the mine refuses to acknowledge the damage. Two representatives from the mine have examined the damage, as has the adjuster from Brooks' insurance company. All three called the damage inconsequential and attributed it to settling. "We don't know what to do," Brooks said.
Brooks, whose house is just to the left of the one on the left of this photo, is a certified (blasting) shot
fireman. He did blasting in deep mines before becoming a teacher. Since he and his wife are both teachers, they aren't home for the blasts during the day. But they are there for the one set off around 5 p.m. At least three times, those have blasts have been unusually large. It seems, Brooks said, that the men are in a hurry at the end of the day and shoot too hard.